IRVINE, CA—Different degrees of open space in anoffice environment are acceptable to differentfirms, and it's the design team's job to determine the which degreematches the clients' needs best, Heidi Hendy,founding principal of H. Hendy Associates, tellsGlobeSt.com. But a uniting force behind all degrees of open-spacework environments is the need for engagement among staffmembers.

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As GlobeSt.com reported in May, the locally based interiorarchitecture firm has completed the construction of MonsterEnergy's new headquarters building at 1010Railroad St. in Corona, CA. The firm designed theworkspace to bring the energy-drink manufacturer'sextreme-sports-focused “unleash the beast” brand to life, and theproject began with Hendy studying and fully grasping the firm'sculture before the design process began.

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“The design firms need to establish the client's culturalthreshold before putting them in any environment,” Hendy says. “I'mvery passionate about the thread between what we do for a livingand what we do for our clients. We need to spend more timeunderstanding the needs of our clients, their culture and theirleadership style.”

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Culture is like a cloud that tells the whole organization, “Thisis how we do things around here,” Hendy explains. “If people don'tsee their boss, for example, going into the lunchroom and talkingto people, they're probably not going to do it either. We need tolook at how people are receiving their perks in the office.”

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Bringing the organization into a more open environment will onlybe as successful as the degree of engagement sought by its leaders.“We have to be very cognizant of the fact that as a design firm, wecan only push as far as leadership is willing to contribute,” saysHendy. “Also, we're looking at what their process is and what typeof business they're in. We're moving from 70% private offices and30% community space like offices designed in the 1990s and 2000s,to 40% private/60% community space. We've seen this flip because ofhow companies are processing.”

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The shift from more hierarchical control of an office toequalizing the organization is where the office environment isheading, but Hendy acknowledges that not everyone is on boardyet—and it has to do with a firm's leadership. Still, those whoresist this shift will suffer, she says. “They're under-developingtheir core, which will be the heartbeat of organizations to produceeffectively.”

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The workplace is going to be key asBaby-Boomers retire andMillennials come into the workforce, Hendy adds.But that doesn't mean that Baby-Boomers aren't on board as ademographic group with the need for engagement. “We're finding thatthe Boomers that are left are very open. They want to be part ofit. They want to learn, and we're not seeing the resistance we sawback in 2008. That idea is passé.”

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Hendy acknowledges that government institutional offices andvery policy-driven companies may require more closed and lesscollaborative space, but this is totally common sense. “It's amatter of understanding what their business is and what they'reprocessing—that's a very important element.”

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While GlobeSt.com reported earlier this week that open floorplans don't work for all firms and that, indeed, some employees innoisy open environments take to wearing headsets in order toachieve the privacy they need, Hendy says that's OK. “75% of allcommunication is visual. Just knowing that people are there, theysmile back and forth—that's part of the engagement. There aredegrees of opening up so that when people come out of their office,they're engaged.”

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Many firms are choosing to change office space even when theydon't need more or less square footage, and Hendy says the movesare motivated by firms' desire to “shed their shell” and institutechange. “People anticipate change when their office moves, andmoving is a huge leverage to make that change happen quickly. Whenyou start looking at what I call commodity space, it's verydifficult to remodel. It's very disruptive and causes firms to losemoney because they're not billing out as much—which is veryimportant in a service-oriented community like we see in OrangeCounty. More importantly, if organizations are going to shift to anew way of working that's based on how they really process, it's ahuge opportunity for direct buy-in.”

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Not all firms are initially ready for an open plan, even if theywould eventually find it beneficial. With one recent project,the redesign of JLL's offices here, Hendysays, “We really had to push. But we never push further than webelieve their leadership is ready for because otherwise you fail.That's where not enough research or prep is done prior to theshift.”

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Regarding the project, Louis Tomaselli, seniormanaging director at JLL, says, “The idea was to create a cultureof team communication and collaboration, by co-locating relatedgroups and being thoughtful about encouraging random encounters.The encounters that happen in our large, open kitchen benefitconnections between different departments. It's a key way todevelop new business ideas.”

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Hendy points out that studies have been done on what workers doduring “discretionary time” at work—the time between working ontime-sensitive projects. She says studies show that people who areengaged and happy in their work environment are more likely totackle tasks during their discretionary time that will benefit theorganization than other types of tasks like checking theirFacebook page or seeing if their laundry is ready.Those workers also tend to earn more than workers who are notengaged in their work environment.

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Carrie Rossenfeld

Carrie Rossenfeld is a reporter for the San Diego and Orange County markets on GlobeSt.com and a contributor to Real Estate Forum. She was a trade-magazine and newsletter editor in New York City before moving to Southern California to become a freelance writer and editor for magazines, books and websites. Rossenfeld has written extensively on topics including commercial real estate, running a medical practice, intellectual-property licensing and giftware. She has edited books about profiting from real estate and has ghostwritten a book about starting a home-based business.