WORKTECH 12 West Coast: Brainstorms the Perfect Workplace Environment

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Thanks to technology, employees can reach people and information at any time. But with that freedom come a new set of challenges for the people who design remote and physical workspaces.

“Work is getting more complex and the solutions to problems have to be as complex to match that,” said Cindy Froggatt, author and workplace strategist. “Why not spend time in places that inspire, delight us, and engage us?”

A group of seasoned and forward-thinking real-estate professionals gathered Oct. 15 at WorkTech 12 West Coast to envision today’s ideal workspace. To get those gears turning, the conference was appropriately held at the new and innovative Evernote headquarters in Redwood City, Calif.

Evernote’s Signage in their Lobby

“Work is no longer that place where you go – it’s what you do. People want to be connected at all times,” said Paul Johnson, senior director of business applications at Platronics, a top headsets maker.

Providing a variety of work environments enables employees to move seamlessly, whether it’s coming into work for an hour or collaborating with different project members across the globe. Relying on smarter technologies can create new levels of productivity.

“Conference rooms, lounges and chat rooms need to be incorporated into the modern enterprise,” he said. “Voice, text, email, and video are supported by a strong network with WiFi capabilities.”

Ryan Anderson, director of future technology at Herman Miller, discussed the rights and responsibilities of mobile workers. Over the past few months, he’s crafted a vision of how technology will affect work in the year 2018.

“Will technology and mobility actually increase the quality of our work, or will it improve the quality of our work life?” he asked.

Technology has granted employees a new set of rights to work where they want, when they want. But with that flexibility come digital distractions, which can impact sleep patterns and interrupt dinner conversations.

“There is a mounting degree of evidence that the way we use mobile technologies is causing concerns about the way people think and behave,” said Anderson. “It’s our responsibility to know when to turn the work off.”

WORKTECH Conference @ Evernote

When it comes to designing the perfect workplace, communicating with employees is key.

“If you don’t understand them you can’t serve them,” said Justin Bedecarre, associate at Cushman & Wakefield.

Designing collaborative spaces takes research to find out how people work, said Mary Lee Duff, principal at IA Interior Architects, and the designed product should align with where the business wants to go.

“We see our space and our culture as a direct extension of our product,” said Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, a notetaking service. “Our explicit goal is to make products we want to use and a company we want to keep.”

In the Studio O+A-designed Evernote space, stairs can be used as seats to encourage interaction between floors.

“[We’re] using the entire floorplate as a workspace,” explained Primo Orpilla, principal at Studio O + A.

Town-hall setups are also effective in creating a team-building atmosphere. AOL’s Palo Alto office adopts that approach with gaming areas that can be pulled out and turned into training rooms.

To create quiet areas, a library atmosphere can encourage a heads-down workplace.

Quid Inc. employees attended the University of Oxford and wanted to replicate its timeless English library. So to evoke that feel, O + A inserted a wall of books, an old-school chalkboard, and high-back chairs in the software company’s San Francisco office.

Evernote’s Bike rack

People flock to places where there are other people, and the number of friends people have at work is a strong indicator of their intent to stay.

“Too few people and the space is dull and lifeless,” said Froggatt. “Too many people and it’s too noisy and crowded. There’s a fine balance to creating the best employee experience for each person.”

With the dawn of telecommuting, offices are now competing with Starbucks or someone’s home couch.

“The idea is to make the space a lot more compelling and a place people really want to come to,” said Duff.

Evernote even makes it easier for its employees to get there. They can pluck a company-owned bike off the wall and cruise back and forth between the office and nearby Caltrain station, a popular mode of transportation for Silicon Valley employees.

If biking isn’t their favored form of exercise, they can use the company’s spacious first-floor gym.

“We are trying to build a startup people will still be in love with 100 years from now, no matter how big we get,” said Libin.

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