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Tech’s Greatest Impact May Be In The Workplace Itself

Open floor plans, state-of-the-art amenities and healthy work environments have all been quintessential aspects of tech’s office design. Now that employees have more flexibility and mobility, companies will need to get even more creative to incorporate new and exciting workspace elements.

Yahoo's office in San Francisco

“Have we reached the maximum extension of [workspaces] or is there another evolution of that?” Louise Mozingo said.

Mozingo, UC Berkeley professor and chair of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design, has been studying the 70-year evolution of corporate campuses, and said tech's impact on the workspace started in the early 1940s. Bell Labs in Summit, New Jersey, had the first movable office walls, a cafeteria with free food and lounges with bamboo furniture to encourage communication among scientists.

Louise Mozingo, UC Berkeley professor and chair of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design

Offices have evolved into flexible workspaces as seen in WeWork, which she suggested is the ultimate endpoint of this current office evolution. She said team-based innovation has been important to creating technological advancements.

“There is an intensity in terms of innovation that seems to go along with having a maximum flexibility with how we do work,” she said. “As we become untethered from hardware, that flexibility increases.”

Several questions come to mind about the next step in the workplace evolution, she said. Can the office be evolved further? She said architects are now discussing getting rid of desks altogether and just putting in benches. Will there be a movement back toward privacy as the demographics change?

Calvano Development president Mark Calvano, WeWork general manager of the West Jon Slavet, UC Berkeley professor and chair Louise Mozingo, Okta vice president of global workpace services Armen Vartanian and Yahoo vice president of global real estate, workplace and procurement John Bruno

Companies like Yahoo, Okta and WeWork continue to push the boundaries of the office. Their workspaces offer open floor plans, flexibility, technological tools and mobility. Having flexible workspaces is important because multiple generations from Baby Boomers to Millennials are in the same space and have different workplace settings, Yahoo vice president of global real estate, workplace and procurement John Bruno said. Yahoo offers an extensive wireless network to increase mobility and offers cellphones because Millennials prefer to text.

Staying ahead of the game and incorporating technology into the workspace is important to attract more of the Millennial generation, which will make up 75% to 80% of the industry’s workforce within the next few years, according to Okta vice president of workspace services Armen Vartanian.

All were speakers at Bisnow’s recent Silicon Valley Workplace of the Future event.

Okta vice president of workspace services Armen Vartanian

“[Millennials] value technological investments in that space, and they value the flexibility to work from anywhere because they understand mobile capabilities,” Vartanian said.

Okta offers audiovisual tools, including what it calls Always On rooms. These portals connect engineers across offices in real time without needing to set up a meeting, according to Vartanian. The company is big on transparency and uses a lot of glass within the office to create more light and productivity, but to also allow for employees to know what a meeting is about.

One way Okta has created flexibility and mobility is through additional videoconferencing tools. It uses Zoom to create a completely untethered conference room with shared screens and can be used on multiple devices without having to spend 10 to 15 minutes to set up a single conference room.

JLL international director Bart Lammersen and Yahoo vice president of global real estate, workplace and procurement John Bruno

Yahoo's Bruno said Google Hangouts has been a great tool for its employees and has cut travel time down significantly. Other ways employees connect with each other in the open office floor plan is through standing meeting spaces where employees can gather around whiteboards with Post-It notes that are moved depending on the day’s objectives. Private spaces are available for quiet meetings.

Yahoo also offers perks such as access to a wellness center staffed by Stanford doctors, free food and Booster Fuel, an application-based company that will fill up employees' gas tanks while they are at work. Yahoo has been transforming its offices over the last few years into more open workspaces.

Calvano Development president Mark Calvano and WeWork general manager of WeWork West Jon Slavet

WeWork sees itself as creating community rather than just a place to work, WeWork general manager of the West Jon Slavet said. To help promote this concept, it uses a lot of glass and natural light that permeates throughout the building. It does not soundproof the glass so people know that someone else is in an adjacent office. WeWork designs its spaces for different styles and moods for its own workers and members.

WeWork offers an open common room with a 24/7 pantry with coffee, beer and fruit water. Glass offices with key entry are available as well as nooks and phone booth-sized soundproof spaces.

“People want to move throughout those spaces in the day,” Slavet said.

To increase interaction and connectivity within its spaces, WeWork has been experimenting with Comfy, an application that monitors employee temperature preferences. It has done so with its Berkeley building, and HVAC complaints and tickets dropped by two-thirds.