New designs on workplace life: Corporations hope the office could be ‘a magnet, not a mandate’

The Boston Globe

Dennis McA’Nulty (left), a senior compliance analyst at Solar Life Monetary, on a Zoom name in one of many non-public cubicles that line the wall of the corporate’s first-floor library. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Employees

State Avenue doubled the variety of assembly areas at its new downtown workplace. Solar Life added a fireplace pit, a prayer room, and treadmill desks. And when their new headquarters opens subsequent yr, CarGurus workers will be capable of reserve their very own non-public reclining chair to code or toggle via spreadsheets in peace for a number of hours.

Assigned cubicles and places of work are out. “Contact-down areas,” “espresso bars,” and “neighborhoods” are in. And video screens? They’re seemingly in all places.

The long run workplace is right here. It’s a glance that has modified significantly because the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a surge in distant work, after which hybrid schedules. Consequently, many Boston-area firms with leases arising for renewal are getting ready for a world the place few, if any, workers trek in from dwelling 5 days every week.

“After we designed this workplace, we have been deep sufficient into the pandemic that we knew issues have been going to vary, and our workplace design modified with it,” mentioned SimpliSafe chief folks officer Ai-Li Lim, whose firm moved into a brand new downtown headquarters this previous spring with expanded assembly areas, extra soundproof telephone cubicles, and a modular strategy that makes it simpler to vary layouts to satisfy future wants.

Workplace design agency Gensler retains a working tally of common “office modifications” which are more and more being requested by shoppers to assist hybrid work: improved collaborative environments with up to date AV techniques and movable furnishings; extra selection amongst workstations, to mirror how an worker’s wants would possibly change throughout a workday; enhanced communal areas equivalent to cafés to encourage extra socializing; and grouping unassigned workstations by “neighborhood” (or work workforce) to supply flexibility whereas rising house effectivity.

Solar Life redesigned its second flooring workplace so all workstations have two displays and each desk can transfer to a standing place. – MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF
The out of doors workspace with a firepit at Solar Life’s Wellesley workplace. – MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

Having fewer empty desks saves cash for employers. However many executives say they’re plowing a lot of the financial savings into sprucing up the present workplace or buying and selling as much as fancier digs. As Tom O’Brien, the developer behind State Avenue’s new tower at One Congress St., places it, employers must “earn” their staff’ commutes now.

On the similar time, an rising variety of employers are prodding folks to come back in additional ceaselessly, to enhance collaboration and bolster company tradition. (State Avenue, for instance, simply introduced it would deliver again workers 4 days every week later this fall.) “Only a few organizations wish to say, ‘OK, all people, again to 5 days,’” mentioned Arlyn Vogelmann, a principal at Gensler. “However there are particular issues that the group feels prefer it’s missing by not having folks collectively.”

Insurer Solar Life U.S. undertook notably radical adjustments.

President Dan Fishbein determined that the Wellesley workplace would not be the corporate’s headquarters. In reality, there could be no US headquarters in any respect. The overwhelming majority of native workers stayed distant whereas Solar Life offered its campus, downsized its workplace house by roughly one-third, and poured tens of hundreds of thousands into renovating what remained. The official reopening passed off in July. The redesigned 130,000-square-foot workplace in Wellesley can accommodate round 800 folks at one time, Fishbein mentioned, however he expects it would hardly ever be that crowded. (About 1,500, he mentioned, stay inside commuting distance.) Nobody will get an assigned workplace or cubicle anymore. Not even the president.

Solar Life worker Devon Fernald walks on a treadmill whereas checking her e-mail on the firm’s Wellesley workplace. – MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

“Definitely we saved some cash,” Fishbein mentioned. “However we actually reinvested most of it within the house. This constructing was a really conventional constructing, and it was beginning to present its age.”

Solar Life has no set requirement for exhibiting up. The workplace, as Fishbein says, must be a magnet, not a mandate. A ho-hum suburban insurance coverage workplace with rows of cubicles wouldn’t minimize it anymore.

Solar Life tried to make it really feel extra like dwelling, with kitchens and lounge areas, couches and the like. Most workstations have been sorted into three zones: “Library” areas, with closely partitioned cubicles for targeted work; “Collaboration” areas, for video conferences and group work; and the “Village,” with café areas for socializing. Fishbein mentioned many workers will transfer about all through the day. Solar Life gives handheld, lantern-shaped battery packs that staff can carry with them and plug in wherever in and across the workplace.

State Avenue additionally went with a three-mode strategy for One Congress: collaborative, semi-private, and personal. Every workforce will get some enclosed places of work, nevertheless it’s as much as every group whether or not to designate these rooms for explicit folks or open to make use of by all. (Primarily solely the corporate’s prime executives have assigned places of work.) State Avenue has doubled the quantity of assembly house from its former workplace at One Lincoln, and people areas characteristic simply moveable furnishings so layouts could be reconfigured rapidly. Videoconferencing screens are ubiquitous.

“The thought is that they’re not going to be going to the identical desk they occupy Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” mentioned Dustin Sarnoski, head of worldwide realty on the monetary providers big. “The workplace is mirroring the pliability that occurs with a hybrid employee.”

A dynamic, high-definition video wall on the new State Avenue workplace within the One Congress tower. DAVID L. RYAN / GLOBE STAFF
Workstations within the new State Avenue workplace. DAVID L. RYAN / GLOBE STAFF

Assigned desks may also be gone at CarGurus when it strikes to its new headquarters subsequent yr. The web auto market operator will relocate from Cambridge, shifting 850 workers into a brand new Again Bay tower with extra collaboration and coaching areas. There might be “focus pods,” surrounded by hexagonal partitions for privateness, in addition to “lounge” pods with reclining chairs, together with conventional workstations with sit-stand desks separated by just one partition.

“We spent a ton of time and considerate dialog round what does the longer term maintain, and labored backwards from there,” mentioned Robert Mirabello, director of actual property and services. “If we’re in a position to enable workers to have selection about how they work and after they work, … they’ll have extra significant experiences in individual.”

These traits aren’t totally new. Open flooring plans and “hoteling” have been rising in reputation earlier than the pandemic hit. Now they’re much more prevalent. However firms are additionally working to raised divide workstations to make it simpler for workers to focus.

Consultants at brokerage agency Avison Younger say employers on this tight labor market are sculpting workplaces designed to attract workers in, somewhat than flip them off. Meaning investing in larger finish touches — areas with greater home windows and extra glass interiors, for extra pure mild, or facilities equivalent to espresso bars, yoga rooms, even golf simulators.

“If expertise sees that these facilities are offered in a single house, and never at one other employer, it does impression the place they select to work,” mentioned Michelle Osburn, head of Avison Younger’s office consulting apply.

Not everyone seems to be reducing again on house. Consulting big McKinsey & Co., for instance, will consolidate its Boston and Waltham operations into a brand new workplace at Winthrop Middle downtown. The agency’s sq. footage will enhance from 87,000 for the 2 places of work to 95,000 within the new one. With teleconferencing, McKinsey consultants don’t go to consumer websites as ceaselessly as they used to. Consequently, McKinsey’s Boston workplace is getting crowded.

This might be McKinsey’s first new US workplace designed because the pandemic started. And because the agency doubles down on the significance of workplace life, it would imply some new approaches. Extra assembly rooms. Fewer assigned areas. And customary areas, not accomplice places of work, get the very best views.

“The one factor that Zoom has not but managed to switch is the dynamic of two to 5 folks being collectively, [working on] real-time creation,” mentioned Alex Dichter, head of McKinsey’s Boston workplace. “There are instruments that enable a facsimile of that via a pc. However none of them actually change being collectively.”

The foyer of Winthrop Middle underneath development on Could 17. DAVID L. RYAN / GLOBE STAFF