Warm and welcoming

Trending office designs focusing on transparency and collaboration are also important for employee attraction and retention.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

The “big corner office” used to be a coveted place reserved for only the top executive. It may still be for some, but the trends in new office design eschew the dark woodwork and heavy desks of old in favor of light, open spaces.

A recent Sapio Research Wellness Together study of 1,000 United Kingdom-based workers and facilities management experts found a strong link between the workplace environment, worker happiness, and overall business success, with 48% reporting that the office design has an impact on whether to stay with an employer. An equal percentage of respondents said they were either looking for a job currently, or planning to move on within the next 18 months.

As the workforce transitions from baby boomers to the up and comers, research is suggesting that business owners be mindful not only of salary requirements, but also of how their work spaces can help to attract and retain the best employees.

Journalist Lindsey Nolen, in her article, “Office Design Influences Retention” on advanceweb.com, states: “To attract and retain younger talent, companies must make a focused effort to study work styles and analyze the environments that millennials prefer. In doing so, researchers often reflect on where many of these young adults have spent the last four or five years of their lives: college.”

Indeed, as they enter the business world, younger workers may be expecting the same types of perks and environments they were accustomed to in school — open spaces, natural lighting, and freedom of movement.

Design change may be generational, suggests Robin Stroebel, owner and CEO of InteriorLOGIC Inc. in Madison. “Some older employees don’t want change, necessarily, while younger workers kind of expect it. I had one client tell me that when younger candidates enter their office, their faces just drop,” she says.

For a business owner, renovations and office redesign aren’t cheap propositions, and this article isn’t proposing that it’s the only way to attract and retain young employees. But research has shown that so-called “cool” or updated offices lift spirits and make workers of all ages feel and be more productive, as well.

In fact, in America, where the average person spends over 90% of their time indoors (and another 6% in their vehicles) according to the Environmental Protection Agency, workplace design actually becomes a wellness issue.

After all, happy and healthy employees make for happy employers.

So what are the latest trends in interior office space design? And which trends have faded from glory? We asked several area designers for their thoughts and advice.

Lose the gimmicks

Linda Baxter Page, principal at Aro Eberle Architects, says one of the biggest changes in workplace interior design is the influence of the individual and the idea of providing a variety of spaces to work.

“One-size-fits-all is being replaced by individual choice and control, and workplace design is responding to this by providing multiple levels of privacy and technology.”

Meanwhile, design ideas that have run their course tend to be what Baxter Page describes as “gimmicky” things, “like slides or tree houses.”

Slides or tree houses?

“Some businesses are still building these, believe it or not,” Baxter Page comments, the theory being that by having a cool, fun space, employees won’t want to leave. “Some of that is valid,” she adds, but in hindsight, employees aren’t necessarily using those features anymore, nor are they the reason employees come to work.

“So it’s a misstep, in my opinion,” Baxter Page says, and unfortunately, copycats similarly failed.

As the marketplace and office workers mature, Baxter Page says design research is finding that workers simply want transparency and honesty. “They want to know who they’re working for, who they’re working with, and they aren’t impressed by a company that copies another’s creative space ideas.” Disney-esque features are proving to have little to do with where and how they want to work.

“What is important to them is that they know who and where their boss is, that they can see the people they work with, and that they can choose whether to work in a quiet space or a noisy place because their employer provides several options.

“Those are the things driving attention and retention,” Baxter Page states.

As for timeless design, Baxter Page says exceptional lighting will always be an important element in interior design. Decades ago, she explains, even sweatshops had operable windows because someone figured out that people performed better with good lighting and good air. “Look at the Greek Parthenon. The shadows are there for a reason!” she laughs.

In the 1970s, when suburban office parks took hold and fuel prices soared, windows became more of a liability. “I think it was a hiccup,” Baxter Page admits, “but unfortunately, it also became an inexpensive way to build and save on heating and cooling costs.”

These days, as companies flex their work requirements and allow for more remote working, can design be used as a tool to lure workers back?

Baxter Page says there’s been a bit of a shift regarding the remote worker. “Research has found that people need people.The interaction and collaboration that takes place on a one-to-one basis or in a group has proven over and over again to produce a higher degree of ingenuity and retention of knowledge.”

If remote working is allowed, businesses can encourage employees to come back with an environment that lets them do what they can’t do at home. “Your home is like your private office,” Baxter Page states. “The rest is very communal, accessible, and available when you need it. That’s a big shift.”



