Employees Are Looking for Choice; Their Workplace Should Give It to Them

Panelists at the discussion included (left to right) Lila Allen, managing editor,  Metropolis ; Stephen Beacham, director of design for interiors, HOK; Caroline Pelley, design and space standards lead, Wells Fargo; Michele Kolbinsky, director of corporate services, Freddie Mac; and Tina Walker, director of real estate and facilities, BAE Systems.   Courtesy HOK

Panelists at the discussion included (left to right) Lila Allen, managing editor, Metropolis; Stephen Beacham, director of design for interiors, HOK; Caroline Pelley, design and space standards lead, Wells Fargo; Michele Kolbinsky, director of corporate services, Freddie Mac; and Tina Walker, director of real estate and facilities, BAE Systems. Courtesy HOK

With the imminent arrival of Amazon’s HQ2 in the Washington, D.C., area, local IT companies are scrambling to implement workplace strategies that can prevent employee flight. These strategies were the focus of a recent Metropolis Think Tank conversation at HOK‘s local office. Moderated by Metropolis managing editor Lila Allen, the panel dwelled on aspects of flexibility and choice, two key factors in keeping employees happy.

At the outset of the panel, designer Stephen Beacham identified crossover trends that blend elements from the hospitality, residential, and commercial sectors, the idea being that workers have choice in using the spaces that are right for them. In some places, flexibility means customized furniture solutions that allow for heads-down, quiet work within an otherwise open floor plan. In other contexts, it’s less about reconfiguring space than reframing working habits. “For a lot of our clients, we’re finding that we’re in a fusion period, where it’s not just about one way of working,” said Beacham, HOK’s director of design for interiors. “There are multiple generations and working styles to accommodate, so we have ‘corporate-ality’ and ‘resi-mercial.’”

These different demographics and lifestyles converge to form what Beacham called “agile” work environments. He cited as an example HOK‘s work for Wells Fargo at the latter’s new technology center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Caroline Pelley, the design and space standards lead for Wells Fargo, highlighted the project’s active street-level storefront and offices that offer a twist on the usual open layout. “What we’re doing in Charlotte is supporting agile work through workplace neighborhood choice,” said Pelley. “Every individual is assigned into a neighborhood, with personal storage and artifacts, but there are no assigned seats at all.” 

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The spatial design also carries with it an HR implication: it encourages a sense of ownership among members of a neighborhood who can customize their respective areas. Perhaps the biggest change in this office is a reduction of storage space, Pelley said. “Unassigned offices have zero storage. We’re retooling how we’re providing space, and reinvesting those dollars in finishes, tactile elements, and biophilia that we’re providing in those spaces. And in tech, so people can virtually collaborate.”