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‘Enchanted Forest’ Meeting Rooms: The New Normal? 
Google, others lead way with quirky, inventive office space 

2/10/2014  By Dana Wilkie 
 
 
At Google’s offices in Chicago, swinging benches, the kind you see on porches, are suspended from the ceilings, painted bright primary colors and positioned around the two-story workspace.

The Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Room is adorned with posters of a young Matthew Broderick in his signature pose—reclining with hands behind head.

And at Google’s Café 312, employees work on laptops while enjoying cushiony seats and a coffee-shop atmosphere.
Here it’s evidently “out” with the conventional conference table shoved inside four walls, the isolated, cookie-cutter offices and the mundane snack room. Instead, Google workspaces are more akin to artists’ lofts than the offices of a Fortune 100 company.

Max Chopovsky, founder of Chicago Creative Space, takes videos of what he calls some of the most inventive office spaces in the Windy City, and he’s convinced that out-of-the-box architecture, furniture, lighting and meeting space are key to luring top talent and keeping workers inspired.

“A lot more Millennials are entering the workforce with completely different views on when to work, the definition of work and the nature of work,” said Chopovsky, whose company connects clients seeking to renovate their offices with architects, designers and manufacturers. “That, combined with the fact that they can work from anywhere, means the role of the office needs to be re-evaluated by every company that wants to hire this worker.” 

Transparency

At Tris3ct Services Inc., an advertising firm in Chicago, overhead lights are emblazoned with Batman images. The place has a studio, loftlike feel, with exposed beams that serve as seats for large stuffed animals, exposed brick, unfinished concrete floors, and light fixtures and ceilings made of cork. Big meetings take place in the Iron Chef Kitchen, as do cooking competitions. Employees can write on all surfaces, including the floors, which means “the entire space becomes a canvas just waiting for inspiration to strike,” Creative Spaces explains on its website.

“You want Monday morning to feel as good as Friday night,” commented Dick Thomas, founder and CEO of Tris3ct, in a video on Creative Space’s website. “So I think when you come in first thing in the morning and you really feel all the energy of this space, it really changes your workday.”

For the ad agency, “creativity is absolutely key,” noted Chopovsky. “So they created a space where, if you have an idea, you don’t have to travel far to get that idea out of your head.”

Collaboration

At Groupon, a deal-of-the-day recommendation service for consumers, a “conference” might take place in the tree trunk of the Enchanted Forest, whose central feature is a manufactured fallen redwood tree with a hollowed-out trunk and a long wooden table pocked by large knots.

Groupon’s quirky and colorful headquarters in Chicago also have a Hobbit House with fridges and microwaves; a carnival-inspired zone; tethered swings; a TikiBar for meetings, lunches and after-work gatherings; and paint nearby to scrawl ideas onto walls.

Another Chicago business, marketing and media solutions company ValueClick, has built breakout spaces in its hallways that look like steps, where workers can plunk down and use nearby projectors to show presentations on the hallway walls.
The walls are also designed to be written on.

“Part of their rationale was, ‘Let’s not have any space go unused,’ ” Chopovsky said. “They don’t need to have this formal process of, ‘Let’s all get up and go to the conference room.’ Instead, they might be walking down the hall and say, ‘Let’s just turn to your left and pick up a pen and start writing on the wall.’ If people sit around a traditional conference-room table, they’re already thinking about a more formal environment and might not be as open with ideas. In a hallway, a very informal environment, you may be more psychologically open to share those ideas. That’s not just collaboration—that’s spontaneous collaboration.”

Sign of the Times? 

Chopovsky acknowledged that some industries and professions don’t lend themselves to open office spaces or zany designs. For attorney-client consultations, a law firm may always need private offices. In any firm’s HR department, sensitive issues may need to be addressed behind closed doors.

“I agree that law firms and professional-services firms may adopt this a little more slowly,” he said. “But I think younger and younger workers—this generation that grew up on Facebook and Twitter—will prove a very strong undercurrent that’s going to compel a lot of companies to make changes to their environments.

“Even in traditionally staid industries, workers coming up through the ranks will have grown up with the ubiquity of technology, and they’re going to want to have things done a little differently. Your law firm may have historically had one receptionist for each attorney, but now attorneys don’t need one receptionist all to themselves, because a lot of what administrative people do has been replaced by technology. And that will drive a change in the office space.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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