Talent shortages, changing work styles add complexity to office projects
The projects involve rooftop lounges with bocce courts and sunny cafes with barista machines that dispense everything from Caffe Americanos to hot chocolate. There are concierge desks, onsite gyms, inviting patios, sleek lounge furniture and architectural features that surround the visitor with impressive mixtures of wood, metal, stone and polished concrete.
But the projects are not hotels.
Increasingly, office projects are including expanded amenities, higher end finishes, distinctive designs and a variety of spaces for employees to work quietly, collaborate or recharge. For the construction industry, that trend creates considerable and exciting contract opportunities. To serve those commercial clients well, project teams need to understand the trends and challenges facing employers and how to deliver those elevated offices on tight schedules and limited budgets.
“Organizations and corporations have come to understand that design is important. They are no longer just trying to fit as many cubicles as possible into their space,” said Don Kammann, Vice President of Marketing and Workplace Strategy at Price Modern.
Striking design can convey corporate culture and impress visitors. It can also help attract and retain talent.
Consequently, “we’re seeing more reception areas become more hospitality focused,” and that hospitality is aimed at clients, job seekers, other visitors and employees alike, said Lou Ghitman, Principal of Interiors at Design Collective.
Companies are replacing the modest, back-office coffee room with beautiful, high-end coffee bars and lounges located within the reception area where staff and visitors can mingle, work and dine. In some cases, human resources operations are moved into or adjacent to that space.
“What better way to celebrate corporate culture than to celebrate your staff?” Ghitman said. “People entering the reception area get a better sense not just of the corporate mission, but the culture and the energy of the staff.”
To support existing staff members – and attract new ones – companies are outfitting their spaces with more amenities, including outsourced gyms, onsite drycleaners, ping pong tables and cornhole courts, outdoor spaces and even bars “so you can meet with a customer at four o’clock, have a drink and talk business,” Kammann said. “This level of amenities is not just for Google and California tech companies anymore. We are seeing these types of spaces in Baltimore.”
Joe Versey, Senior Vice President for Business Development at MacKenzie Contracting Company, points to a 16,000-square-foot gut renovation his company recently completed for Ciena in Hanover. Filled with high-end finishes, top-of-the-line technology and modern workspaces, the new facility also has a large, restaurant- quality cafeteria.
Ciena, like other technology companies, “is doing all this work and making this investment to be able to hire and retain employees because there is a shortage,” Versey said.
In addition to executing more complex designs and installing materials ranging from feature wood walls to ceiling clouds, glass walls and zinc and aluminum paneling, project teams sometimes must help a client resolve questions about how to arrange and size workspaces.
While most employers abandoned regimented rows of cubicles for more open workspaces a while ago, “people are still finding their tolerance with open plan,” Kammann said.
Realizing individuals’ need for privacy, some employers are outfitting workstations with a single high wall (60 inches) or creating ‘pods’ – small rooms (often 50 square feet) that workers can use temporarily to make calls or conduct quiet, focused work.
Overall, today’s workspaces are generally a mix of workstations, open benches, huddle rooms, larger meeting rooms, open spaces for collaborative work, some traditional offices and lounge areas. Determining what mix of work environments best fits employees increasingly is drawing employers and their designers into deeper analyses of how a company’s staff functions.
When Plano-Coudon Construction renovated and expanded its headquarters, “the biggest challenge was the design because you have to make sure each working group has an appropriate amount of space and access to the right kinds of spaces and technologies, and every group has different needs,” said Brandon Siegrist, Plano-Coudon Project Manager.
At the same time, companies also need to avoid customizing their space to the needs of individual employees because company growth, evolving operations and employee turnover can easily make that customization obsolete.
“Flexibility in design is a very popular request,” Ghitman said.“We try not to design around personal idiosyncrasies but come up with as many flexible standards as possible so the workplace can be reconfigured without any new, out-of-pocket expenses. Modular furniture is very supportive of that work style.”
Contemporary, open office design with its array of workspaces also creates an infrastructure challenge and expense.
“With very little personal space in an open plan, an individual has to shift their thinking from ‘this is my work station’ to ‘this is my work floor’ and the organization has to provide everything on that floor to untether the employee so they can work throughout the floorplate,” Kammann said.
So beyond providing high-speed Internet connection throughout the space, employers need to install display screens and other technology in numerous locations and route power to more and sometimes tricky locations, such as lounge areas, moveable training or collaboration tables, as well as portions of the office that have moveable walls/barriers that are intended to be reconfigured frequently. Today’s elevated office designs, however, appear to benefit both employers and commercial property owners. After Plano-Coudon completed a major renovation of a COPT property in Columbia, the redesigned building that features a common-area coffee bar and lounge, outdoor patios, onsite gym and urban design elements leased far quicker than the owner projected.