Trends in workplace amenities, design reflect changing culture

by Nancy Peevy ([email protected]) 3,031 views 

A 3,000-square-foot event space at the new Northgate Plaza office building in Rogers features a private patio, seen in this rendering, that faces the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP).

A decade ago, a typical workplace featured typewriters, Rolodexes and small cubicles. Dress for success meant a suit and tie. Those days are long gone, replaced with a relaxed working atmosphere, emphasis on community and collaboration, drastic changes in technology and changes in the ways employees communicate and work.

“The primary goals for organizations remain the same: attracting and retaining top talent, enabling this talent to achieve organizational goals successfully, and doing all of this in a fiscally responsible manner,” said Nina Charnotskaia, senior director of workplace strategy at CBRE Group Inc., the commercial real estate services and investment firm. “What is changing is the role the workplace plays in enabling these goals. Top performing organizations recognize the important value of their workplace as a destination for their people — a place that brings them together as a community, fosters culture and connection to purpose and gives them the resources to be their most effective.”

CBRE found that “there is a new consumer mindset at play when it comes to employee perceptions. More and more companies view their employees as consumers, which trickles down into how they design workspaces to support that ideology.”

Companies across the country and in Northwest Arkansas are adding amenities and making changes in workplace design to attract and keep top talent.

“I think it’s a product of a tight labor market,” said John Connell, a principal with SCM Architects of Fayetteville, and the lead architect for Whisinvest Realty’s buildings in The District at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers. A partner in a CPA firm told Connell he believes “the unemployment rate for CPAs is zero because the only way you can get a CPA is to steal them from someone else,” and then you have to “give them incentives and show a great working environment. That’s the way to attract employees.”

“Also, the younger generation changes companies if they find better amenities or workplace environment,” Connell said.

Connell said workplace amenities now may include upgraded kitchens and break rooms where employees can gather or prepare a meal, mother’s rooms, high ceilings, open spaces, video walls and even bicycle storage and showers. Golf swing simulators, foosball and pingpong tables are also popular.

The use of glass on the exterior and interior walls and in stairwells and using skylights lets in natural light for a better environment. As offices become warmer and more home-like, drawing nature into the building includes the use of wood and plant walls growing mosses or air ferns.

Environmental wellness design brings a better work environment with the introduction of ventilation air units to bring in fresh air.

Gone from modern office buildings are corner offices with heavy doors.

“[Instead], you’ll see the senior VP for the entire team for Walmart sitting at a work station as opposed to a private office,” said Tom Allen, executive vice president and principal for Cushman & Wakefield/Sage Partners in Rogers. “There is a migration to open spaces, so within our spaces, we’re building the big large spaces without as many walls.”

Allen said there’s a trend to build flexible spaces “because a lot of startups expand rapidly and then might end up being purchased and swallowed up by a larger company and then as a landlord, you’d need to retract that space. So flexibility is advantageous for both parties.”

Flexible space is easily changeable and so companies can use space more efficiently, cutting costs, Connell said.

“Employees don’t go and sit in the same spot every day,” he said. “There’s no assigned desk, and so employees could be working in a break area or at a high work table, drinking coffee. Also, there are no conference rooms. Instead, meeting areas are informal with a couch, chair and a flat-screen [TV] or whiteboard on the wall.”

Most offices in Northwest Arkansas are moving toward flexible space, said Brandon Allen, vice president with Core Architects in Rogers.

“Unilever was in an office space that was much more traditional with offices, conference rooms and small, open work areas,” he said. “They went to zero offices, and everyone has a 5-foot work station that has adjustable-height desks so you can stand or sit as you please.”

With less space per employee, companies could add more people. That higher building occupancy, however, can put a strain on parking availability, elevator wait time, restrooms and security, Tom Allen said.

The newly opened, $30 million Northgate Plaza office building in Rogers, offered by Cushman & Wakefield/Sage Partners, exemplifies some of the changes, Tom Allen said.

Designed by Core Architects, the six-story, 117,000-square-foot building offers a 2,700-square-foot fitness center with showers, free to tenants. Tenants also have access to a rentable, 3,800-square-foot event space with a catering kitchen and patio facing the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP). A parking deck attached to the building features approximately 400 spaces. Neighbor’s Mill Café will offer food for purchase.

Tom Allen said the Northgate building leases for $30 per square foot. There are leases or letters of intent signed for 80% of the building. Lessees include Walmart suppliers, as well as professional services like law firms and CPA firms.

Kellogg’s anchors the building with occupancy of the sixth floor. Brandon Allen said the vendor’s office features large open spaces but also includes “huddle rooms,” which allow for private conversations or meetings.

Tom Allen believes office space in Northwest Arkansas will continue to offer more amenities because of the new Walmart corporate campus.

“It’s going to be a nice space. Not just the buildings, but the campus will be nice, so they can reward existing employees and attract higher talent,” he said.

“I think the trend is we’re going to see amenities, amenities, amenities and then the location — not just a pure office park. I think people want to be in a location where you can easily walk to a restaurant, to a hotel, to retail. They don’t want to be on a massive campus where you feel isolated.”