To help spur innovation and growth (and reverse the recent trend of missed earnings expectations), Google announced a project in July to gather insights from all its employees over a two-week period. The Simplicity Sprint eschews the usual employee survey questions in favor of more philosophical ones, like: What would help you work with greater clarity and efficiency to serve our users and customers? If an employee’s idea rises to the top, it earns them a chat with senior staff, in a radical upending of the typical top-down decrees of the tech world.
35th Most Influential Project of 2022
Not every corporate headquarters has a soccer pitch on its front lawn. But the space is a cleverly on-brand enticement for employees who might otherwise be hesitant to schlep into the Adidas office. In May, the sports gear and apparel giant completed a three-year project to dramatically expand its Portland campus. Though the project’s start predates the pandemic, there’s no question its influence shaped the project plans—which include the soccer pitch along with three sleek new buildings filled with employee-centric spaces for gathering, collaborating and, yes, sweating.
Designed by Bennetts Associates, TP Bennett and Gehry Partners, Meta’s 11-21 Canal Reach is the largest office building on London’s Kings Cross Estate. The open, airy, artfully landscaped office, which opened in March, invites employees to revel in the joy of nature. Think: expansive rooftop gardens, communal terrace spaces, lush interior gardens, and a design that maximizes natural views from as many desks as possible.
When designing a new factory for Indian electronics manufacturer Secure Meter, Studio Saar was given a simple challenge: “Create an environment to make complex, cutting-edge technology that uplifts the spirits of those in the workplace.” The key to balancing manufacturing’s focus on efficiency and security with the workforce’s need to decompress and recharge? Separating what might be one large factory into four purpose-driven buildings: one for manufacturing, another for reception, a third dedicated to a utility bay, and the final for employee recreation and meals. During the pandemic, project leaders found another benefit of the design’s separate structures: When employee travel became too risky, the company converted the canteen into temporary accommodations, housing 300 people on site.
When a flood of organizations went remote in 2020, most did so on a temporary basis. Not Dropbox. The San Francisco-based file storage company decided to WFH permanently in late 2020. But in July 2021, the company’s chief people officer, Melanie Collins, noted that human interaction was “something our employees have really missed the past year and a half working remotely.” So to satisfy that craving for human connection—without the hassle of managing hybrid schedules—the company announced a project to reimagine its offices as Dropbox Studios. These collaborative spaces are designed not for daily use by the company’s roughly 2,700 employees, but for periodic meetings between groups, team-building exercises and training sessions.
To design a “world-class wellness and hospitality experience for employees,” J.P. Morgan Chase turned to architecture firm Foster + Partners as well as a broad team of health, nutrition and built-environment experts. The impacts on the project plans are both subtle and significant: The design doubles the amount of fresh air that comes into the building compared with similar structures, while advanced HVAC filtration systems continually clean recirculated air. Communal spaces have been expanded by 50 percent, while designers allocated 25 percent more volume of space per employee. The on-site wellness center features not just fitness areas and cycling studios, but also rooms for physical therapy, medical services and meditation.
When South Korea search giant Naver set out to revamp its second headquarters in the city of Seongnam-si, the goal was a forward-thinking, futuristic home base for its employees—human and otherwise. Named for both its street number and what Naver considers the first year of the Industrial Revolution, 1784 was designed to accommodate Naver’s cloud-controlled fleet of 100 robots, called Rookies, that travel independently about the 36-floor building using robot-only elevators. These autonomous assistants bring Naver’s 5,000 human workers their lunches, coffee and packages, communicating via a user-friendly screen and taking orders through a smartphone-controlled interface. Designed by Samoo, the sleek new building opened in mid-2022.
As the role of the post-pandemic office continues to evolve, one company is making it easier to accommodate ever-fluid workplace needs—without sacrificing aesthetic value. In June, U.K. office furniture company Spacestor partnered with U.S. design giant Gensler to launch a sleek and chic modular office partition system called Arcadia, featuring softly curved lightweight walls and room-sized cubbies that can be easily rearranged within the office. A far cry from bleak room dividers and temporary-feeling screens, these undulating, upholstered mini-walls, which come in an array of muted colors, can be made into meeting nooks, communal lounge areas, semiprivate cubicles and even enclosed offices.
Tech companies don’t thrive by treading water—but how can architecture firms create spaces that work for teams now and decades into the future? For Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the solution is to double down on flexibility so the space can adapt as the company (and the world of work) evolves. When it came time to expand the Shanghai office for Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, the U.S. studio aimed to evoke a cloud (a subtle nod to Alibaba’s cloud-computing services and the technology industry’s shifting skies of innovation). The sketches revealed in July show a distinctive, long-span modular design combined with a column-free interior, allowing for both expansive spaces and enclosed workstations that can be changed with minimal effort. A spacious central courtyard, staggered terraces, rooftop gardens and “collaboration bridges” are meant to encourage employee interactions, while blurring the usual boundaries of where work gets done. As the studio mapped out the 75,000-square-meter (807,293-square-foot) space, design partner Scott Duncan says it kept the tech company’s vision front and center: “‘The only constant is change’ is one of Alibaba’s guiding principles, [and] we took this ethos to heart.”
Virtual meetings could use an upgrade. And tech giant Cisco attempted to answer that need, unveiling a new innovation for its popular Webex video chat platform: holographic meetings. 3D images of employees and their colleagues gather in a Webex-supported augmented reality setting to interact just as they once did in person. While other virtual office programs feature more cartoon-like avatars, these holograms are photorealistic, ramping up the authenticity factor in each interaction. The app also allows objects to be rendered in 3D, meaning holographic avatars can walk around them, point to them and interact with them during discussions—a potential boon for manufacturing companies or even doctors discussing a diagnostic image. Though the version released October 2021 requires a pricey VR headset, Cisco anticipates a more accessible version to be rolled out within a few years