4 experts share what's hot — and what's not — for tech office trends

November 4, 2015

Having a killer office space in today’s tech-minded workplace is of utmost importance. More often than not, tech startups attract savvy workers with zero interest in working at your pop’s cubicled nine-to-five.

But what factors actually go into making an office hot or not? From paint color, desk size, and layout all the way to what neighborhood your office lives in, there are a ton of elements that can weigh in on your office’s hipness rating.

To help your office stay on fleek, we sat down with four experts to hear their thoughts on current office trends. With their help, you can keep your office as chic as they come.


Skender Construction on office layout

Is the open office trend still going strong?

The open office trend is still going strong in Chicago for two reasons. One: tech is using open office design to collaborate in real time and develop innovative products. Two: Corporate clients are taking cues from the tech sector and want to emulate their culture, so many organizations want open office layouts. They’re using it to attract top young talent, reduce square footage and be more efficient with their real estate.

But the open office is not for everyone, and the pendulum in many corporate environments is swinging a little too far. Employees who have to sit and focus for most of their day find it noisy and disruptive. Those who jumped on board early are now opting to add private space into the mix.

What are the most commonly requested build out features you are seeing?  

I think our clients want to be open, but they’re recognizing the need for greater balance. They’re looking for ways to increase collaboration and spontaneous interaction, and use their physical space to extend their brand. All of these strategies tie in to recruitment, retention and business development.

Focus rooms — small rooms with a table, chairs and writable surfaces — are gaining popularity. These rooms give employees the opportunity to get away from noise when needed and concentrate in a quiet environment.

Cafes used to be very utilitarian, but now people see value in creating a communal environment filled with natural daylight and higher-end finishes. Cafes are great for culture, and it’s a place where people interact with coworkers outside of their department.

Almost everyone is integrating their brand into their physical environment. We recently completed Enova’s new office space at 175 West Jackson, and they integrated their logo into the elevator bank so clients and employees experience their brand as soon as they stepped off the elevator. I’m seeing branding on walls, glass and even flooring.  

And of course, exterior terraces or patios are a sought after amenity. But if a patio doesn’t logistically fit into the floor plan, it doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. Some of our clients have brought the outdoors inside – they’ve used sunny corners, fake grass and plant walls to create an outdoor room inside their office.

Responses from Clayton Edwards, Vice President and Partner, Skender Construction. Photo via Skender.


CBRE on tech neighborhoods

Is River North still the startup king?  

River North is still the startup king. It is home to a number of innovation centers, co-working and incubators that foster and support startup community. However, there are not a lot of options for tech firms looking for space. With 11.3 million square feet of office buildings in River North and only 8% vacancy, finding a ready to go, short term, flexible option is extremely difficult. Given the work/play environment that River North offers, it’s still the most popular neighborhood in Chicago for startups.

The other visible and sought after market, Fulton Market, right now is actually the smallest submarket with only about 2 million square feet. There’s no supply — it’s all being built or is expected to be built over the next 12 to 24 months.

What under-the-radar neighborhood do you see growing into a hotbed?

The majority of startups ask about Fulton Market. As the neighborhood continues to develop (retail, residential and office) and add transportation stations, you will see more and more companies migrate west. With the addition of SOHO house, the Randolph restaurant district and Green Line stop, this area has become a hotspot among startup founders and employees.

Meanwhile, if you look at somewhere like Goose Island, there too is a lot activity, especially UI Labs and some of the prospective buildings. Goose Island is still in its infancy where you could potentially still see the trickle effect. If it just gets a couple successful established and larger companies, it could attract the masses. I’ve even heard of startups going to Pilsen and Ravenswood.

Once startups become mature companies — that’s when they look at larger space and longer term lease commitments, which historically bring them back to the Loop and larger buildings that can accommodate them. That’s when they can not only make a more meaningful commitment, but actually execute on it.

When you’re a startup, signing anything longer than a three year lease is hard to justify (preferably you’ll find something ready to go, fully furnished and 1 year). You want and often need to stay flexible and nimble, so it’s often best to only look at options that require two years or less. 

Responses from Brad Serot, Executive Vice President, CBRE. Photo via Shutterstock. 


Knoll on cool office furniture

What’s the next standing desk in terms of high-demand office furniture?

Given multiple locations where “work can happen," the office is now competing with other venues. Companies must invest in the office so that workers see it as useful, visit more often, thereby improving engagement and building community.

Facilities managers agree that providing thoughtfully designed “hospitality” experiences such as quality food and beverages, choice of workspace, meeting spaces that encourage everything from mentorship to all-hands gatherings, and superior technology is not a luxury if the office is to function as a modern business hub.

The workplace, now more than ever, is a reflection of an organization’s brand, culture and people, enhanced and supported by continually changing technology. The shift to embedding organizational culture and social experience is causing architects, designers and business leaders to re-evaluate how they articulate space and environment. We are seeing a range of adaptable furniture solutions to support technology and its dynamic role in connecting people in, and across, workplaces.

What’s your favorite recent innovation in furniture?

The workplace more than ever before needs to be a place where people can control their environment, enhance their culture, share ideas easily, have access to mentors and interact in a variety of ways that support their work.

While generational preferences may dictate individual workspace archetypes, the relationship between internal social networks — and the spaces and technologies enabling them — increasingly influences design and user success by uniting the physical environment with electrical power imperatives. This continually evolving relationship demands new furniture elements that match people and their activities to the space, technology and content they need to do their work.  

Responses from Melanie Delianides, Director, Business Development, Knoll. Images via Knoll. 


Charlie Greene Studio on design

What is the most creative strategy for making use of limited space?

Spaces can’t just do one thing anymore. A lunch room can’t just be used at lunchtime and then sit empty the rest of the time… throughout the work day, it needs to also be a meeting space, and a learning space, and a gathering space, and a get-away-from-your-desk-and-get-some-actual-work-done space. Throw away the room names that you’re used to (like lunch room, conference room, office, etc), and think flexibly about the activities and behaviors you want to achieve. Then layer those activities and behaviors in a way that makes sense, and create spaces for those activities and behaviors to happen in. This will result in multi-use, flexible spaces that do more… you’ll just have to think a little harder about what to call them. 

What is your favorite way to spruce up an older office?

We always advise our clients to think about the story they want to tell to the world, and use that story to set the rules for any work they might be planning to do in their space. It goes beyond painting your brand color on a wall. For example, if your company is highly collaborative, and that’s your differentiator, then focus your attention on making collaborative spaces amazing (and visible). If your talented staff is your main differentiator, then feature them (either through photographs or simply by making them visible to visitors). If you come up with authentic ways to tell your special story, then the choices you make with your space will drive engagement and excitement about your company. They won’t be simply decorative. 

Respones from Jason Hall, Creative Director, Owner, Charlie Greene Studio. Photo via Gensler. 
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