Spatial Culture

Custom Spaces Jenny Haeg San Francisco Checkr San Jose HGA Architects and Engineers Criteo Palo Alto Twitter Dropbox Airbnb tech culture
Checkr-ed personalities | Photo by John Bedell
Checkr-ed personalities | Photo by John Bedell

Tech firms aim to display company culture through office design.


By Nancy Amdur

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s technology companies outline plans for their office design, creating ways to showcase their culture impacts the process.

“Every company has its own unique culture and core values that make up who they are and have contributed to their success,” said Jenny Haeg, founder and CEO of San Francisco real estate firm Custom Spaces, which focuses on finding space for technology and startup companies. “Therefore, it’s crucial for a company to individualize their space to allow that unique culture to flourish and develop.”

For example, one company Haeg assisted was San Francisco-based Checkr, which expedites employee background screenings for businesses. Part of the company’s goal was to create an office environment to reflect its values, including transparency and connection, said Khoi Ho, manager of people operations at Checkr.

Yoga mats at Checkr | Photo by John Bedell
Yoga mats at Checkr | Photo by John Bedell

Upon entering the office, “the first thing people notice is how everything is open and welcoming,” Ho said.

The company’s 6,500-square-foot office at 2505 Mariposa St. is in a remodeled warehouse with high ceilings, and “it’s an open space [with] open seating,” he said. “There are no cubicle walls, which facilitates conversation, communication and transparency. You can hear and see what people are working on.” The space is balanced with quiet work areas, too, he added.

To help connect employees, Checkr created “team building” space, including a gaming area, Ho said.

Additionally, the company encourages employee interaction by offering family-style picnic tables for dining. “We all eat together and connect and have conversations. It’s about that balance of work and enjoying your work and enjoying the people you work with, and that’s reflected in the layout of the space,” he said.

The company injected some humor into the office as well, with a wall of employee pictures taken in the form of mug shots—an homage to its background check business.

Two-year-old Checkr is looking for a larger space and will also keep a variety of workspaces while likely adding features such as a dedicated yoga station, Ho said.

Mixing business and pleasure at Criteo | Photo by Garrett Rowland
Mixing business and pleasure at Criteo | Photo by Garrett Rowland

Incorporating these types of design elements can help a company stand out, industry experts said.

“The office design creates an experience for every person who enters the workplace, from employee to client or visitor,” said Lisa Macaluso, a San Jose-based principal at HGA Architects and Engineers.

“Today’s branding thoughts are about creating a memorable and inspiring experience,” she said.

Macaluso recently worked on designing the New York City office space for digital advertising company Criteo, and she previously helped design the company’s San Francisco and Palo Alto locations.

Paris-based Criteo envisioned an energizing and flexible environment at its new 40,000-square-foot office space at 387 Park Ave. South in New York. The company, which moved into the space last fall, also wanted to convey a feeling of hospitality and home, said Macaluso, who was the project manager.

To do this, the designers included various types of collaborative spaces—from lounge areas to traditional tables and chairs—and wove in accents such as wood, warm tones and plants and greenery. Furniture choices used also are “more on the hospitality side” in comfort, look and feel, Macaluso said.

Further, HGA formed stadium-style seating as part of a center stairway that connects the company’s three floors, so people can work with “a buzz of energy” around them as people walk by, Macaluso said. A yoga room and gaming area also are included in the space.

Along with highlighting a company’s values, design can also influence office work.

“There’s a connection between environment and productivity,” Ho said. Cubicles can limit the way employees communicate and the level of transparency “affects employee satisfaction and level of happiness.”

Haeg, who has worked with clients such as Twitter, Dropbox and Airbnb, added that “it is important that companies identify their unique culture and make sure that they find space that represents their core values,” as it can “ultimately also help in attracting talent and retention.”

Designing for employees is a “corporate culture” trend, Macaluso said.

“Companies are not really designing toward their clients and visitors but more toward their employees, which are their biggest expense and best asset,” she said.

“To have an inspiring workplace is just as important as offering a big salary and good benefits and perks,” she continued. “Everybody is fighting for talent right now, and you want to provide a space that’s inspiring and [where employees] are going to want to stay.”

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