Workplaces increasingly look and feel like hotels and conference rooms

Jessica Donnelly Banks of Donnelly Banks Interiors led office redesigns for DSMRE, WSFS and Cover & Rossiter. The below photos show a range of the updates at Cover & Rossiter. Photos by Eric Crossan.

By Kathy Canavan | Contributing Writer

What’s in at Wilmington offices for 2019 is anything that makes workers feel at home while they’re at work.

Ergonomic chairs and sit-stand desks dot CSC’s new global headquarters. Incyte employees have a walking trail, a rooftop garden, a putting green and a plant-filled living wall.

BDO, the 109-year-old international accounting firm, has outfitted its Wilmington office with white noise, writeable walls and glass meeting rooms.

If you want to see the next big office design, walk through a hotel or a conference center. Trends pop up in the big-budget hospitality industry first.

“Offices traditionally follow suit with the hospitality industry. Designs will take a couple years to trickle down to office buildings,” said Jessica Donnelly Banks, whose Donnelly Banks Interiors designed spaces for DSMRE, WSFS and Cover & Rossiter. “Hospitality budgets are usually a lot higher. They have more money to work with.”

Green walls like Incyte’s 292 square feet of living plants, are trending in Seattle and Los Angeles and Long Island. Donnelly Banks believes they will spread here, too, but probably not in 2019.

“It’s not quite made its way to Delaware yet. We’re always just slightly behind some of the bigger metropolitan areas. That’s not knocking Delaware in any way, shape or form. It’s just that these things tend to come to the bigger metropolitan areas first. It’s coming. It’s just not quite here yet in the corporate world here. It’s a huge financial undertaking,” she said.

Green touches. Treadmill desks. Multiple coffee areas. Amenities like grab-and-go food bars.

“A lot of firms are focusing on the employee experience. It’s about making sure companies are attracting and retaining talent,” said Scott Allen, director of CBRE’s project management team for Delaware. “People are spending as much time at the office as they do at their homes sometimes, so a lot of firms are looking for ways to make people feel comfortable.”

Low walls or no walls. Couches and huddle rooms. Ubiquitous wireless. Conference rooms fitted with Microsoft Surface Hub to allow sharing on a large screen.

“The tech boom in Silicon Valley really set the trend for the open-work environment, and I think that’s slowly filtered our way,” said Tripp Way, managing partner at DSMRE Commercial Real Estate. “Conference rooms now have interactive computers that look like a large television on the wall and you can share work product with everyone in the room. The advances in tech have made that a lot easier for a lot of small businesses.”

More welcoming workplaces. Couches and space for collaboration.

“Tenants are changing the way their lobbies look and function. They’re becoming more hospitality space, not just an area to sit and wait for someone to pick you up,” said Rick Kingery, vice president at Colliers International. “They’re moving beverage service and couch seating and collaboration space to the front of their spaces.”

Born-again vinyl. Upgraded carpet tiles.

“Flooring has come a long, long way, even in the last five years,” Donnelly Banks said. “Vinyl flooring — the god-awful stuff you had in your kitchen when you were a kid — has transformed itself. It looks like wood.

People want something that looks like real wood and they don’t want to spend what real wood would cost and they certainly don’t want to do the maintenance.”

She said the carpet tiles of the 1980s are now available in large rectangles and planks patterned so they are virtually undetectable as separate pieces.

Changes due to tech

The open concept offices are made possible by major technical advances in the last 10 years, Donnelly Banks said. Working in the cloud creates a level playing field for workers who toil from home and those who show up. And wireless internet makes it possible to work from a desk or a couch or your car.

“The way people work now is so different from when you clocked in at 8 and left at 5,” she said. “The world operates on the cloud now, whereas before you had to go to the office because you couldn’t access certain things. Now, people work remotely. Maybe they come in a couple times a week. Now it’s sort of a hoteling concept. Office areas are allocated for the handful of employees who come in regularly. For the rest, it’s like time-sharing, basically. You can go on the calendar from home and, if you want to come in on Thursday, you can see if there’s a spot available and you can book it.”

LEED-ish

Designers and real estate executives said tenants like the concept of a LEED-certified green building (certifications that require green materials and sustainable development), but they don’t want to spend the time and money for certification. They like that LEED ambience though.

“A few companies like Google and Microsoft have the ability to afford that,” said Donnelly Banks who has experience working on LEED buildings near Washington, D.C. “Most of the clients around her use the LEED requirement as a baseline for what they’d like to incorporate into their building. However, they don’t restrict themselves to it. It’s really expensive to do.”

Biophilic design and wrapped entry walls

Biophilic design, proven to boost mood and productivity, provides some of that LEED aura. It relies on elements that bring the natural world inside — windows, water elements, warm colors, living walls, natural woods, natural light and varied light sources to mimic natural light.

Focal walls are new for entry spaces — molded wall panels or wood elements that might be imprinted with a company logo or pre-printed wall covering that adheres like a skin to a phone or laptop and might feature a logo or a motto or an oversized photo of staffers or customers.

For 2019 and beyond

Immovable walls are vanishing. Long corridors are being dismantled. High cubicles are giving way to 12-inch screens between workers.

“It’s really mind-blowing when you think about what used to be and what spaces are now,” Donnelly Banks said. “You can literally stand on one side of an office and see all the way through. And that was never the case before.”

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