Meet Me at the Nespresso: An Ode to Modern Communal Work Spaces
Scott Spector Aug. 5, 2013, 6 a.m.
I have something to admit. While we frequently field calls from landlords, tenants and brokers who turn to us for the latest in architecture and design trends, I’m often looking right back at them. That’s because watching our clients closely clues us in on what will be next on the horizon and even, sometimes, what we ought to be doing at our own firm.
It’s true—some of our best ideas have come right from our clients! In fact, just a few weeks ago, Spector Group had its first-ever impromptu potluck celebration. What was our inspiration? Seeing one of our clients use the concept to boost office morale—and for recruitment and retention purposes—made us think, “We have a friendly, open-office culture, so why not us too?” The idea did not come from management (though it was so successful I wish it did!). Instead, one of our architects led the charge, organizing the gathering and signing people up to contribute. Before we knew it, the home-cooked goods and delectable take-out started rolling in. A smorgasbord feast was set up in our pantry and was enjoyed by the kind of smiling work force every business owner dreams about.
Following that gathering, I am an even greater proponent of bringing community into the work space. When the trend first came about, we witnessed it primarily among social media, tech and creative firms, and nobody knew if the concept would translate well elsewhere. Then it started to be embraced by more traditional firms such as law offices and financial companies—pantries where groups could dine together, comfortable seating areas for connecting with co-workers and open spaces for gathering. These slowly took the place of old-school cafeteria setups and additional conference room spaces.
Companies discovered that, since socialization often revolves around food, designated areas that allow for a mix of both business and pleasure can lead to a more interconnected and productive work force.
As the architect, we get to play the “armchair quarterback,” educating others about trends and promoting what works well in design, such as spaces that allow for impromptu gatherings like the one we just hosted. We also carry the responsibility of warning companies about what might not be appropriate for them, such as too much open space, which equals lost efficiency and density. Though these communal areas carry many benefits, one should be cautioned to keep an eye on the real estate piece of the puzzle, so the bottom line is still a consideration.
As with most architecture choices, a happy medium can be achieved. Flexibility in design can allow a company to shift the use of open spaces to add staff as needed, or to begin with a design that blends different functions into one space. A closer examination of the office culture will help make the determination of how to incorporate communal gathering and dining spaces while respecting a company’s true nature. No, adding a pantry or group social space does not mean you will have to commit to a giant room filled with beanbags.
And, as always, before proceeding with a plan, it’s important to check building codes to see what’s allowed and what isn’t. Gathering spaces often sit at the center of a design and are one of the larger programmatic areas to consider when drawing one up.
Good design should bring people together and make the work environment as pleasant as possible. While how that looks has changed in the past 30 years—and surely will again in years to come—the need for community is most certainly here to stay. Want to discuss it further? If so, no need to meet me at the water cooler.
You can find me in the office pantry.