Designing Your Office for Flexibility and a Sense of Community

In Branding, Culture, Interior Designby Christina Toole

I recently had a conversation with a tech industry client who is remodeling their offices. Their main concern? How to design their office to attract top talent.

It’s a fair question, and one I hear a lot from companies that are looking to grow and innovate. They know well that having top talent on board will help get them there, so recruiting is one of the primary reasons a firm will embark on a design project.

The 2016 Gensler Workplace Survey reveals workplace secrets of the most creative and innovative companies and uncovered a direct link between the workplace and innovation. In the survey, Gensler reveals that:

“The most innovative employees have the option to work in a wide variety of spaces that meet their needs, and use that option to maximum effect – whether they need individual space to focus, a conference room to brainstorm or learn a new skill, or a social space to chat with co-workers during a coffee break.” The 2016 Gensler Workplace Survey

There are two takeaways here that we have seen to be true – today’s office workers have a desire for both flexibility and a sense of community.

Creating a sense of community

Redefining the Relevancy of Workspace in Real Estate Brokerages, available for download from Real Trends, is reading that we suggest for all of our real estate office design clients here at Seed. While this document is geared toward the real estate industry, there are some truths in it that can applied to any industry.

One key point from the report, Millennial associates are likely to spend more time in the office. Interesting that the most technology-proficient generation that could easily seek out remote work options and online trainings would be drawn to spend more time in the office. Could it be their need for socialization and a sense of community draws them in?

We do know they also come into the office for training and the type of in-person interaction that facilitates mentorship. Creating a culture of community where such serendipitous meetings can happen is possible through creative design.

Now real estate agents are, of course, contractors and not employees, but in a world that desires flexibility an increasing number of employees are seeking the opportunity to work remotely either full or part- time, creating a space that people WANT to come to work in is more important than ever.

To address these relational needs as the culture of work has shifted, Seed has been able to leverage combined hospitality and corporate office design experience to create welcoming spaces for our clients. From coffee bars, lounge areas, to residential-style kitchens and communal work spaces… it can all be tied together to create a space that feels like home.

To create a sense of community, the two main areas to begin focusing on include the breakroom and open-office space.

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Creating a Sense of Community in a Breakroom

Sadly, most breakrooms today are designed as an afterthought. Cold, windowless, and colorless with little thought or creativity given to choice in materials.

As a hub of activity and a place that most employees will frequent at some point in their day, they offer a great opportunity to begin creating a sense of community.

By borrowing from residential kitchen design, these rooms can easily be transformed into inviting spaces that are perfect for gathering.

Adding features like dishwashers, even ranges, full size refrigerators, plenty of storage, and extended countertops typical of residences can help both functionally for entertaining as well as for creating a sense of “home away from home”.

If the option is available, consider placing the kitchen in a central location as the “heart” of the new space. Having the kitchen in a convenient and centrally location is also helpful for offices that entertain often or have large potlucks (another great way to create a sense of community).

Windows in a breakroom help create a connection to the outdoors and make the space feel larger. Offering a view of the outdoors during breaks relieves stress, improves mood, and is particularly appreciated by those associates who have not quite leveled up to that office with a view.

Consider AV needs for this room as well. If a television and gaming system fit your culture, consider adding them. One recent client added speakers with sound control that provided the ability to play music or pipe in audio from an adjacent training room – providing instant overflow training space.

Meaningful details such as backsplashes, pendant lighting and cabinetry pulls can serve a functional purpose while offering the opportunity to make a unique design statement.

Arrange photo walls to offer a sense of home and to showcase the organization’s culture. Consider offering a library for exchanging helpful resources.

Furnishings should be comfortable, easy to clean and offer a variety of seating heights and arrangements. Consideration should be given to the corporate brand (both in terms of color scheme and culture) when selecting materials, colors and finishes.

