Professional Service Firms Pass On Open Office Remodels
The push for more collaborative office environments and an opportunity to cut costs has companies across multiple industries adopting open floor plans. But substituting private offices for communal couches does not work for business models where private space is a sign of career advancement.
For professional services like lawyers, accountants and real estate agents, private offices are still seen as a reward for job performance and are key for companies looking to retain top talent.
Coffey manages construction projects throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties. He has seen professional services undergo office renovations to modernize their facilities. The hope is that the improved spaces will draw in talent. In high-turnover industries like real estate, amenities like floor-to-ceiling windows and high-end flooring create a sense of prestige that attracts top brokers.
The result is often a Catch-22: being a top broker who deserves a private office requires being out in the field selling properties, which means an unoccupied office.
“These companies want to give top sales agents their own offices, which is hard to do because these agents are rarely in the office,” Coffey said. “For a real estate firm to lease a lot of space for offices that are rarely used is kind of the nature of the beast.”
Law firms in particular have had to balance the private spaces lawyers and partners expect with a need to cut down on operating costs. Stagnant employment prospects and declining fees have led several firms to downsize. Some have also adopted a universal office format, where senior partners and first-year associates receive the same amount of space.
Like brokers, lawyers see private offices as a reward. Shared offices are undesirable, as attorneys typically spend about twice the time in focused work as most other professionals, and value the quiet that a private office provides.
Lawyers are not moving into cubicles any time soon. While early adopters exist, U.S. firms have been more likely to seek efficiency through smaller attorney offices and multiuse spaces, rather than abandon private offices entirely, according to a Gensler survey.
While law firms and real estate agencies have not yet abandoned private offices, some companies have experimented with open floor plans for administrative or newly hired staff. At its New York City offices, White & Case modernized its private offices by ditching the classic dark wood bookshelves for lighter materials and glass walls. The shift brought more light into the space and prevented the office from feeling cramped. The firm also incorporated a communal work area for informal lunch meetings.
Remodeling trends have also moved toward improved reception areas and entries, Coffey said. Parker Brown recently served as the general contractor for a law firm renovation in Woodland Hills, California. The remodel called for built-in lounge couches, stone wraparound countertops and an aquarium.
“This is what the client sees when they walk in,” Coffey said. “Whether it is the client or a top-performing broker or lawyer, creating a sense of prestige is important for these companies.”
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