Diverse spaces

Stroebel (InteriorLOGIC) says a well-designed space should offer diverse areas. “A lot of leading companies are realizing how important the workplace is for their staff. It’s hard sometimes to separate home from work, and design can accommodate that.”

But design for design sake doesn’t work, she cautions. Design has to have a reason. “Companies won’t just upgrade an office space just to do it. They’ll do something because they have a problem, or because they can’t attract employees.”

Often, she says, the staff is the first to complain to management about space, or the lighting, or the functionality of the office. “Design is unique to each company, and it’s up to us to interpret what that means to them and make sure it suits them,” Stroebel says.

Colors these days are more in tune with a company brand, she adds. That doesn’t mean that the Green Bay Packers, for example, need everything to be dark green and gold. “You don’t want color to be inundating. Many companies stay with their branding through fabrics or mixed materials, or shades of a brand color.” A spa, for instance, may use soothing colors to create a mood, but those colors may not necessarily be their logo colors.

“I don’t think companies set out to have the coolest office,” Stroebel admits, “but it’s remarkable how a bright, cheery space can completely alter how a company conducts business.”

It can also improve a company’s public relations beyond the workday, Stroebel suggests, allowing a company opportunities to invite the community into its new space for meetings, or create a splash by showcasing it on its website. “It can be a tool to help attract employees, as well,” Stroebel says, “Show it off!”

Katherine Kawczynski, lead architect at VJS Construction Services in Pewaukee, agrees that an open concept, lower cubicle walls, and collaboration or softer breakout spaces are the latest trends. VJS is a general practice architect, but the company also designs financial institutions.

Facebook, she says, was one of the first large companies to introduce wide, open spaces with open desks, but many businesses have moved away from that model because of noise. “Sure it was open and collaborative, but it wasn’t functional when too many workers were talking at once.”

She notes a trend toward executive offices being moved into more centralized areas while smaller, individual workstations are moving toward the perimeter so more people can enjoy the natural light.

Security maturity

Sadly, we live in a world that has necessitated a focus on security. Today’s office designers must consider staff safety as an important element of office design, as well.

“I have to incorporate security into almost everything I do now,” notes Stroebel, “but you also don’t want an entry way to look like a secured entrance.” Overall office design includes everything from where emergency exits are located to whether a company can have a security officer or greeter at the front entrance — dressed in a uniform or not, she explains.

Stroebel has also noticed a renewed interest in window coverings from those who don’t want people to see inside their offices after dark.

Financial institutions, of course, take security considerations to higher extremes, notes Kawczynski, and designers work closely with security companies, particularly in regard to front door entrances. Glazing or acrylic panels help strengthen front windows, but they can be pricey.

Banks no longer need to hold millions of dollars in cash in their vaults, she adds. “Vaults in view are long gone and the amount kept inside a vault is kept to a minimum, so it’s much more secure.”

The sturdy teller walls of old are going by the wayside, too, Kawczynski notes, and are being replaced by individual pods or desks that are more conversational and not as imposing. That, in her opinion, is a good trend.

“The teller wall might have prevented someone from gaining access to the teller’s space and cash drawer, but if you think about it, it could also prevent employees from escaping in a crisis if there wasn’t another exit nearby. It’s sad, but as designers we always have to consider the number of exits and escape plans, as well.”

Motivational mojo

Did the final renovations pictured across these pages satisfy the business’ objectives? Were the design motivations accomplished? The owners and designers weigh in.

Tech tower

316 W. Washington Ave.

“Using a company’s marketing color is a great way to add personal style to an office space and also brand the space for employees and visitors. There’s still a very strong demand for keeping the interiors raw and urban and then accent it with contemporary and clean furniture.” — Erica Meier, design director, Elm Design, a division of Hovde Properties

Photo credit: Hovde Properties

From the moment one enters the 316 W. Washington Ave. building downtown, formerly the old AT&T building, it screams of high tech, entirely on purpose. This is home to entrepreneurial gems like EatStreet, Understory, 100State and other technological upstarts.

“We were looking for tech-based, up-and-coming businesses,” notes Erica Meier design director for Elm Design, a division of Hovde Properties, which owns the building. The lobby is decorated in glossy shades of whites and grays with pops of glass and metal. Individual monitors create a large video wall near the elevators where streaming videos or short adventure films keep visitors engaged while waiting for the elevator.

