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"Startups Growing Up": Insights from WorkTech 2018 NY

Why do small companies want to appear larger than they are, while established organizations try to stay nimble and lean? As startups grow past the fledgling phase and outgrow their offices, they have an opportunity to design a workplace that reflects and nurtures their culture.

At WorkTech18 New York in May, I led a cross-discipline panel that explored the question of how to create a workspace that balances function with a company’s organic and unique culture in our masterclass on workplace design for growing companies.

Savills Studley Vice Chairman Jeff Peck, architect Chris Leong and Artsy’s Director of Experience Sean Roland tackled the question from the points of view of commercial real estate, workplace design and client culture. We discussed ways that growing companies can manifest a new organizational identity through workplace, rather than just trying to fit into cookie-cutter office space for large companies.

Chris, Co-Founder of architectural design firm Leong Leong, observed that the opportunity to create a workspace is also an opportunity to set a direction for future. Startups organically evolve ways of working together, but as companies mature, many tend to think they need to become more clean and presentable. But in reality, it’s the opposite, he asserted. Startups should allow workplace design to reflect the organic ways of working – not sterilize it, allowing culture to flourish by translating it into workplace design.

One firm in the process of doing just that is the tech-driven art industry disrupter, Artsy. As Director of Experience, Sean said the company has been lucky to work in a great space in Manhattan for the past seven years, but it needs to plan for growth in a new space. The company has been working with our Occupant Experience team to solicit input from various different team members to design a space from the ground up. He said, “What we imagine as mature is having spaces that are highly functional and meet all our needs, but the playful aspect is how to create that while maintaining unique and dynamic activity within each space, a space that is both inspiring and functional.”

Sean’s background in the hospitality field helped him see that creating an environment for social interaction, events and community would be important in the new space. “Like having a party at home, everyone always winds up in the kitchen because it’s warm and inviting. People love to connect while eating and drinking.”

So Leong Leong has created a design for a central core or hub space for sharing food, as well as events and presentations, with different pockets of work groups spreading out from there, but joining with the central environment where people want to spend time together. Sean added: “That’s the most exciting thing that came out of our pre-design work, creating a community center and environment that can grow and flex and shrink, functioning as a hub for the workplace.”

Chris said that, like Artsy, many companies now want to program collaboration into their space, creating a workplace that drives and encourages human connections. Another idea that he’s put forward for Artsy is a walking circuit meeting space – an actual indoor walking track that is dedicated to meetings on the move. Health and wellness are moving to the forefront of workplace design.

Jeff, who represents clients of all sizes and industries, confirmed that many clients are less interested in standard commercial office space in glass and steel towers. Instead, they are looking for “resi-mercial” space – residential elements blending with commercial. “The whole goal is to attract and retain talent,” he said. “Companies want their people to be productive, collaborative, and for the office to be a place where they want to be and spend time. It’s not just about putting a pingpong table in the corner.”

They are also seeking buildings with individual character, Jeff added, with exposed brick, exposed ceilings, exposed ductwork, and more integrated with the neighborhood. Just being near Grand Central or Penn Plaza isn’t cutting it any more.

Are you interested in exploring how to make your workplace work better for your company? Email me at MMarsh@savills-studley.com.

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