Where We Stand on Workplace

There continues to be quite a bit of buzz surrounding “workplace design” and “workplace strategy.” Organizations and manufacturers have funneled millions of dollars into research and development to test, measure and define the perfect recipe for a productive and supportive work environment.  There is no denying that access to rich data about the built environment or an organization’s culture, processes and work flow is a critical component to defining and improving the workplace. At RMW, we believe that one size does NOT fit all and that each client and project is unique. “We are well-versed in identifying trends,” according to Studio Director of Design, Janet Braden. The importance of applying industry knowledge is a major component of our daily practice of problem solving. However, the most critical component to our success is that we are well versed in DESIGN.

“While there are certain projects that may require in-depth workplace studies and analysis, the value RMW brings with our industry knowledge and experience is quickly getting to the answer without the huge expense of independent studies.” Russ Nichols.

For over 47 years RMW has been mastering campus planning and workplace for a wide range of markets. We understand the fundamental importance of executing great design for our clients. “Design is in our DNA” reiterates Nichols. It is the journey with our client that is our process. Take Sunset Magazine’s relocation from suburban Menlo Park to urban Oakland back in 2016. “When beginning the design process for Sunset, we had to delve into their history, where they came from, what brought them to where they are today, and most importantly we had to discover who they want to be in the future.“ states lead interior designer, Jenna Szczech. Sunset rooted itself in Menlo Park and created a home for its employees there for more than 50 years and focused on suburban living. When Sunset began the effort to move out of their long time, Menlo Park, home, and create a new home in Oakland, they started the conversation around changing and pushing a big thematic shift within their magazine. Since they were moving into an urban environment, they needed to reflect that change within their magazine as well.

“One large obstacle that we were faced with was taking the sunset staff who were used to having private offices and giving them an open office with bench style workstations. This was not an easy task, since some of their employees had been in their offices for more than 30 years,” emphasizes Szczech. “We took this opportunity to educate and actually show the end user how an open office would work. We were able to discuss with the client their concerns and collaborate to create a workstation solution that would work for them. We did not only customize the workstation solution for them, but created areas where the end user could go and work quietly in a phone room or a seating cubby. We knew we could not just give Sunset bench seating and send them on their way, we needed to give them an office that worked – A place to inspire and encourage collaboration. “This project was successful because our team was able to observe the client in their offices while they worked. We were able to see how each team did their job and maneuvered around the office. We were also able to meet with a core group of end users work with us on a weekly basis to generate ideas for what the office needed. This core group represented a liaison from distinct divisions within the magazine and would bring ideas that their team would create together.  We used the ideas from the end user along with the magazine itself to inspire us. We created a space using Sunset’s push toward the future while acknowledging Sunset’s past.” The office became a new home for Sunset, a place celebrating wine, food, garden, and the new urban lifestyle.

On a completely different scale was a start-up in San Francisco, Udemy, who had been leasing turnkey spaces from previous tenants, with no real identity of their own. “When we started the project we were moving them from 15,000 S.F. to 40,000 S.F.,” notes Designer Sal Wikke. “Udemy wanted a design that was a uniquely their own, approachable and not trendy.” RMW organized a core group of representatives from Udemy that ranged from Facilities, IT, Food services to the C-suite in order to participate in a steering committee.  Since the budget and schedule was tight our team had to extract information quickly.  By setting up (2) two intense sessions we were able to identify critical aspects of the current culture and how they wanted to grow.  “Food is very important to the culture at Udemy,”states Wikke. Udemy’s team wanted to feed all of its population work force in one area.  In the middle of permit documents Udemy informed RMW that they would be adding a second floor at 40,000 SF to the project as their projections showed needing the additional square footage, thus taking advantage of current market lease rates and available square footage in the same building.  Udemy challenged our team to design as if they would occupy a whole floor, however, demising space so that they could sublease until they were ready to occupy full floor.  “Partitions and finishes were carefully located so that demolition would be minimal,” adds Wikke. The significant accomplishment was that RMW was able to negotiate with the city a large assembly space without having to separate the occupancies on the floor. “Due to our firm understanding of the building type and that there are gray areas within code, open for interpretation, we were able to offer options and collaborate directly with the city to allow an integral open stair to prevail without a rated enclosure,” states Joe Pirrone, Sr. Project Architect. “If we were to take the code literally and walk away we would not have provided a key feature that was extremely important to our client.”  The result was an exciting and eclectic space that utilized existing building elements on a very tight budget.

When dealing with larger high technology clients who have broader real estate services teams and perhaps a more defined culture, supporting their evolution within the built environment can be more challenging. While striving to recruit top engineering talent that might reside in start-up culture, how will a more established organization successfully transition its built environment to attract new talent while preserving core values and belief and retaining senior talent?   We had a great opportunity to delve into this exact scenario with a well-known confidential technology company in 2014.  RMW was engaged to add two buildings to an existing campus after a major acquisition. “The campus repositioning created an opportunity to break down some barriers and look at workflow in a totally different way,” Braden notes. The new buildings were to serve as a beta test for a new mobile workforce transitioning what was a 95% enclosed work environment to a 70% open/ 30% enclosed. The central element of the workplace design was choice – employees would now be able to choose from a number of settings and environments in which to work. The final design incorporated extensive user feedback and the expertise of the design team, as well as input from Real Estate and Facilities management. The design team initiated the process with a visioning session for the executives, where high-level discussions about the company’s objective and goals for the project were ultimately determined. This overarching vision and accompanying guiding principles directed the project team through user workshops, design charrettes and overall project branding. “The success of this project was dependent on the internal collaboration between Real Estate, HR, IT, Security and Procurement teams allowing for a high level of internal transparency and honest communication, ” add Russ Nichols.

Key features of the new workplace were that the employees could choose their workspace depending on the day’s tasks. Open plan work environments were now separated by work type, as well as some physical barrier to meet the challenge of noise reduction. Access to natural light was paramount and the use of materials in unusual ways and the solutions adopted in the project created a stimulating and innovative environment for both employees and clients.

As the nature of how we work continues to evolve, and technology offers increased agility and mobility we see that DESIGN is more important than ever to bring the workforce together. Connecting people through the built environment; this is what we do.

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Sherry Carroll