Meier is instrumental in the design of all of Hovde’s properties, from law offices, which can be decidedly more traditional, to National Decision Support Co.’s new office in the 316 Building. NDSC is a health care IT company, and its space includes an open café emphasizing collaboration and camaraderie. Elsewhere, upholstered chairs provide softer, conversational places as an alternative work or meetings space.

Meier appreciates all levels and trends in design, but her first priority is designing a space that meets the client’s requirements    and accommodates employees.

In some younger companies, work hours have moved away from the old eight-to-five shift to a work-when-you-can-to-get-the-job-done model. That allows them to return when they feel productive.

“Tenants in the 316 Building, for example, tend to be younger and like to hang around more,” Meier observes. “So while we’ve noticed remote workers in the downtown area, I think there’s been a shift back to the office.”



Design reigns supreme

Supreme Structures
2906 Marketplace Drive, Suite A
Madison, 53719

“Our new, open space allows employees and customers to feel relaxed yet still work in a professional environment. Customers can walk through their projects using virtual reality or discuss it either over an open conference table, sitting outside on the deck, or over a game of pool.” — Dan Bertler, president

Photo credit: Aro Eberle Architects

Baxter Page and her Aro Eberle team recently completed Supreme Structures’ new office. A design-build firm, Supreme Structures was due for a change, so the company purchased an existing building and entirely gutted it except for some ductwork that added to the newly designed space. It was important for the company to “showcase their chops” in the design-build world, Baxter Page adds.

The new space is warm and welcoming with social and sociable components such as a two-sided kitchenette/bar area, televisions, and a pool table. But make no mistake, its design was entirely about how the company could work more effectively and efficiently. “Our office was constructed to allow privacy for those that need it, but it creates open areas that removed the silos of all the different departments,” states Supreme Structures President Dan Bertler.

He wanted an office that was welcoming to all — clients, of course, and especially company employees whose trucks serve as their offices day in and day out. “Dan wanted his employees to have a place to come back to and feel welcomed like family,” Baxter Page explains.

From a technology standpoint, the renovations have significantly improved remote capabilities available to clients and project managers, which has made the company much more efficient, Baxter Page reports.

“But we also wanted the employees to have access to daylight and be able to see the weather outside,” she adds, so she suggested blasting through walls in the back of the building in favor of large windows to let in a substantial amount of natural light.  “It wasn’t too hard of a sell,” she laughs.

Keane on design

Rippe Keane Marketing
525 Junction Road, Suite 8200
Madison WI 53717

“The new office offers so many unique spaces for brainstorming and quick meetings. We can grab a spot at the farm table or a diner booth in the staff lounge; sit by the fireplace in the client lounge; videoconference in the small conference room; or get some fresh air on the 8th-floor balcony. Wherever you go, there are dry erase walls, chalkboards, and floor-to-ceiling windows with expansive views to spur the creative process.” — Scott Rippe, president

Photo credit: Tricia Shay Photography

When owners Lucy Keane and Scott Rippe made the decision to move their marketing company, Rippe Keane, into a new space on Junction Road, they involved employees early in the discussions. “They knew exactly what it did and did not want,” recalls Stroebel of InteriorLOGIC.

They did not want carpeting, for example, but wanted a few private offices.

“They wanted natural light, openness, interesting lighting fixtures, and to live their brand in their space,” Stroebel reports. It was also important to staff that they have a couple of dining options, from gathering around a large farm table to sitting in more intimate diner-style booths.

Stroebel suggested they use luxury vinyl flooring because it’s available in a variety of styles and colors and has some sound-dampening benefits. “Nobody wants a loud space,” she says.

Throughout the new space, employees are able to jot down their creative thoughts or ideas on any of a number of dry-erase or chalkboards, and clients can even relax in a waiting area with a fireplace.



Vortex vistas

Vortex Optics
One Vortex Drive
Barneveld, 53507

“Our staff was split up in Middleton due to our rapid growth. Here, the atrium allows employees on the first and second floors
to see one another and feel like they’re all part of one unit.”
– Dan Hamilton, owner

Photo credits: Zingg Design Inc.

When Dan Hamilton, owner of Vortex Optics, considered moving his company from Middleton to Barneveld, he admits being concerned about the impact the drive might have on his employees. “That’s why I wanted to make our new location so nice,” he exclaims.

But the fast-growing company — a wholesaler of precision optics used in everything from binoculars for bird watching and shooting sports to riflescopes used by law enforcement and the U.S. military — simply needed more space.

The company’s growth began encroaching on its available square footage, sacrificing its one lunchroom and forcing many staff members to work elsewhere.

