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The Front Office: Step outside the cubicle with these industry experts on workspaces

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CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Dennis Nuckles, Big-D Construction; KayLee Fox, Osmond Designs; Jarrod Hunt, Coldwell Banker Commercial; Heather Osmond, Osmond Designs; Lindy Allen, Four Chairs Furniture & Design; Dale Benson, Bluefin Office Group; Curtis Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture,  Jeanette Bennett, BusinessQ Magazine. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst)

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT Dennis Nuckles, Big-D Construction; KayLee Fox, Osmond Designs; Jarrod Hunt, Coldwell Banker Commercial; Heather Osmond, Osmond Designs; Lindy Allen, Four Chairs Furniture & Design; Dale Benson, Bluefin Office Group; Curtis Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture, Jeanette Bennett, BusinessQ Magazine. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst)

Jeanette Bennett, BusinessQ Magazine: What trends are you seeing in office space design?

Dennis Nuckles, Big-D Construction: Natural light and open spaces have become big recently. We’re seeing companies move away from traditional offices, even for executives. For example, Qualtrics doesn’t have offices — they have an open and collaborative environment.

Curtis Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture: I agree. Twenty years ago, the trend was to put bosses and managers on the outside walls with windows and to put employees in cubicles in the middle. Now it’s reversing. People are realizing that companies tend to operate better when there’s not a stratification of people. It’s popular to pull people to the inside and let everybody have access to natural daylight. The days of the corner office are fast leaving.

Dale Benson, Bluefin Office Group: We see that as well, but we’ve also seen a need to have structure. We recently worked with a company that spent a significant amount of money in creating collaborative open space, but later came back and said they needed to reverse their choice. There needs to be some definition of space for productivity, otherwise the work in the collaborative zone becomes too intimate. Collaborative doesn’t necessarily mean productive.

Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture: Offices are more centralized now, but there needs to be a place to have a private conversation. The model now is to have an open workspace with adjacent rooms where you can have a private call. It’s a more effective use of space.

Jarrod Hunt, Coldwell Banker Commercial: A few years ago, we took a company that had 21,000 square feet of traditional space — they had big oak doors that opened into private offices. It was broken up onto three levels, and each level had its own reception alcove, restrooms and stairways. They were paying about $14 per square foot. We went out to find a new place that would work better for them. We ended up putting that company into 13,000 square feet of space for around $20 per square foot, which means their monthly rent expense was actually less. Their team’s productivity increased, too, because they were all on the same floor.

Lindy Allen, Four Chairs Furniture: We’re seeing a lot of clean lines for furnishings. Simple furnishings function really well and bring an aesthetic. Whether it’s a traditional, masculine, whimsical or fun and colorful look, an office aesthetic should touch on the five senses. Like we said earlier, bringing in natural light is wise — and painting whole walls white to bring in reflective light is popular, too.

Bennett, BusinessQ: How does a company create a space that matches their personality and their culture?

Allen, Four Chairs Furniture: Companies should talk to their employees and find out what they like. Ask them what they do in their free time and bring in their hobbies and interests into a fun space. We do our life’s work for eight hours a day and we should love where we’re going to be.

Benson, Bluefin Office Group: Design is important, but it has to be sensitive to the culture of that company. Some companies have a traditional culture, so their office space will play out differently.

Allen, Four Chairs Furniture: When you know how you want it to look but you don’t have enough time to do it, that’s when you hire somebody and tell them what you’re going for.

“The millennial generation is into gaming and entertainment, so we see a lot of companies that have game rooms with an Xbox and ping pong table, and they offer drink machines and lunch.”

– Dennis Nuckles, Big-D Construction

Nuckles, Big-D Construction: And employers need to know who their target employees are. The millennial generation is into gaming and entertainment, so we see a lot of companies that have game rooms with an Xbox and ping pong table, and they offer drink machines and lunch.

Heather Osmond, Osmond Design: Your home or office is a reflection of you, and people thrive in an atmosphere they love. One specific client we worked with had a picture in his lobby of a ship in a horrible storm. We told him that is probably not the best picture to foster confidence in a construction company. Those details are important because they relay emotion and personality. To match their culture, companies can also incorporate their logo colors.

Hunt, Coldwell Banker Commercial: When designing or selecting a building, it’s important to design it in a way that has flexibility. The landlords need to have versatility in mind so that 30 years down the road, they’re not restricted to a certain layout because of structural problems they didn’t take into account.

