In early 2013, Gensler finalized the construction of Zilliant, the latest tech company in downtown Austin to redefine its office environment during the past decade. As the idea of collaboration spreads from a tech company trend to an all-encompassing focus in the interior design industry, the approach behind the new space for Zilliant was already moving beyond the very nature of the environment that it helped to define.
The Zilliant space reflects a new focus being taken on the workplace by the interior design industry — a focus that was brought forward to the mainstream earlier this year through the second installment of "U.S. Workplace Survey,’’ which is compiled through the various global offices of Gensler every five years.
Choice is Key
When looking at the blanket term of collaboration, on the surface, the idea is solid in its morals; it creates a work environment that promotes the ideals of crossing the traditional methods of defining an office, which were previously based upon hierarchy, and moving toward creating spaces that foster conversation and optimize teamwork. However, eventually, the idea of defining spaces for collaboration itself became flawed through the introduction of a wireless workplace.
Considering the technological advances of the past decade, Gensler defines collaboration as a means to the whole, and pairs it with a new set of principles (Focus, Learn, and Socialize), with the overarching point that choice in the workplace is critical to maintaining performance and increasing morale. What ultimately drove that point home was a rather surprising finding from a 2012 Gallup poll that showed that 70 percent of the workforce today is not engaged or is often disengaged within their work environment. This is a staggering figure considering the efforts made to promote collaboration, but ultimately, it stresses the need for balance between the individual and team environments.
Zilliant defines the four principles through a series of conscious methods — from limiting the amount of opaque partitions to creating spaces placed in a manner that foster a number of programmatic functions. For example, rather than defining a space for meetings, the very ideals of “meeting” are promoted through flexibility in the choice of furnishings and open settings, allowing for a single space to serve a multitude of functions.
Technology has further served as the driving force in these efforts. Transitioning from stationary workspaces to having the means to be wireless, a team member can literally work from anywhere, making the connectivity and access to facilities that support the digital medium more important than the structure of the workstation itself. In the case of Zilliant, spaces designated for meetings can also serve as an impromptu breakout workspaces or quiet zones for individual privacy.
Gensler has opened the discussion for the evolution of this way of thinking; however, a body of other interior design offices have come about the ideal of choice more organically. For example, the firm Lauckgroup credits its design office in Austin as being a driving force in influencing the company’s approach towards the majority of its clients. A multidisciplinary firm at its core, Lauckgroup has made a significant impact with its forward-thinking approach to law firm design nationwide through its office in Dallas; and exposure to the tech industry has further developed a mindset that is transcending Lauckgroup’s approach throughout its entire practice.
In the Simplot Plant Sciences in Boise, Idaho, the firm showcases an approach to flexibility through modularization of the workplace achieved through an adaptable and fluid means. Nearly all the chosen finish-out can be modified to serve multiple functions at the user’s discretion, a design decision made through close relationships and interviews with the client to understand the function and workflow of the company. What has resulted is a space that feels unified and identifies with the client but serves a multitude of purposes through, as Lauckgroup states, “turning the traditional use of space inside out.”
Whether it is through the means of a formal survey or through experience, the overarching principle for flexibility in the workplace may be that there really is no formula at all other than understanding and working closely with your client. It is a reminder and a testament to a “trend” in the workplace that we need to stick to the client as the central medium and generator for design rather than always defining what we feel is the ultimate function of the workplace. Constraints can make for great design and flexibility in the environments we create — what the survey may have revealed is that we have defined too many of our own.
This article is expanded content for Texas Architect, September/October 2013.