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Designing For Success

The Creative Design Of Corporate Workspaces Is A Vital Tool In The Success Of Company Goals.

By Sue Mosby, CDFM2 Architecture

BUSINESS OWNERS - manufacturing, corporate, and industrial - look for ways to strengthen their organization's culture and improve employee collaboration, creativity, and innovation. These are the elements that spur higher productivity - the ultimate goal of every strategic business plan.

The physical workplace is a key force in shaping a business' culture — in shaping a sense of community and belonging among employees. Business culture, in turn, significantly impacts productivity. So, the design of a workplace must be in alignment with an organization's desired state of culture.

Many companies and their leaders are learning how the workplace can make a difference in inspiring employees to greater creativity and productivity. Through a design-visioning process, three Kansas City-based businesses - including manufacturing - identified specific workplace elements and concepts for their new buildings and space to specifically support their key business initiatives.

Butler Manufacturing Company

In planning its new world headquarters, Butler Manufacturing Co. had a major goal of repositioning their products in the building-design market. In addition, Butler wanted to shift its corporate culture and inspire increased creativity, innovation, and cooperation.

A key step was to design a way to break down the barriers between work groups, many of which had previously been working in a high-rise office building. Butler wanted departments to be more aware of and concerned about one another while enhancing product quality and market reach.

The new headquarters was planned as a two-building complex of two-story structures linked by a central "town square" with an atrium lobby, cafeteria, and company history museum. The space was designed for major circulation, a point through which every Butler employee passed each day. The design directly addressed Butler's goal of building a strong sense of community among its people, keeping in mind that everyone wants to be part of a large group effort and to be able to see where they fit in. With this knowledge, people can increase their potential.

Barriers between work groups are also broken down through the design of open stairs as a major circulation path. Instead of using an enclosed elevator, Butler employees can see from the open stairwell the activities in the large volume of space formed by the town square. Among them is the cafeteria, designed more as a café or food court, with different areas from which to choose. The goal was to design Butler's cafeteria to be as inviting and engaging as a retail restaurant.

Employees can also interact spontaneously in mini-cafés throughout Butler's office complex. These areas incorporate coffee bars and fax machines in fun, active spaces designed in different shapes with island counters and underneath paper storage. The spaces are an invitation to communication, as people can stand and talk, often catching up on each other's work. The experience is a refreshing break in the workday, increasing employee satisfaction and, in turn, productivity.

Other areas supporting collaboration include a variety of conferencing areas that are round in shape, furnished only with chairs and no table, to spark brainstorming, connection, and commitment. Small enclaves for one-on-one interaction also are incorporated into the complex, which is filled with a high percentage of open work areas. There are no exterior private offices, allowing all open offices to receive maximum daylight and the message that all employees are equal. Only a few private offices were placed in the floor plan's interior.

Another design aspect supporting enhanced creativity is the varied use of materials, finishes, and forms in unusual ways, with surprising design details throughout. Employees are encouraged to think differently about developing their own products. In the new headquarters, they are immersed in Butler products, such as walls including flat Butler Thermawall, Texturewall, and the Skywall translucent system produced by Vistawall. A number of Vistawall glazing and skylight systems are also used in the building.

American Century Services

One of Kansas City's largest companies expanded recently into interim space in a 119,000-square-foot office building on the city's south side, with the goal of achieving three new business initiatives. American Century called for increased spontaneous group problem solving, flexible space sizes, and support of technology and professional education.

The design response was to create spaces for virtual teaming. Open areas were designed with moveable white boards in a series of panels, allowing users to move and write continually in highly visual brainstorming meetings. These areas again are furnished only with chairs and no table, encouraging users to be energetic and actively expressing ideas on boards for all to see and discuss.

An open workspace plan was also important to the American Century design. Only a few private offices were placed in the interior core. Workstations in the open areas can be changed spontaneously, with all furnishings on casters, allowing everyone to be able to move at anytime within a 20-foot radius. A work group can pull together easily for brainstorming or incorporate a new person on a team. The overall goal is to increase the quality and speed of product to market.

At the same time, American Century wanted to create community among all of its 300 members at the new location so they would work as a whole and further product innovation. A series of active and quiet lounges were created throughout the offices. The active lounges incorporated the coffee and fax bar concept, following colorful themes selected by the neighboring department, such as "Alice in Wonderland" and "Retro." Quiet lounges were placed in internal areas, designed for tranquility and reflection with themes like "Ponderosa" and "Zen." These spaces, designed for just one or two people at a time, were furnished with a single chair with a tablet arm and a comfortable worn-leather chair for brief reflection. Personal enclaves also were made available for private phone conversations and concentration.

DST Systems, Inc.

A historic building in downtown Kansas City was chosen to be redesigned for 2,000 employees of DST Systems, Inc., a leading provider of new technology for mutual fund record-keeping as well as other industries. The Poindexter Building, circa 1922, was selected to showcase DST's advanced technology for prospective buyers and house workspaces in a relatively tight, but productive, density.

The goal was to energize and inspire the large number of people in the historic space. A "cityscape" was created in a 30,000-square-foot open space, with all core elements including elevators and restrooms relegated to one end. The loft atmosphere was retained, complete with wood ceiling and frequent columns of wood topped by Corinthian capitals. One enters the cityscape through the reception and follows a meandering workstation layout, with organic-shaped conference rooms placed throughout, giving form to the large space. Various materials are used, with lighting details showing the existing wood for a warm, energetic atmosphere.

Specific work processes of employees were analyzed to find a solution for the high density of employees. Motion studies revealed ways to utilize vertical space. The need for workers to be frequently in communication with one another, while retaining some privacy, was met by creating a panel system between spaces.

WOW - Leveraging for Success

For DST, as with the other two companies discussed, starting with the business strategy allowed the dollars designated for design to be best leveraged for supporting that strategy.

For Butler, employees were given the opportunity of further maximizing the innovative use of the new space. A process of workplace development was created between different work groups to form WOW Butler - "Workplace of Winners" - a group of 70 people out of 400 who communicated the workplace changes to others. Every department had representation. The result was a truly participatory design process, giving everyone authorship in the design of their new office and a deeper understanding of how to use it - resulting in corporate workspaces achieving successful company goals.

Sue Mosby is principal with CDFM2 Architecture, a Kansas City, Missouri-based architectural firm. Mosby can be reached at

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