The following article was produced and paid for by Helix Architecture + Design:
The open office debate, catalyzed by a (perhaps infamous) Washington Post piece, has made headlines for more than five years. Often seen as a trademark of the tech industry, the open office has been broadly implemented to varying degrees of success. It has even been the subject of extensive research: an oft-cited study from Harvard correlates an open office layout to decreased collaboration, while Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded that the open office enhances physical activity and reduces stress.
Silicon Valley may have popularized the open office, but Kansas City is uniquely poised to shift the narrative about workplace design. As designers at Helix Architecture + Design who have collectively crafted more than 24 million square-feet of workplace, we have seen what actually works.
Our clients range from growing tech companies to national corporations, but three components of workplace design remain at the heart of our process: choice, wellness, and telling your story. Here are specific examples of what that can look like when implemented successfully:
The spaces available to employees at DEG, one of the fastest growing digital marketing agencies in the country, is organized by team. Each section offers an open office
component, as well as internal conference rooms for meetings and quiet individual rooms for focused work. The range of seating options also allows them to work when and where they will be most effective throughout the day. By understanding how DEG employees do their jobs, the workplace offers them the tools and resources that they need.
Why this matters:
To further illustrate the success of providing a variety of spaces for employees to work is recent research (yes, more research) from Gensler, which found that the U.S. workplace is becoming more effective and more collaborative. Of the workplaces that were deemed the most effective, these offices paired open environments with alternative work spaces.
When a financial services firm revitalized frequently used common space on their campus, a key objective was to promote wellness. The most impactful aspect of this undertaking was the transformation of the cafe. With a focus on providing healthy food, the menu was revamped to include lighter options. The custom graphic on the glass partition tells a story of farm-to-table, and fresh herbs reap the benefits of the natural daylight that pours through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The cafe has also quickly become a popular touchdown point for employees who wish to work away from their desks and take in the views of the nearby park.
Why this matters:
The OEM study mentioned earlier found that an open office layout can improve physical activity and reduce stress. Recognizing the benefits of supporting wellness can also have a major impact on a company’s bottom line by mitigating avoidable sick days, which translates to keeping, not losing, revenue.
Telling Your Story
In 2012, Olsson was on track to reach a major milestone: 1,000 employees. As they grew, they wanted their workplace to reflect their culture across all of their offices, while still celebrating each branch’s identity. There are some commonalities in all of the offices, including the entry experience, streamlined workstations, and elements of the green from the Olsson logo integrated throughout. However, each office has opportunities to depart from the unified identity and highlight their local culture with personalized elements like a feature wall and custom artwork.
Why this matters:
The evolving composition of the workforce is undoubtedly having a ripple effect on how companies approach cultivating a strong workplace identity and culture, but workers across all generations aspire to work for value-based companies. In fact, more than 60 percent of workers said they would take a pay cut to work for a company with a mission that they believed in. Reinforcing values in workplace design can continuously inspire and motivate employees.
As noted in the latest State of the Downtown report from the Downtown Council and mySidewalk, the Greater Downtown Kansas City region has a high density of jobs — but there is still room to add more. Established companies, growing start-ups, and even the federal government are taking notice of what Kansas City and the metro area has to offer.
These investments in our community also represent what could be tremendous investments in our workplace ecosystem. This is an opportunity to set the new standard for what a truly impactful workplace could be — one that measures its success based on how it serves the productivity, engagement, and wellbeing of people.