Apr 15, 2019

Creating a Living, Breathing Space

Creating a great workplace isn’t just about the space. It’s not about the amenities or a fancy office. A great workplace is always relevant. It reacts and adapts to its occupants, and it’s flexible enough to bring culture, history, work styles, and the tools employees need together effectively.

Getting there – actually designing a living, breathing space – takes an approach that puts people at the center of everything. When that happens, companies maximize efficiency, and employees get an environment where they feel comfortable, connected, and a sense of belonging.

Working in the Bay Area, we’re fortunate to observe and partner with some of the most innovative companies in the world. We’re often tasked with helping them create workplaces with impact in an environment that’s always changing. And One Workplace isn’t exempt from the same transformational forces. Like the clients we serve, our own work space must constantly adapt as we continue to grow and change.

Experience has taught us that every company is unique. Each has its own goals, demographics, cultures, and business issues. This is the story of how we redesigned our space. The theme might be unique to us. However, our approach to understanding what ultimately drives impact is applicable to everyone.

Welcome to the Modern Village.

Great spaces put people first.

When we started our Santa Clara headquarters redesign, the process set us on a collision course. We named the Project URTO after the Italian word for collision. It summarized the impact that happens when different ways of working, come together with new, opposing ideas. It was also an homage to our Italian family roots.

URTO questioned and ultimately reinvented the way we work within our space. We used Steelcase Workplace occupancy sensors and the data they gathered to analyze how employees interacted with each square foot. We applied the results from internal culture surveys and quantitative data to understand why they come to work, how they like to work, and where they prefer to work.

These insights helped shape the theme we based our design on: The Modern Village. Like a village, One Workplace is filled with people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and ages. Our office is also where multiple divisions and departments come together. Designing an environment that would bring all the people and workstyles together in a natural, human way became our central focus.

Great spaces provide a place for everyone. And everything.

Mindful design must account for the wide variety of activities employees engage in throughout the day. It should provide balance between functional, activity-based spaces, technology, furniture, and emotionally relevant design elements that create a sense of belonging.

To accomplish both, we built the Modern Village with different neighborhoods, each designed for the unique work group, activity, or customer team. Every neighborhood contains places that employees can engage with during the day depending on the task at hand.

Our Modern Village also includes common areas, central squares where people can gather, share stories, mingle or celebrate.

Great spaces are intuitive. They’re also surprising.

Creating environments that go beyond functional design to account for how individuals interact with technology, furniture, and the surrounding environment on an emotional level is an undertaking that puts people, not square footage, first.

From structural timber to décor, the materials we chose to create our modern village include elements that feel both familiar and surprising. Clean, modern, and crisp contemporary meet rural and rustic as a nod to our company history and rural parks in Italy. The final result supports our best work in an environment that delights, challenges, and makes us all feel at home.

Great spaces continually adapt.

More often than not, real transformation requires a leap into the unknown. The way employees work and the technology they use constantly changes. And high performing environments should change alongside them. But how do companies plan for those unknowns?

The Modern Village, like cities we live in, will be in a state of continual change. Our challenge will be implementing that change with minimal interruption to work and life. Our solution to that challenge was baking in adaptability early on in the design process. Planning for future business needs meant creating rooms and spaces that embrace and absorb technology. And using prefabricated flexible construction and areas for unique vignettes help us create new solutions quickly whenever needs arrive.

People change is personal.

One of our most intriguing learnings came during our change management activities. We learned through observation, interviews and surveys how different team members adapted to the shared pilot experience. Some team members easily embraced the concept of utilizing unassigned workspaces, shared neighborhoods, and agile work modes.

Surprisingly a study of predictive behavior uncovered a distinct relationship between two behavior profiles and their ease of adoption of our flexible workspace approach - something we named UrtonomySM. Urtonomy gives our employees the freedom and flexibility to choose the best place to get their work done at any given moment. It also accounts for the fact that the best place just might be outside of our office.

Good design is always human-centered.

When it comes to creating a great work space, no two companies are alike. Our clients come to us with unique cultures, constraints, and goals. They’re tasked with creating environments that often fall behind the innovative mindset of their companies. While human needs might change slowly over time, the tools we use and how we use them in the workplace do the opposite.

Creating the elusive effective workplace comes down to so many variables: technology, adaptability, space, and budget to name a few. But these are all challenges that a mindful, human-centered approach to design can navigate and solve.

When the people and culture that inhabit space are considered and planned for, the technology, furniture, and design all come together in a way that balances business demands for innovation, creativity and productivity with the individual employee’s need for belonging, accomplishment and wellbeing.

Our planning resulted in the Modern Village. What will yours turn into?