Baskervill: The Intersection of Workplace Design and Culture [part 2]

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 final piece 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 Two:

Featuring Susan Orange, Director of Workplace Strategies at Baskervill. 

susan2Do you think there is a point where an office design is considered finished, or do you believe it is an ongoing evolution? Do you feel it is healthy to keep making changes to an office space? If yes, why and when is it the right time to make a change?

In any given project, there is an end point. Paint dries, contractors pack up, inspections pass, and people move in and begin doing the business of business. However, the reason for the project in the first place doesn’t end. Business models change, processes improve, teams fluctuate, maintenance occurs, technology advancements continue, and people need different things.

So the original project, which usually stays the way it is for 10 to 15 years before another move or renovation is needed, has to be redesigned to accommodate work and culture shifts that took place during that time period. That accommodation is really the genesis of today’s workplace: a more open plan where options are prevalent and space can be user- and business-defined.

The right time to make that change is, again, user- and business-defined. There isn’t a magic time frame, but there is a wrong time: immediately following a change as a knee jerk reaction to being uncomfortable. Take some time to acclimate; try something new. Most times (at least 99% of the time) people come to really appreciate, understand, and embrace the new experience.

As the Director of Workplace Strategies, you must have a wealth of knowledge in the industry when it comes to office design and how that can affect culture. Can you share some things you have learned about the changing landscape of office culture?

Physically speaking, there are a lot of trends and changes taking place in businesses everywhere.

  • Indirect access to the outdoors through visual connection is high on all lists. A lot of companies also want that direct connection, with outdoor areas for walking, playing, eating, and working.
  • Wellbeing is another hot-button topic. Copy rooms, coffee stations, and meeting spaces are becoming destinations. They’re designed to get people up and moving. Adjustable work surfaces are being used for healthier posture and fitness facilities are being incorporated. Then you’ve got spaces like wellness rooms and nursing areas for working mothers; some companies even have spaces just for naps!
  • Personal spaces are becoming smaller, or in some cases, being eliminated altogether. This is because of a few trends, including the size and power of technological equipment and services—people spend less time tied to a desktop and embrace a “work anywhere” philosophy. Plus, people crave communal space.
  • Transparency—both in philosophy and design—is a big trend. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of glass and open conversational zones in office spaces. It alludes to availability and gives clients an open invitation to see the true experience of the brand they’re interacting with.
  • I’m on a personal mission to eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) the office door. How often are doors really used? Is your neighbor’s door closed at the same time? How many conversations happen at the door-jamb-lean? It seems that another option, like a shared sliding panel could be useful and save tons of money, too.

A lot of those concrete physical changes are because of the psychological shifts that are happening in the corporate world. The big, all-encompassing change we have to talk about is the increased awareness and expectation that a company’s brand is manifested in its environment. People want an experience, and they’re paying attention everywhere they go.

Today, businesses are competing for top talent on a new level as the available workforce changes. Existing and future staff are evaluating the physical workplace and the potential for a work/life balance with as much interest as their potential salary and benefits.

That’s why involving your staff in conversations about big changes is important. When people participate, it leads to ownership, which leads to championing the cause instead of fearing the change. Change doesn’t need to mean you go from traditional law firm all the way to a space that looks like Google. There are many stops along that change spectrum.

Change is hard. Recognizing that and doing creative things to include, inform, and celebrate is a great way to prepare. A well-discussed and planned design will always emulate the company’s soul.

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

In my definition, culture is a group of people working toward a common goal with a strong identity and attitude. A company has to have a clear understanding of their culture—either what it is or what it needs to be. We spend a lot of time discussing that with our clients and immersing ourselves in that. A workplace design, in and of itself, will not change a culture. It will encourage, enhance, support, and celebrate it, though. The message will be seen and felt by everyone: employees, recruits, peers, clients, and competition. It has to tell your own story, and it has to be genuine. If there is any disconnect at all, people will jump to “calling bullshit” and oftentimes in a very public way.

What makes working at Baskervill great?

We understand and embrace the fact that a project is always about the client. It isn’t about a prospective award, individual style, or our timeframe. The product is what the client wants and needs. We want to make a difference. That’s why we’re so involved as a member of the community, and why internally we encourage exploration of interests and opportunities, support each other in difficult times, and celebrate successes.

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Susan Orange, CID

It’s no coincidence that Susan Orange shares a name with one of the most vibrant, optimistic hues on the color wheel. Bold and polished, she works closely with corporate clients to uncover their needs and craft designs tailored to their unique history, work style, and vision for the future. As an associate principal and director of workplace strategies, Susan has helped the corporate interiors studio build a nationally renowned reputation and claim a spot on Interior Design’s list of Top 100 Giants. Her vivid philosophy brings brand stories to life through fresh, powerful design.

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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