Office space: Open Plan, Mobile-Minded, Fun

By Roger Showley
The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The office of the future is here.

Employers competing for hard-working millennials and developers angling to make workplace better than home are embracing new layouts that are big on technology and teamwork and dismissive of office-as-status symbol.

“In four years half the workers will be millennials,” said Matt Root, managing partner of Parallel Capital Partners that specializes in commercial real estate in seven markets nationally, including Sorrento Valley. “The young generation share and collaborate — that’s how they’ve been brought up.”

So the trick in today’s office world is to find a happy medium between the 1960s “Organization Man” order of cubicles and private suites and the “Burning Man” scene of funky, flexible and free-food-for-the-taking spaces.

“It’s a much more ‘home’ environment,” said designer Paul Basile. “They make it so relaxing and nice that you don’t want to leave, so you get extra hours out of people.”

Gensler architect Claudia Salazar said the drawback of the new office is the disappearance of personalization. There’s no room for flower pots, family photos and knicknacks if you move from desk to desk as projects come up week after week.

“From a certain point of view, it’s like you don’t own your space anymore,” she said. “You become nomadic, you bring around your stuff.”

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Lena Brion, 2017 president of the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, said the new office is more economical and efficient.

“People are very liberated and it does seem like people are happier and stay longer,” she said.

Here are three examples of new offices and what makes them special:

Digital Telepathy
* Consultants for projects and marketing campaigns
* Location: 770 11th Ave., downtown San Diego
* Space: 9,000 square feet in former warehouse with 35-foot ceilings; completed April 2013; 35 employees
* Highlight: Movable tables that double as white boards and lunch surfaces; designer, Basile Studio
* More information: Digital Telepathy

Located in a former brick warehouse with 35-foot ceilings, Digital Telepathy is decided millennial-minded. There are no private offices, everybody works elbow-to-elbow and all join in twice-weekly free lunches cooked by a gourmet chef and other team-building outings and projects.

The centerpiece is a glass tablethat designer Paul Basile fashioned out of a discarded precision tooling machine. A second slab of glass can be rolled out to extend the table by about 15 feet and double as a giant picnic table for the 50 employees.

“The reason behind everything isn’t just to look cool,” said company founder Chuck Longanecker. “It’s camaraderie, eating together, getting to know people.”

For small meetings staff choose a conference room suitable to the assignment at hand: “The Lodge” has a fake fireplace and moosehead where meeting with clients and prospective hires can take place in a calm, welcoming setting. “The Edison” is for brainstorming and developing product concepts that the famous inventor might appreciate. The “Eames” is a mid-century modern setting, apropos of Charles and Ray Eames leather and plywood lounge chair, for reviewing designs for Digital Telepathy clients. On one day a staff committee was drafting a sabbatical policy.

“We’re on the cusp on where a lot of new growth is in downtown San Diego — a lot of great spaces and a lot of creative people and artists,” Longanecker said.

* Commercial real estate brokerage
* Location 350 10th Avenue, downtown San Diego
* Space: 6,500 square feet on eighth floor of DiamondView Tower; completed May 2014; 50 employees
* Highlights: “Free address” work stations, personal laptops and headsets, views of Petco Park field; designer, Gensler
* More information: CBRE downtown

Men and women in business dress used to gravitate to their respective cubicles and corner suites befitting their status in CBRE offices. But that hierarchical pecking order did not suit CBBRE’s need for collaboration across property types and geographic trends. Desks and offices were occupied only 48 percent of the time and the place lacked a sense of urgency and vigor.

“So you’re not utilizing your space efficiently and when you have 50 percent of the space empty, it lacks energy and excitement which affects the culture,” said Paul Komadina, CBRE regional managing director.

And so all 350 CBRE offices worldwide are converting to “free address” work spaces, where no one has an assigned desk. Each person, executive as well as receptionist, gets a laptop and headset and at the end of the day, stores their stuff in a locker.

Cubicles and “touchdown” table tops are outfitted with phone and Internet connections and chairs and tables can be raised and lowered to allow working while sitting or standing. The lunchroom is replaced by a centralized coffee bar.

After 15 months in the new configuration, Komadina said the new approach has been a “huge success” for the 35 staffers.
Computerizing records has reduced hard-copy files by 94 percent, printouts have down 30 percent and staff have embraced the flexibility of working at any CBRE office with some preferring to work in Carlsbad and others downtown rather than at the UTC main headquarters, which is currently being converted.

CBRE clients have toured the downtown space and begun to request the same layout concept.

And if commissions are less because companies need less space, that’s OK.

“How much space they take is irrelevant to us as long as the space functions,” Komadina said.

While companies can get by with 25 percent less space, he said, a building needs more restrooms, robust heating and air conditioning systems and more parking to accommodate more people per floor. The typical ratio of four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet is now inching up to five.

Helix Electric
* Electrical contractor
* Location: 6795 Flanders Drive, Mira Mesa
* Space: 50,000 square feet in former industrial tiltup building; 100 employees; completed December 2012
* Highlights: Two courtyards flanking common meeting and reception space; designer, Carrier Johnson + Culture
* More information:

An electrical contractor would seem an unlikely candidate for the office of the future. What’s the point in spiffy digs when you’re dealing in conduit, copper and junction boxes?

There are people who prepare the bids and manage the contracts, others who design the electrical grids and and install the equipment and others who do the billing.

“We had an opportunity to start over and we thought we might as well push the boundary a little bit,” said President Boris Shekhter.

Gordon Carrier, whose architectural firm Carrier Johnson + Culture redesigned the 50,000-square-foot industrial tiltup building in Mira Mesa, said a key goal was to break down barriers between departments and promote better communication.

“They came from a very cellular single office, closed-office environment,” Carrier said, and located in numerous spaces in several buildings. “The idea was to do just the opposite, open it up, put people in cubicle spaces and if they had an office, have a glass wall that slides open or closed for privacy. Nobody was isolated from view from any player in the culture.”

The centerpiece is reception area that doubles as a gathering place for company meetings and celebrations. It is flanked by two open-air courtyards carved out of the middle of the building — not only to offer retreats from desk work but also extend natural light to interior cubicles.

“We’re a contractor — we’re not that sexy,” said Shekhter.

But a onetime skeptic of the open office, he now counts himself as a true believer: “”I really like it.”

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