Baskervill: The Intersection of Workplace Design and Culture [part 1]

Recently, Baskervill, an architecture and design firm in Richmond, VA, underwent an experiment to see how their office was really working for the way they worked.

The reason?

After their corporate design team paid a visit to furniture designer Steelcase in Grand Rapids earlier in the year, many discussions about where and how people work best ensued.

It’s no secret that great spaces can jumpstart both creativity and productivity, but what are the keys to creating a truly successful work environment? That’s the question Baskervill’s corporate design team kept asking themselves. Their research pointed them in the direction of a workplace with “ecosystems,” or a range of spaces that facilitates different tasks and ultimately gives employees control over their environment.

I was able to interview three members of their team, Cassie Sipos and Gillian Bowman, Interior Designers who led the experiment and Susan Orange, the Director of Workplace Strategies to see what was learned throughout the process.

Read the first of a two-part interview series to see what the Baskervill team learned about their office culture and some office design trends they’re seeing in the industry.

Interview Part One:

Featuring Cassie Sipos and Gillian Bowman, Interior Designers at Baskervill (who lead the internal challenge).

Cassie and Gillian Gillian Bowman (left) and Cassie Sipos (right)

 

What made you want to take on the office experiment? Was there a need to change up the current design of the office? If yes, how did you know? For example, was it a group decision, did a manager want to initiate it, were employees requesting a change or do you do this sort of thing often?

Cassie: In January, Gillian and I went on a trip to visit the Steelcase headquarters in Michigan. There was a lot of discussion on workplace trends and how to design for a company’s culture, as well as individual employee happiness and productivity. When we returned, we were inspired and had a lot of thoughts and ideas about workplace design. This sort of sparked the idea to do our own experiment and see how our own workplace environment really worked—if we could get away from our desks and try working productively in some of the other workspaces.

Gillian: We’re constantly researching the latest trends, and we also thought in order to implement these ideas with our clients, why don’t we also try it here in the office? We weren’t necessarily thinking we needed to change the design of our office, but the initial thought was to use the space differently, to step away from the desk.

During the transition, did you notice a change in energy, mood, productivity or overall culture before, during and after the experiment was done?

Gillian: My energy levels and productivity definitely improved by working in the right location for a particular task. It, of course, took a little bit of time to find the right locations and tools. When I did, I found myself gravitating toward furniture, people, privacy, and openness based on the task at hand. That’s what was so great—the feeling of flexibility that came with this shake up. I think in order for a company’s entire culture to change, everyone in the office would need to start experimenting with working in different locations based on the particular tasks.

Cassie: For me, I found the biggest hurdle with working elsewhere was technology. Most of the work we do is on the computer and places other than my desk weren’t really conducive to this sort of work. But when it came to sketching, I was much more productive when I got away from the distractions of my computer and could find a quiet space to really think and pay attention to what I was doing.

Are there any other trends you are seeing in workspace design that you want to share with us?

Cassie: I’ve noticed a shift toward the realization that more quiet private workspaces are needed, rather than all open space. The desire to have flexibility, especially with ever-changing technology, is a big idea right now.

Gillian: Having that “third” space for people to work and have casual meetings has been very popular. Coffee lounge areas, community tables, and banquette/booth seating are a few strategies to escape the feel and look of a typical work area while encouraging coworkers to collaborate. Health and wellness initiatives are also becoming very popular around the office. I’ve heard of simple changes, such as placing trashcans or microwaves farther away from workstations, helping to encourage people to get away from their desk and move more. Sit-to-stand work surfaces and flexible furniture options are also helpful in changing up posture throughout the day.

Do you think that the space we work in affects culture?

Gillian: In a sense, yes. I think the space should be designed around the function of the office—is it an accounting firm? A design firm? Those are very different types of offices. Each space should be designed around the needs of the client. If the space doesn’t align with the needs of the company, it may even hinder the culture. At the same time, a well-designed, flexible space can help a culture flourish because it reflects the company and its goals and each employee feels they can work how they need to more efficiently throughout the day.

Cassie: Exactly. A company’s culture influences the needs and design of the space and vice versa.

What makes working at Baskervill great? 

Gillian: For one, they are open to experiments like this. If anyone ever has ideas that may help our clients or others around the office, they encourage people to take initiative to research and experiment. It’s been a great place to work on a variety of projects and learn from the wide array of talent in the studio.

Cassie: What sold me on Baskervill is the people. Everyone is very open and you feel like you are part of a team here, really contributing to projects and valued as an individual.


 

Cassie Sipos
A recent graduate and fresh face in the design industry, Cassie Sipos is immersing herself in a range of design projects and clients, from financial institutions looking to shake things up to community museums and healthcare clinics. Her modern, industrial chic design aesthetic stems from a simple philosophy: to always be flexible and open-minded.  If she’s not busy sketching out solutions for clients, she’s trying her hand at new recipes in the kitchen.

Gillian Bowman, CID, ASID
Gillian Bowman has a flair for design that extends far beyond the walls of the office. A talented photographer who dabbles in creative pursuits from woodworking to blogging, she brings her charm, wit, and artistry to a wide spectrum of clients including Altria, Dominion Power, the Federal Reserve, and Virginia Commonwealth University. When she’s not designing functional, beautiful interiors, you’ll find her exploring Richmond with her dog Toby.

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Rooted in the belief that great design is the result of asking the right questions and truly listening to the answers, Baskervill offers creative architectural, interior design, and MEP engineering solutions to a varied client base, from hospitality to corporate, healthcare, advanced technologies and cultural institutions. Founded in Richmond, Virginia, in 1897, today Baskervill is one of the nation's oldest continually operating architectural firms. While a sense of history grounds us, it's the idea that design can solve problems of the future that really keeps us inspired. To learn more about who we are, how we work, and what we've designed, visit: www.baskervill.com.

Jennifer Moss