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FRESH AESTHETIC: Tim Rosenbury is observing positive results with the new open office design at Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc.
sbj photo by wes hamilton
FRESH AESTHETIC: Tim Rosenbury is observing positive results with the new open office design at Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc.

Death of the Cubicle: Next-generation workers attracted to new office trends

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Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc.’s newly designed downtown office – with its bright and roomy collaborative studio – represents the architecture firm’s work style. Managing Partner Tim Rosenbury said it also represents the way many companies will design offices in the future – if they’re willing to take a hard look at what drives business and motivates employees.

“I think our responsibility as architects is to urge clients to think deeper about their space and to think more deeply about how they go about doing their work,” he said. “What happens is, they end up with work spaces that look different because they function differently.”

Today’s office spaces are about workflow and collaboration and offer a sense of identity, both to employees and clients.

“When you drive up to a building, you can automatically identify what that company is,” said Jon Dodd, principal, architect and president at Buxton-Kubik-Dodd Inc. “The building speaks the language. It has brand identity to that client.”

Breaking down walls
BR&P decided to reconfigure its 319 N. Main Ave. second-floor office after the recession left it with a fraction of its staff and a lot of vacant space. The firm dropped interior design services and structural engineering to focus solely on architecture, and sold its partial ownership of the building to lease to other tenants.

The newly remodeled office, which was completed in July and funded by Tillman Redevelopment LLC, placed nearly the entire staff in one large room. Light-filled windows cover three walls and a series of curvy white desks wraps around the room – all connected, similar to how cubicles are hooked together but without the padded partitions. There’s no executive suite and no obvious way for outsiders to know who ranks at the top or the bottom of the office food chain.

“Our work is collaborative,” Rosenbury said, noting only partner Angie Way has a private office to help focus on sensitive financial information. “Having people in an open office area, where they can easily communicate with each other, just works best for our approach.”

Although no single design technique can fit all company styles, BR&P leaders believe its renovation appeals to millennial workers who value problem solving and teamwork over the hierarchy and status associated with traditional office trappings, such as corner offices.

Of the 22 employees in his office, nine are under the age of 30, but even Rosenbury prefers to manage without walls.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “I haven’t had an office in 14 or 15 years. I prefer to be out where the work is happening.”

But the false sense of privacy offered by traditional cubicle partitions is not a great choice either, Rosenbury said.   

“I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s really one extreme or the other,” he said. “You either need to be in a totally private or a totally wide open space. Because the middle ground really doesn’t do privacy well, and it really doesn’t do collaboration well.”

Architect Dodd said office design can be a big recruiting tool for the future.

“I always tell people, gone are the days of the old, boring break rooms,” he said. “We’re turning break rooms in office designs into unique little coffee shop areas.”

Quality of life
Businesses also can attract younger talent by offering a variety of work environment options. Some people may prefer a desk, but others may like working while standing at a countertop, lounging on a couch or even sitting outside. Some people may want to simply have a laptop and a backpack.

An open-office environment also improves response times for customer-service calls and helps training and mentoring occur more naturally, Rosenbury said.

“All you have to do is take out your ear buds, and just listen to what’s going on,” he said. “You can listen in on one side of phone conversations and hear how someone else is dealing with a problem, and you can learn from that.”

Of course, there are times when meetings or phone calls – or newspaper interviews – need to happen away from a crowd, so Rosenbury recommends a variety of temporary-use spaces, such as conference rooms and lounges, be built into an office. A room next to BR&P’s studio looks more like a living room, with a black leather sofa, coffee table, two comfy chairs and a bookcase bench.

Lighting is also a factor.

“Natural light is a big thing for people nowadays,” Dodd said. “The more natural light you can bring into an office, the better quality of life the space has.”

The traditional way of designing offices was placing private suites for executives and managers around the perimeter of the building with other employees in the center, Dodd said. But newer designs aim to place everyone near windows or skylights.

Dodd points to the firm’s most recent project as an example of the latest design trends. The new shared headquarters for O’Reilly Hospitality Management LLC and Ransin Injury Law acts as a marketing tool by including features that reflect each company’s culture. There is a rooftop meeting area, as well as a bike shop complete with showers and changing rooms.

The outside of buildings also can set the tone, beyond placing the company logo over the door or painting parts of the building with company colors, Dodd said. The O’Reilly/Ransin headquarters incorporates natural materials to emphasize the developers’ care for the environment and the goal of blending into the nearby neighborhood.

Rosenbury said when job applicants feel a connection to and identify with a business’ building, it can really have a positive effect on convincing them to join the team.

“They felt like the work environment – the work culture – as exemplified in the space was something they wanted to be a part of,” he said.


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