New Workplace Kit of Parts: Active Spaces

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Amber Wernick
Amber Wernick
Associate, Clive Wilkinson Architects Amber is an award-winning interior designer and strategist with over 12 years of experience in workplace, education, healthcare, and residential interiors. Focusing on workplace strategy, she collaborates with some of the world’s most creative companies to transform their employee experiences. Amber leads the firm’s visioning and research process and develops design solutions to meet each client’s social, cultural, and functional goals. At Clive Wilkinson Architects, Amber has contributed to a diverse range of projects including the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, the Stanford University Campus in Redwood City, and the upcoming lululemon Global Headquarters in Vancouver.

Clive Wilkinson Architects introduces the four “hot” or active spaces in the New Workplace Kit of Parts.

Image by Clive Wilkinson Architects

As we return to the office, we emerge with a fresh perspective on workplace priorities. The pandemic has shown businesses and workers the tasks that can be done well remotely but also those that are better performed in the office. We’ve also experienced a lacking connection to community and culture, which has significantly affected employee wellbeing and retention. Over this time away from one another, we have explored this transformational opportunity and have created the New Workplace Kit of Parts – a suite of 12 reimagined spaces to support and enhance new ways of working for the post-COVID-19 workplace.

As we introduced in Part 1 of this series, our Kit of Parts strives to prioritize collaboration, serendipitous encounters and connection to community and culture. Developed as a framework to adapt to business needs and constraints, these 12 spaces highlight how the human experience of work will change in the long-term post-COVID-19 office. They are a starting point to build from, and a complete workplace will have a variety of additional spaces unique to each organization.

Our first category along the energy spectrum includes the most “hot” or active spaces in the workplace. These high energy spaces are the primary gathering and collaborative areas – Plaza, Multipurpose, Pitch and Team Rooms.

Image by Clive Wilkinson Architects

Plaza: The Heart of the Workplace

Often referred to as the heart of a workplace, the Plaza is truly a social condenser. In the new workplace, this space becomes even more important as the workforce begins to reconnect after so much time apart. The Plaza is a highly functional and social space where employees can work, socialize, eat, grab coffee and attend events. Research shows that powerful drivers bringing people back to the office include a connection to community and culture and serendipitous encounters. The new workplace Plaza is thoughtfully designed to enhance these experiences.

The Plaza is perhaps the most significant destination in the workplace. As a destination, it draws people to it from across the organization that wouldn’t typically cross paths. It also connects all types of workers – in-office Anchors, hybrid Connectors, and remote Navigators – in one communal gathering space. It is highly utilized around the clock and can facilitate special events, trainings, hosting clients, and all-hands meetings. In addition to these important functions, the Plaza should reflect the identity of the organization and connect employees to the company culture. Of course, the size of the Plaza is proportional to the office it occupies and may be quite expansive in a multi-floor office. The Plaza is the perfect opportunity for an open atrium or stair. This accelerates those critical serendipitous encounters and breaks down silos between floors in an organization, increasing learning and community.

In a post-COVID-19 workplace, there may be more comfort in eating with (pre-screened) coworkers at the office than going out to a restaurant. The Plaza is designed to accommodate this with a wide range of settings including lounge seating, booths, and dining tables. It could also open up to an adjacent outdoor space when the weather allows. To properly host communal eating, there are expansive islands for food display along with all the kitchen equipment needed for food preparation. We often see food being brought in for team building sessions within a Plaza environment. In an expanded version, it could even include a staffed coffee bar with an in-house barista to host office happy hours or events where appropriate.

Image by Clive Wilkinson Architects

Multipurpose Room: The All-Inclusive Meeting Space

The Multipurpose Room is a workhorse for an organization hosting a variety of all-day sessions for large groups, including remote workers or Navigators. We see this space replacing the dreaded all-day 20-person Zoom meeting that was never as effective as the in-person version. It’s designed for everything from training and professional development to onboarding new hires to interactive brainstorming sessions.

