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Exclusive Q&A: What PayPal Wants From Creative Office

There is no set recipe for the best creative office space, especially for tech companies where needs change so fast. Bisnow sat down with PayPal director of real estate and facilities Kevin Kearns (actually, we talked with him by phone while he was in one of PayPal's small, strategically placed "focus rooms" that employees use when they need a little more privacy) this week to learn more about what really makes the best space. You can hear more from Kevin at our San Francisco Creative Office & Tech event on Dec. 15 at Hotel Nikko, starting at 7:30am.


Bisnow: What drives how you organize workspaces within your offices?

Kevin Kearns: The days of 8x8 cubes and offices where everyone got them and it didn't matter what you did for the company—that doesn't work anymore. It hasn't worked for the last decade. We have to then ask, "Which group are we trying to satisfy?" I think the biggest challenge is how do you provide the furniture and amenity environment that works for the greatest number of people knowing there are differences.

For engineers and programmers, there's so much collaboration, putting them in private offices or high-walled cubes doesn't work. They need collaborative areas where they can huddle together with their laptops and compare code. Then you have payroll or legal—they need anything but that. They need a dedicated workspace; they need autonomy and privacy.

Finally, you need flexibility. If one design is thought out for one user group and that group moves or grows, it may not work for another.


Bisnow: What is it about a facility that draws employees?

Kevin Kearns: The biggest revelation in the last few years has been acknowledging that, with a lot of these employees, what matters to them is not what we thought mattered in the past. They don't care about carpet colors, ceiling tiles or lighting fixtures. What matters is technology: Can they access the technology where and when they need to and be mobile and flexible? (Above is one of PayPal's outdoor spaces where employees can connect wirelessly.)

Then there are all the other amenities, such as good quality food or games. For a lot of tech employees, probably the most important thing after connectivity is the game room.

Bisnow: At its San Jose HQ, PayPal has a range of amenities including food trucks, community gardens (shown below), electric vehicle charging stations, cafeterias and fitness classes. What make these amenities important?

Kevin Kearns: The competition for top talent is fierce, especially in Silicon Valley. At what point does the pay stop being the determining factor? What starts to matter is the quality of life when they're there during the day. The challenge for the real estate group is how to come up with these environments in a cost-effective way.


Bisnow: What have been some key shifts in thinking about creative office space?

Kevin Kearns: For a period of time, it seemed the big desire was collaborative space. Companies sought ways to densify with a more open plan and different furniture system, but that led to a greater demand for meeting rooms and conference rooms for private calls.

Then the rage for awhile was flex seating and desk sharing. The idea was you really didn't need a 1:1 employee-to-desk ratio, because at any point the employee might be in a meeting or away and not need the desk. That looked great on paper. The reality is that it didn't work. People might leave their desk to go to a meeting for an hour, but when they came back to the desk the person sitting there might not have a meeting.

We found there really isn't an escape from the 1:1 ratio without a lot of angst. Now, we know you need 1:1 for the most part and know you need to add collaborative space.

Bisnow: What do you see driving future change?

Kevin Kearns: I'm sure the way our offices look today are not the way they are going to look a few years from now as the type of work and global nature of what our companies do will change. Not long ago, teleconferencing was not very prevalent, there was maybe one room with a televideo connection. Now it's very common. Offices will be much more reflective of a much more advanced technological society over the next few years.


Bisnow: What's your favorite place on PayPal's San Jose campus?

Kevin Kearns: One of the greatest amenities for me is the fitness center (shown above), which seems to be used by about 30% to 40% of our population. It's one of the few places where you're not looking to connect for work. It's got TVs —and wireless if you want to connect—but it's also quite all right for 30 to 45 minutes to disconnect and work out.

To hear more, please join us at our San Francisco Creative Office & Tech event on Dec. 15 at Hotel Nikko, starting at 7:30am. Sign up here!