Benson, Bluefin Office Group: We’re seeing a lot of flex space with movable partitions that make spaces bigger or smaller. That increases the resale value, too.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What advice do you have for a company that is in an old building but wants to update their space?

Allen, Four Chairs Furniture: Think outside the box. They could cut windows into walls that don’t look outside but allow light to flow through. They could also upgrade features — take off current doors and add barn doors. Those are smaller things they can do to improve without diving in and gutting the space.

KayLee Fox, Osmond Design: Even something like updating the paint goes a long way. It’s simple and inexpensive.

Osmond, Osmond Design: My first recommendation is to hire an expert. People get caught up in having to be the best in everything, but one thing I’ve learned is to do what you do best. That might mean getting someone to consult with you to facilitate what your goals are.

Benson, Bluefin Office Group: That mindset runs against the grain of Utah County thought. People think they can figure it out themselves. We’ve found it’s best to have a frank conversation, or a “needs audit.” Great things can happen on a small budget, but it does require a professional to get the creative juices flowing.

“One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to an office layout. Companies need to understand who they are and who they are not.”

– Jarrod Hunt, Coldwell Banker Commercial

Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture: Sometimes people see a wall and think it has to be a wall. Not necessarily. For example, there are buildings along Orem Boulevard that are two-level, usually with a garden level or basement below. They could clear the entire main level and the building would be just fine. People don’t often understand the potential of the building when they’re looking at the structure. Bringing in an architect and structural engineer to help them understand the limitations can open the whole world from a design standpoint.

Benson, Bluefin Office Group: I was in a meeting where the manager of a production facility said to the vice president, “I can’t believe we are going to spend money on the offices. The reason we’re so successful is because of what is happening behind the offices. When are you going to take care of us?” The conversation then went from office layout to helping the production facility be more efficient. They began to look at it openly and creatively and figured out how to make it better for the company.

Hunt, Coldwell Banking Commercial: A lot of companies think they have to look and act like Google or other high-tech companies that have a lot of money to spend. That’s not the case. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to an office layout. Companies need to understand who they are and who they are not.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What timeline should companies be aware of when moving or updating their office space?

Hunt, Coldwell Banking Commercial: The conversations should start at least a year in advance to stay abreast of the market trends. In the market we have now, finding existing space is difficult because we are back to where we were pre-recession. We shake our heads when people call us and want to look at a space tomorrow and have a lease signed by the next week. It’s frustrating for them to realize that there is no “just add water” solution out there.

Nuckles, Big-D Construction: Less experienced companies don’t understand what it takes from the construction standpoint. They tell us they want a building in six months and when we tell them it’s going to be a year or longer, they panic because their lease is expiring. Companies should anticipate their own needs.

Allen, Four Chairs Furniture: From the interior perspective, it’s smart to bring design into the conversation right from the very start. At the minimum, I would give it at least six months so there’s time to carry out the company’s vision.

Osmond, Osmond Design: I like to be in right at the beginning when they are designing the building because it can be designed around furnishings. That way we’re planning small things, like making sure the outlets are in the right place. These are things that don’t cost any more money but make a big difference. If everyone is there at the start, we can bring exterior elements to the interior and interior elements to the exterior. This leads to a cohesive project.

Fox, Osmond Design: It doesn’t matter how cool your building is if it’s not functional and if people don’t have what they need within arm’s reach. Time is money and if they have to walk across the office to get what they need, it wastes time.

Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture: A developer doesn’t gain anything by keeping someone out of the conversation longer. On day one, if you bring your furniture people in, there could be a major discussion where everyone can come up with a solution. Having a group of experts on the same team makes decision-making easier.

Benson, Bluefin Office Group: Ideally, we try to give hope to all of our clients. Some companies might have to be up and running in two months, and the sooner we get engaged in that, the more options there are. Just because you don’t have two years doesn’t mean you can’t have a really nice improvement to your space.

Osmond, Osmond Design: Even after you’ve finished up an office space, you’re not done forever. Hopefully you continue to develop creative and innovative ideas.

12 On-Trend Utah Valley Offices

1. Vivint Solar IT, Thanksgiving Point

“They scaled back from total collaborative to a more productive environment, including all white board surface areas inside each work station,” says Dale Benson of Bluefin Office Group.

2. SecurityMetrics, Orem

Curtis Miner Architecture designed this headquarters with open space in mind. A conference room below the beams is surrounded with glass.

3. Xactware, Lehi

Each floor of the Xactware building is identical, so Big-D Construction painted each level a different color to connect employees to their workspace.

