Most of us are familiar with suburban corporate campuses of the 1950s. Have you wondered why so many offices look the same today?
“Many companies, including those in Silicon Valley, use a workplace model that’s now over a half century old,” says Allison Arieff, Editorial Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Research Association (SPUR). “[The] paradigm is way past the point of needing rethinking.”
As the former founding editor-in-chief of Dwell magazine and senior content lead at global design and innovation firm IDEO, Allison has studied some of the world’s most forward-thinking companies. Transforming the workplace is non-trivial. Campuses take years to build, and they need to last just as long. What steps must digital-first enterprises take?
Allison recently explored answers to this question in partnership with a task force of nearly 25 experts and private sector employers. Rethinking the Corporate Campus(1) shares insights from myriad interviews and research findings — to present how enterprises currently determine workplace location and form; identify trends critical to workplace performance; and illuminate pragmatic ways that companies, cities, and communities can create workplaces of the future.
“Being on the cutting edge of workplace [is] a great differentiator for companies.”
— Allison Arieff
Overall, there’s good news: While offices were once regarded simply as places for people to work, they now represent a largely untapped strategic advantage. Below are key insights and recommendations from SPUR’s report.
Location shapes employee experience
Former commuters can recognize the impact of accessible offices on their work day and the environment to boot. Remote suburban campuses are typically removed from areas where city dwellers live, and massive offices and parking structures can impact employees’ pedestrian experience. Consider Apple’s new campus as an example, which has a one-to-one ratio of office space to parking.
The new Apple Park in Cupertino has 175 acres of rolling parkland and is one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world.
To circumvent such issues, some enterprises have essentially gone into the transportation business and run sophisticated programs just to get people to work. But challenges continue, even after employees arrive for the day.
These flat, suburban buildings reflect an architectural philosophy that open, shared spaces are conducive to collaboration, but experience indicates employees opt to meet virtually instead of walk cross-campus. This cultural isolation can create groupthink that isn't conducive to problem-solving.
Some companies are testing other models. Buildings like the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco and Amazon's offices in Seattle embrace how multiple floors aid information to flow across teams as employees interact face-to-face.
Salesforce’s new campus in San Francisco
Additionally, Box recently occupied a seven-story building in downtown Redwood City that’s directly above the Caltrain station, so employees across the San Francisco Bay Area can easily get to work. It also subleases a near-identical, adjacent building to accommodate organizational growth cycles over time. Pedestrian-friendly ground floors encourage patronage of local businesses, and parking is shared with the downtown public optimize space utilization. In addition to being eco-friendly, this arrangement reduces corporate parking costs, which the sharing economy is already making less relevant.
Says Box CIO Paul Chapman, "The office architecture primes Box’s team for collaboration and to live the company mission every day: Work as one."
“Flow is important, how you connect and bring people together.”
— Paul Chapman
Box’s office in downtown Redwood City
Teams that develop in-personal camaraderie tend to share more information. They also tend to stay longer at the company because they're happier with their jobs. Creating an environment that connects people is integral to a positive employee experience.
Allison agrees that office architecture and location “can make all the difference.”
Urban integration reflects company values
There is great untapped potential in thinking more urbanistically about how corporate campuses integrate with surrounding communities, says Allison. The best talent wants to access to nearby attractions for recreational breaks, such as parks and restaurants, libraries and museums — just by walking out the corporate front door. “Millennial[s], and frankly, most of the workforce,” says Allison, “Is really attracted to walkable urbanism.”
“When people love their office and nearby surroundings, and they interact with a mix of people, they generate solutions and confront problems in more compelling and relevant ways.”
— Allison Arieff
Of course, companies and communities will need to work with cities to affect changes in zoning that facilitate more walkable areas and allow businesses, jobs and housing to enter those downtowns. This healthy mix is an ideal for citizens and communities to aspire to, as well as a smart strategy for companies moving forward.
Hybrid workspaces create diverse, creative environments
Increasingly, the corporate campus is becoming a mechanism for companies to express personality and culture. Enterprises encourage the healthy exchange of ideas with different kinds of workplace variety: Living room-style lounge areas complement more standard conference rooms and cubicles, as well as open areas and shared seating.
"The most innovative thing companies can do right now is offer workplace variety. Autonomy trumps all."
— Allison Arieff
Many companies are now making space for new types activities, from meditation to arcade games and libraries. Instead of using corner offices, executives sit at open desks with the rest of the team.
"[People who used] to fight to find a conference room now fight for a place on the couch."
— Paul Chapman
Just as consumers reject one-size-fits-all solutions, employees expect options and customization. Not everyone works well in the same environment, and the pendulum of popular preference will continue to swing between single-person offices, individual cubes, and open areas. Not every company can offer all options, but all organizations can offer some.
The next-generation workplace
What does the office of the future look like? Very possibly, it involves no assigned office at all. Having remote employees and working-from-home options are rising trends, but even though people demand mobility, they still desire human contact. We are social animals who will always crave collaboration, regardless of shape or form. The question is what forms best enable it.
In the race for talent, great campuses powered by excellent technology are now a key asset.
The blueprint for a modern campus
- Select a location with access to public transportation and a dense, walkable urban environment
- Choose an architectural design that connects people
- Express company values and personality with hybrid workspaces
About Allison Arieff
Allison Arieff is a New York Times contributing columnist, was the editor-in-chief of Dwell Magazine, and has authored two books. Today, Allison brings people together across the political spectrum to develop solutions to problems that cities face by serving as editorial director of SPUR, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Research Association.