Weekly Editorial

Improving Company Culture

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • December 11, 2023

The Insider_Weekly_Editorial Section_12.11.23

Because the office furniture industry is clustered so heavily in the Midwest and such a focus is placed on the East Coast market, our ideas about space design can be skewed toward those regions. Discussions about important topics such as improving company culture and the return to the office are shaped by where we live and what we hear.

So it was interesting to listen to a panel discussion at WestEdge Design Fair held recently in Santa Monica to get the views of West Coast designers about company culture, hybrid work and return to the office mandates and topics that are top of mind for those practicing in places like California, Oregon and Washington.

Panelists included: Cheryl Durst, executive vice president and CEO at IIDA; Bill Bouchey, design director in Gensler’s Los Angeles office; Sarah Devine, managing principal of Revel Architecture’s Los Angeles office; Scott Parker, project design director and associate principal at Studio One Eleven; Ashley Richardson, partner, EYRC Architects; and Björn Schrader, partner, Abramson Architects.

Many of the issues are the same, but the West Coast designers on the panel discussed the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and creating a sense of community in the workplace. They also highlighted the need for spaces that can accommodate different work styles and the increasing trend of integrating work-from-home elements into office designs.

Companies that are struggling with how to effectively balance hybrid work with the need for community aren’t alone. Architecture and design firms are working through the same issue, said Bouchey.

Bouchey said Gensler is trying to find the right balance between hybrid work while maintaining company culture at its Los Angeles office. “We’re not going to force everyone back, but on a good day, we might have [30-50] people in the office,” he said. “So the needs of the office have dramatically changed and the amount of space that we need have dramatically changed. We just don’t use the space in the same way. We don’t use as much of the space in the same way and we’re actively struggling with what do we do with this amazing asset moving forward.”

The panelists also emphasized the importance of mentorship, continuous learning, and embracing new technologies like AI in the design profession. But it was the idea of community and culture that kept bubbling to the top of the discussion.

Durst said she hears human resource directors talk about employers making it “worth the commute” — making the office so compelling that workers want to make a deliberate choice to go into the office rather than stay home.

The pandemic has transformed the work day and work culture into something we’ve never seen before, said Parker. The identity of the office needs to be just as strong, if not stronger than before the pandemic.

Bouchey added that Gensler is using its office as a case study. The firm has started transforming the Gensler office in Los Angeles. “It’s not our office anymore,” he said, noting that the company has reached out to non-profit organizations and others to use the space for community gatherings like board meetings for a local art museum.

The company is inviting the community in to share the space. That creates close ties between Gensler’s employees and the city. Designers working there rub elbows with non-profits and artists from around Los Angeles.

And if that’s not creating community, I don’t know what is.


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