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ME Space to WE Space: An Online Case Study

Last week, I shared some thoughts about the shrinking American workspace and the shift from individual ME spaces to collective WE spaces. This week, I’d like to share a project that illustrates how this phenomenon applies to office design.

Recently I was part of the Gensler team that created the new San Francisco office of United Business Media (UBM), a media company in the midst of adapting their business strategy from old print media to the new digitized world. Not exactly a small task! A wonderful discovery we made is that they believe that re-inventing their workplaces is an essential part of this effort.

As they become more of a digital media company, UBM wants to provide employees the opportunity to work with greater mobility. Part of mobility means working with mobile technology devices. We have observed that access to these devices is becoming a mark of status among younger employees in companies everywhere. Smart employers have begun to recognize that supplying these devices can help the company recruit and retain talented young workers, especially when the cool new device (fully loaded with the coolest new apps, of course) can be used in any number of cool, unusual settings within the envelope of the office.

UBM pushed us to design an office full of WE spaces to foster collaboration between employees and allow greater mobility. The before and after photographs shown here provide a great visual story of how profound the change can be. Our design strategy focused on opening up the office and creating a space where employees can move around and work from multiple locations, depending on the task they need to accomplish. Gone are the high cubicle partitions that were keeping workers isolated from one another. Now, UBM employees have clear lines of sight and can interact with colleagues easily. The new workspaces are smaller than the old cubicles—30 square feet as opposed to 80 square feet—but feel more spacious and accessible.



We also incorporated multiple options for shared work areas into the office layout. These areas are designed as social areas where any worker can complete a task in comfort or collaborate with colleagues. The end result is a workspace that invites more interaction, a key component of 21st century work culture.

“Colleagues who barely saw each other in our former split level maze now share ideas openly and productively in an atmosphere charged with energy,” says Richard Bowers, UBM’s head of estate management. “We have also halved our real estate costs and are pushing hard for LEED Platinum accreditation.”

UBM’s strong commitment to sustainable business practices is exemplified in the design. With the understanding that localism is a key component of sustainability, UBM not only used resources from multiple local manufacturers and suppliers, they also commissioned local San Francisco street artists to create pieces of art for display throughout the office.

This project means a lot to the Gensler team and to me personally, because it was an act of collaboration in its truest form between the client and the Gensler team, the consultant and construction team, but also between UBM and the local artists who helped make the space unique and memorable. The client needed us to meet certain requirements, and they were open and willing to take on remarkable new ideas to support their new ways of working. The result has been the creation of a remarkable new space.

Erik Lucken
Lisa Bottom is a Principal in Gensler’s San Francisco office focused on work with law firms and professional practice organizations, as well as participation in the Product Design practice. Her passion is developing a culture of excellence in client service. Contact her at lisa_bottom@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (2)

I like your design, makes me wanna work for a company like this. you have successfully transformed a dull working place to an exciting and inspiring one. When I have a company, I'll definitely use your approach. Keep up the good work!
05.24.2011 | Unregistered Commenterkurt
This is such a great and useful approach to increase your skills. The title of your blog is really very impressive “ME Space to WE Space”, I like your blog. It is superb!!!!! http://educationforthefuture.org/

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