A well thought out and appointed breakroom can serve as a space to gather for meals, celebrate birthdays and other milestones. If sufficiently inviting, it can also improve collaboration by serving as an impromptu meeting and coffee break space.

Creating a Sense of Community in an Open-Office or Bullpen

To continue the analogy, if the breakroom is the kitchen, then the open-office area becomes the dining room. Working side-by-side at a communal table (or a desk nearby) is the very definition of community.

The closeness allows the opportunity for a new associate to overhear (and learn from) nearby veterans, and those veterans can overhear and chime in when they sense a “teachable moment”. This may not the norm in some organizations, but among a creative, innovative, and healthy community, it can actually be commonplace to lend this level of support and lift one another (and the organization as a whole) up to greater levels of success.

For those times when a pair of headphones and “don’t bother me” face aren’t sufficient and the task at hand requires deep concentration, flexible, semi-private break out areas should also be provided. There’s been much backlash against the open-concept, with lack of privacy and distraction being a real issue in such as space. However, by offering flexibility these issues can be addressed.

For some offices, the answer may be a bank of sound-proof phone call rooms. For others a separate “quiet room” that might also double as conference room space. For some offices the answer may be separating teams by their function, or perhaps a combination of these is the answer to each office’s unique challenges.

If the kitchen is more than a few steps away, adding a coffee bar can be convenient while adding instant ambiance in an open-office space. Another trick to make a room instantly more inviting is to provide windows with a view in your open office space.

Another area within an open office that serves a functional purpose while creating a sense of “home away from home” is lounge seating for impromptu meeting space. Whether the seating areas is living room-style sofas, a circle of chairs, or perhaps fun, restaurant-style booths – ensure repeated use of the space by making it both durable and inviting.

Consider also adding writing surfaces for note-taking. With a little creativity, glasstop tables can become dry erase boards and products like IdeaPaint* can turn any wall into a writing surface. *No sponsored links in this article, just sharing some of our favorite products.

The large open space of an open office can also serve double-duty as space for informal gatherings or meetings. By adding an AV system and installing screens (projectors or large TV monitors), the space is always ready for a team award ceremony, rally or informational meeting.

When considering furnishings, once again consideration should be given to the corporate brand (both in terms of color scheme and culture).

Today, contract furnishing providers are responding to the need for color by offering more options than ever. Resources such as Poppin also deliver everything from office supplies to furniture in a variety of colors to support corporate branding. Adding custom branded artwork can also serve both to support the culture and provide added color – a necessity in any creative and innovative environment.

For the ceiling, consider noise control and breaking up the space with varying heights and sound control materials. For flooring, products such as Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) planks work well in high traffic areas and adds the ability to add “wood-flooring looks” that create a warm and welcoming feeling. Carpet tiles are easily replaced and can dampen sound when placed under desk areas.

In our experience, we’ve found that many creative and innovative organizations like to entertain. Whether hosting a party for their own team, for clients, or even for charity, their doors are always open. As we’ve learned in our own homes where wine is spilled and food is dropped, having durable and easy-to-clean flooring just makes life easier.

Case-in-point Seed client, Keller Williams Realty Las Vegas hosts an annual client party called ‘Death by Chocolate’ . Knowing our client well, we knew that durable and easy-to-clean flooring was a must for this open office area.

Lastly, adding plants and greenery can help create a warm and welcoming space and enhance the sense of community while providing countless benefits. These benefits include improved air quality, reduced stress, noise control, reduced sickness and improved productivity. If your office does not have a resident greenthumb, consider convenient local services such as Botanicals to help maintain the look and health of your plants.

In summary

Perks like game rooms and free coffee only work if they are a reflection of the corporate culture, and culture can’t be claimed it must be cultivated. The culture of community must be authentic and have support from leadership. Only then can any design efforts to support this sense of community be effective.

Subscribe to our newsletter below for up-to-date workspace branding tips and tricks. If you’d like to learn more about designing an office to create a sense of community, please reach out to us at or +1-702-907-3330.

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