4. DecisionWise, Provo

DecisionWise painted their blue-and-white logo onto one of their office walls. “It’s smart to incorporate logo colors into your office theme,” suggests Heather Osmond of Osmond Designs.

5. Imagine Learning, Provo

100+ team members have sit/stand workstations.

6. Ideal Shape, Lindon

Creative collaborative design enhances productivity.

7. Clyde Companies, Orem

High-end design in the construction industry west side of I-15.

8. Valley OBGYN, American Fork

Soothing waiting area; daylit but private exam suites.

9. BuyPD /Evtech, American Fork

Company culture is reinforced by open ceiling, crisp colors, cleanly detailed glass walls.

10. Curtis Miner Architecture, Pleasant Grove

Combination of traditional and contemporary design.

11. Coldwell Banker, American Fork

Modern materials with transparency; clean design.

12. Adobe, Lehi

Open, artsy and lit up at the Point of the Mountain.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What is the lifespan of an office design? How often do trends come and go?

Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture: It depends on the growth and dynamics of the company. We designed a building and I got a call from the owner on moving day and he said, “We’re out of space. We need to start another building.” It was a very fast-growing local company. For them, that life cycle was literally not longer than the time it took to design and build the building.

Allen, Four Chairs Furniture: Offices need to freshen up at least every three years. They need to have somebody come in and replace a few things and add some wallpaper. When employees walk into the same place day after day, they stop seeing what other people see when they walk in. Employees don’t notice that something has cobwebs or that lamp that has been there since 1980. But others notice that.

Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture: We have to understand the company’s needs. We’ve done spaces for computer programmers and we say, “Let’s put you on the outside wall and get you in some daylight,” but they do not want daylight. They want to be in a cave with headphones and three screens, so we have to tailor the space to what supports their business. A lot of people see office space as a necessary evil. They see the building as a neutral background that neither helps nor hurts the company. But in the best scenarios, the building supports a company in doing their business better. We see companies move into a new building, and where they were once struggling to keep employees connected to the work process, now everything is more fluid because of the building design. That’s the sweet spot.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What final tips can you share for business owners and executives who want to plan a new office space?

Nuckles, Big-D Construction: Consider the pros and cons of moving into a new or existing place. The pros for new would be that you get a space that meets your exact needs and you get safer, seismically sound buildings. The pros for existing buildings are that you get them quicker and they’re generally less expensive.

Fox, Osmond Design: Office spaces need to be efficient with easy access to everything employees need. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a good environment.

Hunt, Coldwell Banking Commercial: I was spoiled in our last office because I had an underground parking stall. When we moved to a better office for our needs, it was hard to give up. My heated parking stall had nothing to do with the office space, but it had something to do with my day. Executives should take those things into consideration. Think about if mass transit is important to employees or if proximity to I-15 is important for clients. Choose a location that addresses needs.

Osmond, Osmond Design: There are always budget issues because people have more expensive tastes than what their budget can afford. Innovative and creative ideas can overcome budget issues. I’ve seen how taking care of employees makes a difference. Have a refreshment area and provide water and refrigerators for employees. Those aren’t necessarily office design issues, but it’s important to show them you care.

Nuckles, Big-D Construction: My advice is to be open about your budget. When people buy a car, they don’t want to tell the car salesman their budget because they find that magically the price of their car will be whatever number they say. But if we as the builder and Curtis as the architect know what we’re working with, we can maximize that budget.

Benson, Bluefin Office Group: I’ve watched companies buy $80 chairs and be proud of finding the cheapest workstations and hitting the budget. But if you visit with the people working in those conditions, they don’t like work and they won’t be there long. It’s hard for executives to recognize that there is a soft cost when they only spend $80 on a chair. That person is going to be uncomfortable, so he or she will start talking to their neighbor or get up and walk around. That soft cost doesn’t justify the budget cut. Employee workspaces become almost as important as the compensation employers provide.

Miner, Curtis Miner Architecture: When a business owner decides to get a new office space, whether it’s building something new or moving into an existing building, they are going to spend the cost of their budget whether they hire a team of professionals or not. The difference is that 3 to 8 percent of that cost will get them the professionals. That’s the difference between getting it right and getting it very wrong.

Osmond, Osmond Designs: And there are years of experience behind the professionals. They’ve seen mistakes and great accomplishments so they know what works.

Benson, Bluefin Office Group: I see a good team approach here at this table, with architecture, design and furnishings working together. Many companies have a vision and a culture they’re trying to create, but it’s difficult for them to express that because they’re focusing on other things. The professionals can create the best scenario for efficiency and aesthetic.

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