WORKTECH 13 West Coast in Review

The consensus is clear as a Philippe Starck Ghost Chair: The future workforce, though changing, will always need an element of human interaction.

WORKTECH 13 West Coast was held on November 7, in an exposed shell in San Francisco’s newly-renovated 140 New Montgomery, an Art Deco masterpiece that used to house PacBell. Wilson Meany moved in with heavy machinery and transformed the site all the way to the top 26th floor, replacing 1,300 windows in all. Many features were preserved, including lobby finishes and original doors in tenant spaces.

The lobby at 140 New Montgomery.
The lobby at 140 New Montgomery.

WORKTECH speaker Chris Hacker, Creative Director of Global Work at Herman Miller, broke down the anatomy of a “living office.” Herman Miller names 10 modes of work, or “settings,” which are distinct in purpose, scale and sociability. A landing, for instance, is a two-to-four person open perching spot adjacent to meeting spaces or forums that acts as a place to warm up before and cool down after presentations. There’s no “one size fits all” configuration, he stressed.

Speakers agreed that ideas are better generated within group settings.

“Groups make logical decisions about the future of the business than they would buried in private offices,” said Hacker. Herman Miller’s coffee bar – shown on the screen in the photo of Hacker – acts as a brainstorming meeting ground.

Chris Hacker – Creative Director of Global Work at Herman Miller – shows off Herman Miller's coffee bar.
Chris Hacker – Creative Director of Global Work at Herman Miller – shows off Herman Miller’s coffee bar.

Speakers also offered tips for maintaining productivity levels. Keeping DreamWorks Animation’s office motivated and engaged can sometimes be daunting; a single animated film can take up to five years to make, noted HR head Dan Satterthwaite.

He’s intrigued by the challenge of creating an environment where both innovation and creativity can thrive. The perks that top companies offer, like free food and activities (DreamWorks has yoga, jiu-jitsu, and hula hooping, for instance), could become the new normal in corporate America, he predicts.

“We need to think about a deeper set of human emotions,” he said. DreamWorks focuses on trust and transparency amongst employees, risk (a movie’s success is determined in the first four days of its release; “it’s a nail biter,” he says), and a sense of choice.

Culture, a key ingredient of effective workspaces, is typically cultivated at the top, notes Everett Katigbak, Pinterest’s brand manager. The former environmental design manager at Facebook says an executive’s behavior can set the stage for years to come.

Yelp kitch
The kitchen in the new Yelp HQ.

Yelp’s culture flows through its entire multi-floor space. (The rating service’s new O+A-designed headquarters sits in 140 New Montgomery, and we got a tour.) Yelp modeled its lobby after a rustic, wooden general store to embrace its community of retailers, many of which are smaller vendors. Empty glass bottles and trinkets lined up and labeled with Yelp’s icon dot the reception area.

The office pays homage to the mom and pop stores featured on Yelp; insulated meeting spaces have fun names like “Dive Bar” and “Tanning Salon.” The wired kitchen features long tables and acts as an extension of the workplace. Employees are “wired” too; their very own barista pours some 600 cups of coffee a day. A nearby tap area for kegs, beckoning employees with a neon Yelp sign, is a popular place for beer and ideas to flow after 5.

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