A unique feature of this space is that it’s all-inclusive – meaning it has everything needed in one room for a long session. This maintains focus on the topics at hand and minimizes the possibility of people getting pulled in a different direction during a lunch break. It includes a small kitchenette for catering and access to beverages, a lounge area if people need to break away to respond to an email, and even Remote Pods for a quick private call. The multi-function has even been carried through the wall surfaces as everything is magnetic and writable including the dividing wall panels for breakout sessions. This room also has an abundance of storage for personal items including coats, bags and even luggage as we anticipate a rise in travel.

Since workers will be using this space for long periods of time, it must be designed and furnished with wellbeing in mind. Access to daylight, although controlled, will be critical in this space. High performing furniture with suitable ergonomics for all day use will ensure attention is focused on discussion rather than lower back pain.

Image by Clive Wilkinson Architects

Pitch Room: The Performative Client Experience

The quintessential Pitch Room is reimagined for the new workplace. This is the space where meetings happen with people from outside the organization – clients, investors, vendors and so on. The Pitch Room is impressive and has the “wow” factor. We see this as a blank slate primed for presentations and easily transformed to take on the immersive personality of the content presented.

After virtual-only meetings for so long, it’s natural there will be a desire for a highly tactile experience. Whether it be reviewing products or printed content, this is the space for experiencing something that can’t be done virtually. To create this tactile and immersive experience, a simple wall system is used for physical display of the presentation materials. In a more expanded version of the Pitch Room, the table could go away leaving the entire room available for presentation content hanging from above – a truly theatrical experience.

Another challenge in the new workplace is how to weave the digital with the physical – collaboration spaces must account for those joining virtually. Video conferencing will be embedded into the workplace. Virtual attendees (including remote colleagues or Navigators) should be equally as present and able to participate as those physically in the room. To solve for this, the Pitch Room not only has monitors on the wall but also hanging above to give those virtual participants a seat at the table.

Image by Clive Wilkinson Architects

Team Room: The Co-Creation Hub

The Team Room is where co-creation happens – a highly collaborative space designed for internal ideation and problem solving. Often referred to as a war room, this space can be dedicated to a team or project. We anticipate the size of Team Rooms will vary to accommodate the varying team sizes within an organization. As an owned space, occupants can customize, pin up, write on the walls, and come back the next day with everything untouched for better thought continuity. The Team Room is designed for team use – a little scrappy and ready for creative thought.

It is equipped with everything needed for collaboration from sit/stand desks and ergonomic chairs to lounge furniture. Every wall is highly functional with extra-large monitors and a wall system for physical display. In-office Anchors and hybrid Connectors may spend the most time in this space, but the Team Room must also address the presence of their remote colleagues or Navigators. An oversized monitor on the wall with a mobile camera will allow those remote colleagues to peer into the room and interact with content as if they are physically there.

Putting it all together

Now more than ever, the workplace should be designed with intention and purpose to support new ways of working and enhance the employee experience. The New Workplace Kit of Parts is a suite of 12 reimagined spaces that together create a diverse and varied environment. These spaces address the full energy spectrum from “hot” or active to “cool” or quiet, and employees are empowered to choose the best environment to suit their individual working style. Rather than sitting in one spot all day, employees can change it up depending on what task they’re doing – whether that’s collaborating with others in a “hot” space or focusing on individual work in a “cool” space.

The four “hot” spaces – Plaza, Multipurpose, Pitch and Team Rooms – are certainly the most collaborative spaces in this series, but they are only part of the complete new workplace puzzle. While we believe the new workplace will prioritize collaborative and community space, it must accommodate and promote all styles of work – collective and individual, active and quiet – to enhance employee productivity, wellness, and overall satisfaction. Equally as important are the “transition” or in-between spaces and “cool” or quiet spaces that complete our energy spectrum. Up next in our series is Part 3, where we will look at the integral “transition” spaces that have been reimagined to support a new era of work.

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