Office Focus: Workplace Week New York

Jo Sutherland, IFMA’s UK director reports on Workplace Week New York 2019, a stateside philanthropic festival showcasing the best examples of design and innovation

Edited by Cathy Hayward

New York is a captivating week-long event, organised by global workplace consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and supported by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA New York City chapter), IFMA Workplace Evolutionaries, and CoreNet Global (New York City chapter). The popular event shines a spotlight on some of the most innovative, creative and celebrated workspaces in the world, all while raising money for children’s charities.

Workplace Week launched in London in 2011. Last summer, it crossed the Atlantic to the Big Apple. Due to the success of that event, Workplace Week New York returned this June. Visitors experienced a wide range of ‘working workplace’ tours, thought leadership seminars and networking events over five jam-packed days, with all proceeds going to the 'I Have A Dream' Foundation (NY).

‘Each year, Workplace Week has gotten bigger and better, bringing new insights on work, place and creativity to the workplace community,’ says Andrew Mawson, MD of AWA and the brains behind the charitable event. ‘The core goal is to expose people to new workplace thinking, have fun and raise money for the charity.’

The beauty of true workplace innovation is in the way art meets science – how the aesthetic works with the analytical to deliver results. AWA and Interserve’s most recent report, Designing and Delivering Effective Workplace Experiences, suggests that in addition to form and function, the design community should also consider the various touchpoints that shape one’s experience of the working day.

The report claims that employee experience is not just about the physical workplace and its ability to satisfy the functional needs of the user, but also contingent on the way each and every interaction within that space has a bearing on that employee. The organisations that are part of Workplace Week New York and Workplace Week London demonstrate they have committed to this particular line of thinking.

The design rationale for Blackstone Innovation’s 30,000 sq ft office in the heart of Lexington Avenue was to create an agile environment that fosters provocative thinkingThe design rationale for Blackstone Innovation’s 30,000 sq ft office in the heart of Lexington Avenue was to create an agile environment that fosters provocative thinking

Variety is the spice of work life

Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management consulting firm, is one of these forward-thinking businesses. It recognises that different people will have different workstyle preferences, not to mention activity portfolios. As such, the workspace features numerous landing zones, all designed to encourage serendipitous collaboration, and there’s an array of flexible spaces to suit a multitude of workstyles and activities. Its neighbourhood seating system encourages idea sharing and knowledge transfer. The space also boasts state-of-the-art technology, providing employees with instant access to high-quality video-conferencing and voice calls.

The BCG workspace sports amazing views of New York’s Hudson River, but the real marvel is the way the design stems from its business objectives. By viewing the workspace as a tool that can potentially aid productivity, BCG looked beyond the beauty and instead questioned how the design of the space could further support the people working within it.

Cultivating innovation

Prior to moving to its 30,000 sq ft office on Lexington Avenue, Blackstone Innovation employees occupied a space that, by the company’s own admittance, was not particularly inspiring. Staff struggled to find an area that would allow them to mull over, let alone implement, ideas. This lack of variety and choice meant these naturally creative people couldn’t be particularly creative. Nor could they innovate.

The move triggered a rethink. Now the new space has social areas, zones for collaborative and concentrative tasks, rooms for private conversations and phone calls, neighbourhood zones, and a sophisticated lounge area. The diversity of meeting spaces, coupled with the latest tech, allows individuals and teams to work in whichever way suits the tasks in hand. ‘Too often, organisations have a one-dimensional view of relocation,’ suggests AWA’s Mawson. ‘They see it as nothing more than the act of getting from physical point A to physical point B. Little, if any, thought is ever given to the potential for relocation projects to drive innovation and trigger bigger change.’

Shutterstock – the fast-growing, international image site – relocated from the Financial District in 2014 to its 85,000 sq ft space in the Empire State Building (after a $10m renovation)Shutterstock – the fast-growing, international image site – relocated from the Financial District in 2014 to its 85,000 sq ft space in the Empire State Building (after a $10m renovation)

In this respect, Blackstone Innovation is one of the anomalies. The real estate team embraced the notion of ‘relocate to innovate’, and now the employees have room – both physically and mentally – to be creative.

Making the moves

A decade ago, fintech firm MarketAxess’s main competitor was JP Morgan; now it’s the Facebooks and Googles of the world. The company’s relocation to the dynamic Hudson Yards development in early 2019 dovetailed with a new talent-attraction initiative. The aim was to create a space that would lure the very best recruits.

During the ‘working workplace’ tour, Dan Wolff, global head of infrastructure, said software developers and innovation engineers want something a bit edgy. They don’t want cellular, clinical offices; they want variety, flexibility, the choice to work how and where they desire. Design only goes so far, he suggested; the leadership that goes with it is key.

This ties in to what Workplace Week is all about.

‘We are determined that Workplace Week stays on the cutting edge of workplace management and design,’ says Mawson.  ‘For the 2019 London event in November we have decided to turn up the whisk on workplace innovation by looking to attract international visitors and showcase London’s design and innovation expertise.’

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