In April, Vortex’s 250 employees relocated to a rural site in Barneveld where they now have three lunchrooms at their disposal, including one with an outdoor balcony. The two-story design allows those on the first and second floors to see one another across a central atrium.

The company’s three-building complex includes the 260,000 square foot main office, a warehouse, and what will be a state-of-the-art, 100-yard-long indoor shooting range for customers, training, and research and development.

Zingg Design was the architect. “The overall design of the Vortex facility was inspired by the binoculars and rifle scopes that Vortex produces,” notes President and CEO Mark Zingg, who added that the uninterrupted views of the nature conservancy creates a perfect testing ground for Vortex products. Skylights and sophisticated lighting controls qualified the building for numerous Focus on Energy grants, and radiant-heated floors have been a plus not only for Vortex employees, but their dogs, as well.

Affordable Office Interiors provided all the office furniture and designed the company’s cabin-themed product showroom, as well. Jessica Pagel, AOI general manager, says the showroom includes reclaimed, Wisconsin-sourced wood and ceiling timbers — including a 6,000-pound beam. An antler chandelier over a fireplace wall and a custom coffee bar provides the finishing touch.

Westbury Bank: Gong are the days

Westbury Bank
551 W. Main St.
Madison, 53703

“The high ceilings and exposed brick and glass barn doors make this space feel comfortable, relaxed, and welcoming. The big gong in Madison [not pictured] was gifted from  our Milwaukee contingent with the idea that Madison will be a big success, and it has been!” — Steve Machotka, SVP-Madison market leader

Photo credit: Lisa Dixon

Through the years, banks have traditionally been the stalwarts of design — strong, impenetrable, and representing “old money.”

That may be changing, too.

Westbury Bank, a relative newcomer to Dane County, opened a commercial lending office in an existing brick building one might expect from a bank in central Madison, but its interior sets an entirely lighter tone. “Around here we like to say, ‘this ain’t your grandpa’s bank,’” notes Linda Dixon, senior vice president of retail banking in Westbury’s Hartland office.

Katherine Kawczynski (VJS Construction Services) headed up the bank’s Madison office design, which features glass walls and an open, welcoming space. “The driving force is that people don’t go to the bank like they used to,” she reports.

Bank clientele has changed too, she adds. Business owners and entrepreneurs seaking commercial or business loans are getting younger and younger, and a bank’s design must take that into account.

Kawczynski designed Westbury’s office as a bright, open space with glass walls to make customers feel that their relationship with their banker is equally transparent.

“It’s not intimidating, there are no huge wood desks or barriers, and the concierge-style desks rather than a long teller wall signals a new banking experience.” The open design isn’t lost on employees either, she adds, who have reported feeling happier and more team-oriented. At the same time, bank executives can see who’s visiting and perhaps even stop in to chat.

There’s even a gong hanging prominently for all to see. “It’s a crazy thing that has really inundated the Westbury culture,” Kawczynski explains, admitting that while it doesn’t fit in with any other aesthetics, it’s certainly an icebreaker. As the story goes, it all started in the bank’s Pewaukee office when an employee found a small gong at a garage sale for $5 and put it in the bank’s main boardroom. A much larger gong was found for the Madison location.

Now, anytime a major deal happens, the employee responsible and the bank’s executives come together to bang the gong. The moment is videotaped and sent to employees throughout the company to celebrate a job well done.

“It’s fun and sure beats a boring newsletter,” Kawczynski laughs.



Design trends

Daylighting and an open, two-story design enhances the coolness factor at Vortex. Credit: Zingg Design Inc.

What’s hot:

  • Biophilia, or connecting with nature through natural materials, views, daylighting, or soft shapes
  • Diverse lighting (LEDs, accent lighting)
  • Sit-to-stand work surfaces
  • Smaller collaboration areas with soft seating
  • Healthy food options, recycling, outdoor spaces, and bike parking
  • Luxury vinyl flooring
  • Touchdown spaces where employees can quickly plug in their laptops, charge their phones, and instantly connect to email and voicemail
  • Building and main entrance security
  • Assigning larger offices to those spending more time at work rather than by title.

What’s not:

  • Tall wall panels between offices
  • Large private offices
  • Mauve and green!

What’s timeless:

  • Ergonomic furniture and features
  • Clean lines, Scandinavian-style furniture
  • Textiles/leather
  • Natural light
  • Openness, collaborative spaces

Sources: InteriorLOGIC, CCIM

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