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"Treat Us Like a Client": The Power of Design, From a Non-Designer

Gensler La Crosse. Image © Gensler.

A little over a year ago, our office lease was nearing its end and we were faced with a decision—do we extend our lease and stay in our current space or do we relocate? At face value, this seems like a simple question to answer. However, we quickly learned that answering this question is neither simple nor easy. As we embarked on the journey to answer this one question, we learned a lot about ourselves and the power of design in the workplace.

Initially, there were spreadsheets to track revenue, projected growth, and expenses to better understand the financial aspect of the decision to move or stay. Data integrity was key as the findings would inform and support our decision. I now know that while tedious, this was the easy part.

Based on the data, the decision was made to relocate. We enlisted the help of our Gensler Chicago design team with one request: treat us like a client. We wanted the full experience—workshops, interviews, activity and utilization studies, Workplace Performance studies—we wanted it all, and our journey began!

We were an open book for the design team to discover what made us a fun, unique group of software developers, technicians and client service representatives. During the visioning portion of the project, we went through a series of interviews, surveys and studies to discover our personality. The design team discovered that we love the outdoors—regardless of the weather or time of year. We’re a social group that also needs the balance of quiet focus time, and we’re technical and strategic thinkers. We like warm colors with black or gray being the favorite color for the majority of us. Finally, we found that, almost equally, we like metal, stone and wood finishes.

Through this process we analyzed ourselves and our workplace, and I learned so much about our team. I couldn’t help but wonder… how would this all play out? In his blog, “Discovering the Power of Words,” Christopher Crawford shares the power of words and how materials and finishes stem from the story of the space and understanding what makes the organization tick. Would the designers implement everything they learned about us, or base their design on only a portion of the information? I had no idea, but I knew I needed to trust them and embrace the process.

I’ll never forget the excitement and energy I felt when we unveiled the initial design concept to our staff. We asked our design team to share the story behind the design as opposed to simply showing renderings. I’m so glad we did that. It showed that not only was the concept something we absolutely loved, but the staff saw firsthand how their likes and needs of specific types of spaces were integrated into a very thoughtful, yet efficient design.

Gensler La Crosse. Image © Gensler.

What we learned, and how it was reflected in the design: We are technical.

This characteristic was brought into our space through the concept of the old mainframe computer punch card. Through the placement of our lights in conjunction with the carpet tiles, this sentiment is ‘punched’ into our space.

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” – Steve Jobs

We love nature.

The Mississippi, La Crosse and Black rivers are on our doorstep, and many of us spend a lot of time fishing, boating and water skiing. Topographical images of the natural flow of each of these rivers was incorporated on film wrapping the glass of our three conference areas.

We are healthy.

Incorporating a centralized hydration station into our space was unique and thoughtfully designed—making infused water, tea and coffee easily accessible to everyone. Providing sit-stand desks at all stations was another priority for optimizing health in the workplace.

We are social.

Whether it’s eating lunch, grabbing a cup of coffee or simply sharing a conversation, our café area was designed to function in many capacities. Being social at work builds trust and synergy that is needed to have a strong, dedicated and highly functional team. Being social extends beyond our doors. Connecting to the community in which we live, work and play is core to this new chapter in our vibrant workplace.

Gensler La Crosse. Image © Gensler.

As with any move, there were a lot of parts and pieces to consider—our people being first and foremost. Throughout this process, we focused on our team with the intent to keep them informed and included, each step of the way. This approach led to a lot of excitement and eager volunteers to help pack, move and unpack in preparation for Day 1. In the end, everyone took ownership of the changes and came together to put a collective stake in the ground for this new chapter in our story.

The power of design

When a workplace embodies the brand, culture and goals of an organization, you can feel it. I felt the power of design when our staff walked into our new space for the first time. It was emotional on many levels for many individuals. Some were able to express what they were feeling, others simply said, “wow.” Some had tears and said they can feel we truly mean it when we say, “our people come first.”

We’ve been in our new space for almost a month. While some of the emotion has subsided, there is still a lighter bounce in people’s step, more conversations and collaborations in our café area, and a buzz of excitement in the air.

There’s a sense of pride that you can feel in all of us—there’s no ‘I’ here, only ‘we.’ We accomplished this together and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.

Joan Meyers is the managing director of Gensler’s La Crosse office. She guides her team in the development of applications and platforms that support space and occupancy management for corporate real estate and commercial property measurement. She is passionate about helping clients capture and maintain accurate data through Gensler’s proprietary solutions, Wisp™ and Observe™, and leveraging that data to inform strategic decision-making. Contact her at joan_meyers@gensler.com.