All for One, One for All



Designing office spaces to accommodate different departments within a company isn’t unusual. Nor is meeting a business’ various space-planning and design needs while maintaining a cohesive look and brand sensibility that allows for appropriate future expansions. But what about designing an office that’s home to two or more distinct companies, each with its own identity and needs?

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My firm was recently awarded two projects where three separate companies are moving into a shared office. In both scenarios, the companies—all in different sectors—are sub-firms under an umbrella organization. Each individual company came equipped with its own needs and requirements. The directive wasn’t for an incubator set up but a program built with mutual flexibility and growth in mind. Each is a mature business where, together, they determined that sharing a space would create a beneficial synergy, while reducing each business’ overhead costs.

Sure, it’s not unusual for companies to consolidate their locations around town, going, say, from three or four sites to one or two, the way Pernod Ricard USA did a couple of years ago. But what is new is a rise in how sub-companies are being nurtured to a more mature level by taking on larger blocks of space.

Whatever the intention, the concept of shared offices requires a true pliancy built into the program to work. With that, there are several ways to maximize the setup, including the following best practices.

Flexibility is key and, while it’s easy to say, can be more involved to fully implement. Looking at, for instance, how private offices can transition into meeting rooms and vice versa, or incorporating multifunctional rooms that can be reorganized and accommodate more than one use throughout the day.

Furnishings should be consistent, yet provide for different needs. Choosing one furniture system that can accommodate the needs of all of the companies in a space, allows for future moves within it. For example, if one business grows and another scales back, the former business could more seamlessly expand into the available space, without having to create makeshift workstations. Moreover, investing in durable, quality systems with high design ensures a pleasing, long-lasting aesthetic throughout the office, along with the ability to share elements, as needed or is prudent. In addition, using flexible screens and wall options can provide a sense of division while opening the way for future rearrangements without having to deconstruct existing structural walls or build new ones.

Free address workstations provide, perhaps, the ultimate in workplace flexibility. The free address workstation—this is where unassigned workspaces and breakout areas are available to team members as needed—are a very good thing. Because the setup bypasses the traditional sectioning off of dedicated desks, people can park in a spot that best serves their needs of the moment. In a multi-company environment, that means those from different teams could end up working alongside each other, opening the way for mutual inspiration and camaraderie.

Keep in mind the office acoustics. Using furnishings and finish treatments that minimize sound travel in the layout prevents unwanted noise from conversations and equipment use from distracting people from their work. That can be especially important if one of the businesses that shares the space involves noisy applications. 

Access to daylight and views is a given and a promise that needs to be delivered. Sharing a space means finding ways to share available daylight, too, especially if all the coveted views are on one side of the building.

Understand the needs of each firm, upfront. Gathering as much information as possible about each business’ needs can go a long way in defining workplace strategy. Look for overlaps in needs, such as meeting rooms, telephone rooms, breakout spaces, fitness and wellness areas and cafés. 

Consider the office’s social synergy. Incorporating terraces and outdoor environments, cafés or meetup spots can heighten interaction and connections across companies. Encourage the “mingle” part of the design. One of the companies we’re designing a space for has centralized its café and amenities to create a heart within the office. Everyone goes to the location for brainstorming sessions, spontaneous interaction and to otherwise socialize and share good ideas.

Celebrate each company as the individual entity that it is. Featuring each firm’s brand in a flexible but prominent way showcases their distinct values and identities, without the structural limitations of built-in designs. For instance, an impressive screen that displays companies’ products and services can provide a semi-permanent way to tout each firm’s business. And a wall that displays each company’s logo can highlight the office’s distinct yet unified approach. Signage that features pops of brand colors also can help identify the space.

As businesses consolidate their physical presence, spaces that meet the needs of individual enterprises as well as the brand of their umbrella firms, are sure to lead the way in cutting-edge design.

sespector@spectorgroup.com

Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms.