Placemaking drives innovation in today’s workspaces.
In downtown Seattle, three massive plant-filled glass orbs—The Spheres—float several stories high in front of Amazon’s headquarters. What exactly are they doing there?
“Our goal…was to create a unique place where employees could collaborate and innovate together,” said John Schoettler, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate and facilities, at the time of The Spheres’ 2018 debut.1 The company sees it as a place for Seattle residents and visitors to experience urban biodiversity.
It’s all about placemaking—that is, planning, designing, and managing public spaces in order to energize people and help them connect with one another.2
New Ideas For a New Style of Working
While placemaking’s roots are in urban planning,2 it has had a significant influence on today’s workspaces. Not every employer can implement the “cloud forests” of Amazon’s Spheres, but more are implementing concepts intended to foster collaboration and create friendly central gathering places for remote and other workers.
Private offices and cubicles are out. More work now takes place in shared spaces. Co-working spaces are the most visible examples of this trend, with large airy spaces in many of the world’s coolest urban neighborhoods. This concept—rent just the amount of space you need at any given moment—has plenty of blue-chip customers, and clients love the amenities that many of these providers offer, including good coffee and snacks, dry cleaning, and more.3
Consider the Returns
Whether you’re developing your next property or are planning an upgrade of your space, examining the positive effects of these environments on employees can help inform your strategy.
One study found that a “creative, modern workplace aesthetic” can make an employer’s workplace three times as appealing to a job candidate than a traditional work environment.”4 The research also found that workplace culture, facilities, and technology combined can outweigh salary in a job seeker’s decision making.4
Putting Placemaking Into Action
“Organizational boundaries are the biggest barrier to [getting people to talk to each other],” write architectural experts Thomas Allen and Gunter Hen in “The Organization and Architecture of Innovation: Managing the Flow of Technology.” According to the authors, these boundaries separate cultures and the ways people think and do things.5 To overcome obstacles as you plan a new or renovated space, take your cues from leading architects’ successfully implemented ideas:
- Orient workspaces around “main streets” or “boulevards” lined with services, cafeterias, and conversation areas6
- Step up your community. Turn staircases into conversational “bleachers,” another central place where employees can meet and interact. If public access to ground floor areas or plazas makes sense from a business or community-building perspective, include it7
- Build in privacy. Include private—and silent—spaces to enhance productivity. In fact, if you’re a financial-services or health-care organization, federal and industry regulations may require them8
- Make technology a top priority. There’s no benefit to your cool couch-filled workspace if you have to drape power cords all over it and there are only two bars of Wi-Fi. Plan around your hardware and broadband needs9
When you develop spaces that help “uplift the soul,” it helps your business develop and maintain the best and brightest minds, while also enhancing its public image. That’s a big a win for you, your employees, and your business partners.
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1 The Amazon Blog, May 22, 2018, “Grown in 60 Seconds,” https://blog.aboutamazon.com/amazon-offices/grown-in-60-seconds
2 Project for Public Spaces, “What is Placemaking?” https://www.pps.org/article/what-is-placemaking
3 Colliers International, “U.S. Flexible Workspace Outlook Report,” https://www2.colliers.com/en/Research/2019-US-Flexible-Workspace-Outlook-Report
4 Hassell Studio, 2015, “Does Workplace Design Affect Employee Attraction?” https://www.hassellstudio.com/uploads/20191212_WorkplaceDesignAttraction.pdf
5 The Organization and Architecture of Innovation: Managing the Flow of Technology (New York: Architectural Press, 2007), p. 62.
6 Office Snapshots, Square Headquarters, San Francisco, October 2017. https://officesnapshots.com/2017/10/10/square-headquarters-san-francisco/
7 The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2015, “How Stairways Promote Collaboration—As Well as Having a Walk-On Role,” https://www.wsj.com/articles/office-stairs-with-more-than-a-walk-on-role-1431511202
8 Jules Halpern Associates, November 16, 2017, “Workplace Designs and Privacy Concerns,” https://www.halpernadvisors.com/1636-2/
9 Vox/Recode, “The Nex-Gen Workspace,” https://www.vox.com/2014/1/29/11622838/the-next-gen-workspace
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.