No need to Spec-ulate


If you attend as many programming, site selection and new business meetings as I do, you begin to see a distinct pattern: Most clients ask the same exact questions and have the exact same concerns. That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate this column (and the two that follow) to the top 10 most commonly asked client questions. This week, we’ll cover three interrelated topics, all of which pertain to designing a happier, more productive office:

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What is the best way to create a successful collaborative space?

We get asked this question every single week! Our recommendation is to think through a few technical issues before deciding on whether a kitchen, meeting area, town square or stadium seating area will work best for your firm. I caution firms to consider how many people may occupy the space at a given time, as codes may dictate quantity and density impacts safety. Take a close look at points of egress, as well as optimal utilization of your square footage. Space is costly, so you want to use it safely and wisely! Ideally, collaborative space should be multipurpose and flexible enough to change per a company’s needs, serving as a place for a group gathering, as well as an intimate conference area for three or four.

If, say, the area revolves around food, all the better — some of the best areas we’ve designed incorporate food and drink to become a fun spot to cook, cater and gather. Remember to work closely with your professional design and construction team on some of the technical aspects of this idea, as grease traps, electrical capacity and ventilation will need to be considered before the build-out begins.

How can we maintain our start-up vibe?

As big as they get, most evolving companies don’t want to lose the entrepreneurial energy they had back in their early days.  Fortunately, there is a way to double or triple — even quadruple — that office space, while still keeping the company culture intact.

Uber is a firm that has successfully accomplished this feat: They designed smaller “neighborhoods” (clusters of small groups of workstations) within the larger space, as opposed to the “sea of workstations” look that bigger firms often favor. These “neighborhoods” were similar in size to that of their previous offices, while tying together other teams of workers through arteries of circulation within the floor plan. Provocative open ceilings created a more “raw” workspace and an abundance of larger kitchens, auditoriums and common amenities areas made the combination of work and play a possibility.

Can each department have its own identity?

Vive la différence! I’m all for companies celebrating the uniqueness of each department. Typical firms often have a marketing, sales, engineering and accounting department each of whom want to have their office space reflect their group’s needs and personality. This is important not only on an internal level, but also for recruitment.

While I’m in favor of departments carving out an identity, I caution that companies design some flexibility into this objective. In other words, remember that groups can grow or change, so if the marketing team expands and needs to absorb part of the sales space, the design should support that. Create breakout or shared areas that link adjacent teams, creating a natural buffer. Use branding as a way to differentiate departments and teams and decor as a way to punctuate; think couches, tables, funky, high-top seating and art. Use technology to identify an area with less permanency. Flat panels can display a team’s spirit when not in use and double as a working area to collaborate on presentations later.

So, express yourself, but keep in mind that the overall style of a space should still be cohesive and unified. Remember: this is an office space, not a department store!

Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 2,000 projects.