A company’s office should be more than a collection of desks and computers. It should reflect the company’s personality and how it works. No, I’ll go further than that. The office’s design should help how it works.
We had begun in our old D Magazine Partners space with good intentions, but ended up eight years later fragmented and disconnected. Moving into our old office with 35 employees, and expecting growth, we had carefully preserved enough space for five or six more. Four years later, we found ourselves with more than 150 people spread over three floors.
One space we took over had housed an insurance agency, another a design firm, and, across the hall from that, a Tommy Hilfiger regional office. We did the best we could with what we had—the offices looked good—but soon most communication was taking place by e-mail. People were hidden away in cubicles, offices, around corners, up stairs. An informal company, we tried to hold formal weekly meetings, which weren’t our style at all and soon turned into slightly boring reporting sessions. A creative company, we felt the creativity being squeezed out of us.
We began the search for new space. Under the wing of Bill Cawley and Bob Acuff of GVA Cawley, we looked at dozens of potential spots. Meanwhile, associate art director David Radabaugh was doing some independent research of his own. David was interested in how other creative companies had organized themselves. With examples in hand, he pressed us to find space that could be open, without walls or even cubicles. Our informality is one of our biggest assets, he argued. Don’t impede multi-tasking; help it. Don’t put up barriers to communication; tear them down. One day as I walked through our office, I saw four interns sitting around a round table, merrily chatting while typing on their open laptops and texting on their cellphones. I took it as a case in point.
One thing we knew for sure. We wanted to be downtown or as close to it as we could get. For one thing, the highway system is downtown-centric; it is designed to make getting to any part of the city easy. More importantly, as a magazine we are well aware of the new excitement in the city center—the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Main Street, the restaurants—and our employees wanted to be a part of it.
Saint Paul Place, across Ross Avenue from the Dallas Museum of Art, proved to be the ideal location. Under the direction of Dallas partner Jim Wilson, owner Goddard Investment Group of Atlanta had remodeled the 1980s-era building from top to bottom, placing new windows on an entire side of the building, flooding the floors with light. The top two floors were available. We leased them.
We interviewed several design firms. Our hands-down favorite was the Dallas office of Gensler. They have expertise in creating the kind of open environment we wanted and, I should add, their team has extraordinarily good taste. Working with the unflappable Kenneth Reese of GVA Cawley as our design coordinator, we set to work on a plan.
The most essential component would be how we organized ourselves to work and, to figure out how to do that, we chose Haworth. This is a company that understands how people interact today. Its own headquarters in Holland, Mich., is a model of how to create a flexible, informal, and highly functional space. I know because I visited it to see for myself.
Mary Spencer of the Spencer Co. represents Haworth in Dallas. We had relied on her in our old offices and knew her company to be super-organized and efficient, so we were confident we could meet the schedule.
Of course, we were worried about how employees would react to an open plan. It helped that David in the art department was a big advocate. Mary Spencer and the folks at Gensler also provided information on how an open plan works. Paul Manno and Cherrie Wysong of Gensler, our lead designers, even delivered a slide-show presentation at a full company meeting explaining how much more efficiently companies operate in this kind of space.
After the office environment itself, the two key things for me were the restrooms and the kitchens. In most offices they are an afterthought. But I wanted our restrooms to be restful. The restrooms Mico Rodriquez put into his Taco Diner at West Village were what I had in mind: clean and calming. Dal-Tile is the expert in restrooms, and they did a masterful job. Morrison Supply stepped in with beautiful appliances for our little kitchen areas, which we placed right in the centers of our two floors, so that they would be natural gathering spots.
Pierce Hardware provided sleek and comfortable faucets and sinks, so that our kitchens became a design element as well as an open meeting place, where people read newspapers and hold mini-summits at the counter sitting on bar stools provided by Knoll. On the first floor, next to the kitchen, we created an open space with tables and chairs for more informal meetings. Scott+Cooner placed very handsome Barnhardt Caron stools at a large table in the same area and provided Bernhardt tables for our conference rooms.
The move itself was accomplished with speed and agility by Total Office Solutions. Wilcox Construction gutted the space and rebuilt it to our specifications. In the end, we found ourselves discarding furniture we brought over because it didn’t measure up to the new standard that Haworth set. So we called in designers Max Jones of Jones Walker and Julio Quiñones to upgrade us. The old furniture, I’m happy to report, went to the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, where it will enjoy a new life in service to needy families.
So, three months after our move, how do our employees feel about the open plan? The verdict is unanimous, even among those who thought it would be an earthly version of purgatory. They love it. It is quieter than anyone thought it would be—without the help of white noise, by the way, which we thought we might have to employ. Interaction has increased dramatically, as both Haworth and Gensler predicted it would. People actually walk over to talk to one another rather than sending e-mails. One thing we insisted upon, despite the expense, is an internal staircase, and the open well around it unites our two floors. The open plan and the staircase work together, so that our separate divisions no longer feel like separate nations. It is now visibly one company, and that makes all the difference.