Forget mazelike corridors and drab cubicles: The spaces and places where we work have changed dramatically over the last decade, as organizations have realized the impact that office design can have on collaboration and innovation. And, in especially competitive markets, a company’s work space, from location to design, can be as much of a recruitment benefit (or a deterrent) as compensation or a job title.
"The most important aspect of a work space is helping people use their time effectively, and location, design, and the services you provide all play into that," says Lenny Beaudoin, senior managing director of real estate specialist CBRE’s workplace strategy group. "Plus, if you're going to encourage your people to come to the office, it should be worth the trip."
Headquartered in Austin, Bazaarvoice, a company that provides advertising and e-commerce solutions for brands and retailers, knows all about the benefits of smart work-space design. After relocating recently to its new 138,000-square-foot headquarters, the company experienced some profound changes.
Here, Jason Schultz, Bazaarvoice’s director of worldwide facilities, discusses the changes—such as more flexibility—and how the move is already paying dividends.
What were your original offices like?
We were in a fairly isolated location, out in the Austin suburbs. We had maybe three restaurants in close proximity. And a lot of time was spent on commuting, no matter what direction you were coming from.
Because of the way we utilized the floors in our old building, the office as a whole was really choppy. People had to badge in and out constantly and use the stairwells, which made the whole space fairly disorienting.
Because of this orientation, departments had become siloed. Inside, we had 5-foot-high cube walls. It was dark. People could be in the office and not interact with any other team except via email. They had to actively seek out face-to-face contact with other departments.
Moving a corporate headquarters is a big expense. A lot of companies might have chosen to just stay put. What made you decide to move? What wasn’t happening that you thought a move might enable?
We felt like the silos were hurting our business and that not having any cross-functional team interaction was becoming a bigger obstacle. We also needed our office to support our recruiting activities—attracting and retaining talent.
Our old office was also challenging for us from a recruiting standpoint, especially with some of our harder-to-fill roles in engineering and sales. We were going up against companies like Google and Facebook. And when recruits were comparing offers, it wasn’t just about the compensation; they were looking at the soft items, like office space and location.
We also wanted to make more spontaneous meetings happen. The kind where you'd see somebody in the hall and have an impromptu conversation. And finally, we wanted to have a layout that made it easy to adjust as needed to support our business.
So what changed? What’s different about the new offices?
First of all, with our new location, we took off, on average, about 4 or 5 miles per person from their daily commute. For Central Texas, that’s huge. That has an impact on not only our employees, but other commuters on the road.
The new office is very open, with much more shared space. We're the only company that has a dedicated Whole Foods café in their building. We subsidize it, and provide free coffee to our employees to make it a destination. It feels like a true café—not your typical quiet company cafeteria. It feels like you're going out.
The café is used all day long, from seven in the morning on. We also see a lot of informal meetings happening there. It’s created a central location we all touch every day.
What was the reaction the first day when everyone saw the new offices?
It was overwhelmingly positive. We actually had someone film it! The expressions of "Wow!" as people walked in… It just blew people away.
Open floor plans and other significant design changes can be hard for some employees to adjust to. How did you manage that?
You're always going to find exceptions when you’re asking people to get used to a different style of working. But for the people who were concerned about being easily distracted, they've found plenty of work-arounds. They're finding that if they move to a different area within the office, there are a lot of ways to find a quiet space.
How important was offering that flexibility—giving people options as opposed to a one-size-fits-all arrangement?
We were very thoughtful about how the meeting rooms are designed—we have large meeting rooms, we have huddle rooms for four to six people, and then a focus room, which is like an individual phone room for yourself. So if you need to focus and work on a project on your own, you have the flexibility to do that. And then there are collaborative spaces with sofas, whiteboards, and that sort of thing. I've seen all the different areas utilized in so many different ways.
When did you realize the redesign was working?
Since our move, I've had people come in and talk about how this is by far the coolest office they've seen. I've had recruiters come and high-five me after they walk a recruit out because that person was so psyched and could just see themselves working with us.
I still get unsolicited feedback from people at least twice a week, where they tell me about an impromptu meeting they had with so-and-so while standing in line at the café. That’s how I know it’s working. It’s so easy to reach out and connect with someone.
When we host clients, now we're really able to communicate confidence and get them to believe in us as a company. When you host somebody and you have a professional facility that presents and flows well, it adds to that relationship. It helps reinforce your credibility.
This article was created and commissioned by CBRE, and the views expressed are their own.