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Furnishing Collaborative Space To Enhance The Work Environment

Furnishing a flexible office space to create a collaborative environment can be a daunting experience, regardless of how long the space will be occupied.

This work lounge at Illumina's Building 6 was furnished by GMBI.

Interior design and office furnishing pros Gensler’s Director of Workplace, Maria Martinico, ICE founder/CEO DeLinda Forsythe, CORT Business Development Executive Barbara Cavanaugh and Illumina’s Jenny Durbin shared their insight to furnishing an open, collaborative office space and the special requirements of that type of environment.

Durbin, manager of Global Facilities Planning and Workplace Innovation at Illumina, said furniture is key to the design of any space, so it is important to bring in the furniture provider early, preferably along with the architect during the schematic design phase.

These San Diego collaborative space furnishings pros are Jenny Durbin, Maria Martinico, Barbara Cavanaugh and Delinda Forsythe.

This could involve a furniture designer/dealer like ICE or leasing firm like CORT, depending on whether the user is a startup in growth mode or an established office user. Durbin suggested developing relationships with both types of furniture providers, because even established companies lease furniture for temporary spaces while renovations or new buildings are under construction.

“What office users today really want is a ‘resimercial’ environment — a mixture of traditional and casual,” Cavanaugh said. “They want to feel like they’re working at home, but be able to collaborate with others."

This includes the ability to work outdoors, Martinico said.

Rooftops like this provide workers an outdoor workspace alternative.

Today’s workforce wants to use laptops or tablets anywhere. Companies are building WiFi-enabled spaces that blend formal with casual to create comfortable settings for meeting or working in outdoor café-like settings, outdoor patios or terraces with soft seating and tables. Forsythe, whose company not only sells office furniture but also designs and locally fabricates it, said electrical and data ports are now being built into outdoor furniture.

Durbin said the pursuit of a homey environment at work is changing Illumina's culture. Illumina is focused on transforming the workplace and implementing programs and amenities to attract top talent.

Some of these workplace enhancements include more choice and sustainable food options, child care, enhanced digital collaboration tools (videoconferencing, 100% WiFi-enabled spaces), quiet library-style spaces, work cafés, and sports and special-interest groups that encourage mindfulness and work-life balance. Illumina also is considering opportunities for serving beer/wine after hours to coincide with happy hour.

ICE uses wood and other natural materials in its furniture designs.

Cavanaugh said residential furniture is soft and injects comfortable elements of home into the office and softens sound. It is important to understand who will occupy the space and what their activities will be. An effective furniture consultant will interview the end users and create a space plan that addresses those needs, she said.

Forsythe said she uses “live edge” wood and other natural elements when designing “resimercial” furniture to bring nature into the office space. The use of natural materials provides a more welcoming environment that will attract and retain talent, she said.

The Workstation

This "benching" arrangement by Gensler uses privacy panels.

The open-plan landscape is continuing to evolve, Martinico said. Gensler creates neighborhoods and utilizes a kit of furniture parts that adapts to individuals' preferences.

“Individual adjustability is becoming an increasing request in the workplace," she said. “Sit-stand desks and height-adjustable screens that offer workers visual privacy, but can be detached, can be a solution in the open office environment."

Game developer High Moon Studios hired ICE to create a workspace that reflects the company's culture.

Forsythe agreed.

“An environment without visual privacy is not as effective and has given the all-open plan a bad rap," she said. "Without panels or screens at least 42 inches high, people can see all the stuff on a desk, and there is no personal privacy. Our most requested workstations offer seated privacy around the user, and 50 inches is ideal.”

Additionally, she said work surfaces should be oriented so workers are focused on their monitors, not other employees or activity going on around them. Even better is to provide a single- or dual-monitor arm that brings the monitor closer to the user and is fully adjustable, as well as a sit-stand desk base for ultimate flexibility.

Workstations and other furnishing in Illumina's new Building 6 collaborative office space was designed and provided by BKM.

Forsythe said choosing a good workstation design is the first step in creating an open workspace. Furniture dealers experienced in designing workstations, like ICE, help clients evaluate workstation designs by visiting various installations, so the client can personally experience the various solutions.

She recommended purchasing high-quality but lower cost workstations and investing in amenity and respite areas, such as lunchrooms, collaborative areas with cocoon enclosures, focus rooms, phone booths and outdoor spaces that offer employees a quiet escape to focus on a complex task or project.

“Outdoor furniture was not often requested 10 years ago, but has become vital for both clients and landlords to create a flexible work environment that enables workers to really enjoy our great weather,” Forsythe said.

‘Clean Design Details’

This 'resimerical' gathering space by ICE is at High Moon Studios, a gaming developer based in Carlsbad.

The detail around hiding cords is critical in open environments, as there are few or no panels to conceal them, Durbin said.

Forsythe said wire management troughs and sleeves should be specified for every desk and sometimes are incorporated as part of the structural element of the furniture.


ICE founder Delinda Forsythe said companies are using office design as a brand.

Acoustic design is a complex issue in an open office environment because so many different factors affect sound quality, including room size, floor covering, desk material, ceiling type, usage — even personality type, Forsythe said. Local acoustic consultant James Black said the most overlooked thing affecting sound quality is background noise levels.

Adding sound absorption strategies to large spaces with excessive sound reverberation can improve sound quality, but designing spaces to achieve good acoustics is best, with consideration to shape and size of the space.

There are other strategies like sound-masking, such as installing a system that raises the ambient noise level of an environment, which makes speech less intelligible and less distracting, Martinico said.

Sound-masking is a low-cost option for creating acoustical environments that reduces noise distractions and protects private conversations. She said the technology has been refined so much that it no longer interferes with cellphones.

Forsythe said the cost is about $2/SF installed.

Durbin said Illumina installed an entire system that includes sound-masking panels on walls on the i3 Campus. She suggests revisiting the space once it is occupied to analyze the impact of occupants and furnishings on sound.

Renovation/Build-Out Process

Cocoon enclosures by ICE at High Moon Studios.

While a space is under renovation, some office users require a swing space, Martinico said. In designing renovations or build-outs, she said Gensler requires furniture dealers to provide mock-ups, which involves creating prototypes of four or five different ideas of best solutions.

“We can do this with virtual reality, but some clients want to kick the physical tires, and see the finishes and quality,” Martinico said.

When selecting furnishings, Illumina asks for renderings.

Durbin said Illumina asks for renderings, because mock-ups cost $5K to $10K each.

“Something may work in one place, but not another,” she said, noting changing location of a workstation may not work and sit-stand is not for everyone.

Before going to the expense of sit-stand desks, Martinico suggested putting in a few to see if people actually use them. She said Gensler does visioning sessions with client executives and then designs spaces around the culture to support the company’s goals and mission.

“We bring in the furniture and all the trades — electrical, mechanical, plumbing — along with the general contractor and design to budget and project growth," she said.

Selecting Furniture

Alternative workspace-lounge by Gensler at Irvine Co. office building.

Cavanaugh said some clients are hesitant to make a large capital investment in furniture design and like to test drive new solutions by renting furniture prior to making a purchase.

“Moving from a traditional furniture layout to the open plan and resimercial aesthetic can be accomplished by renting first,” she said. “Finding out that your large capital investment is not working is not easily reversed if it is a purchase.”

Forsythe stressed the importance of touring showrooms and installations to understand what options are available and also matching furniture to the design and architecture of the space.

“You can’t just bring in a desk and expect it to work,” she said.