Is the Corner Office a Dying Breed?

Novartis Office, Location: Cambridge MA

Novartis Office, Location: Cambridge MA

As the needs of today’s workforce continue to evolve and adapt with the rise of the millennials, so has the mindset of forward-looking business leaders who want to attract the best new talent.

These progressive decision makers are turning their attention to the physical office workspace as a starting point to differentiate themselves from competitors and lure the next-generation of skilled workers; and they realize that the more corner offices they have, the less approachable they may come across.

In Greater Boston, two innovative companies have dismissed the corner office, opting for more open and collaborative work spaces.

Leadership at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) sought a design that would address more than a shift in their physical working style, but also their office culture and means of communicating. They called on CBT to transform their 2,000-square-foot corporate office for its Developmental and Molecular Pathways division, which consisted of eight individual, enclosed offices, into what is now twenty open and collaborative work areas featuring abundant frosted glass and natural light. It has received such positive fanfare internally that Novartis is considering implementing this same model concept throughout their entire global research HQ in Cambridge.

In another example, Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit advisor for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists, had the opportunity to move their corporate Boston office comprised of cubicles and private offices into a new 28,000-square-foot, one floor location. Its leadership wanted to include every employee’s voice in the process of deciding what the design of their new office would look like. So CBT helped organize a three-day visioning session where various groups offered their input on different areas of the office. Not surprisingly, a radical change was preferred – the majority of employees wanted a much more open and collaborative work space.

Today, Bridgespan’s new downtown Boston office features no corner office and no assigned seating; rather, everyone has a locker to store their personal belongings, and they can choose where they want to sit throughout the day. Additionally, instead of setting up desks by the windows where employees can experience nice views and natural light, Bridgespan decided to turn these areas into collaborative spaces, creating value for everyone.

In order to ease the shift from a traditional office space to new collaborative work environments, there is also more demand from companies like Novartis and Bridgespan to create “work zones” categorized by Quiet, Work and Social. The Quiet zone acts like a train’s quiet car where cellphones are prohibited. The Work zone allows limited noise volume and the Social space is set up for full collaboration and group discussions. This allows staff to exercise full flexibility and the freedom to work wherever they feel they will be most productive.

We live in a time when millennials are more often choosing jobs based on “the who” over “the what,” meaning they are more likely to buy into a workplace culture rather than the service or product a firm provides. There will always be exceptions to the rule, like the Apples, the Googles and the Facebooks where the culture and service/product are entwined. But for companies like Phillip Morris, how do you attract millennials to come work for you when the product you’re selling is not the most favorable or exciting?

More business leaders need to embrace the changing dynamics of today’s workforce if they want to survive and remain competitive. It’s critical that they invest in their company culture to attract and retain talent, and what better place to start than to look at their own office environment, and ask themselves: Do I really need a Corner Office?

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