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Spaces That Inspire

Rethinking the Modern Workplace

Jul 08, 2016

Rethinking the Modern Workplace

It’s not enough anymore to have a foosball table or free gourmet snacks. To win over top talent, you need to quickly shift from an accommodation to a destination mindset.  

Today’s workforce wants more than a desk by the window. They want a compelling reason to come into the office. And considering only 15 percent of college graduates say they would prefer to work for large corporations, and 60 percent report they would rather work for a company with a “positive social atmosphere,” forward-thinking companies are moving quickly to not only create more dynamic office environments, but also to foster what they hope will be disruptive innovation that drives the future of their businesses.

Enter “The Third Space”

Popularized by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, The Third Space refers to the “public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact.” The goal of Third Space design is to inspire employees and foster collaboration and conversation. With this thinking in mind, Viacom set out to bring this theory to life by redesigning two floors at its Times Square offices to create one communal working environment.

Breaking Down Barriers

The operative word is “collisions,” says Yetta Banks, Viacom’s VP of Design and Construction. She and her team literally blew a hole through floors 31 and 32 of the building in an effort to foster connectivity. “I wanted this space to feel like no other,” she explains. “In my head, I was creating all of these different little nooks that I thought would be interesting for people to explore. We collaborated with 26 artists and created installations specifically for Viacom, as the new space is all about collaboration and creativity.”

Empowering and Inspiring the Best

Another important element that drove the project was the idea of play and how that fit into the overall framework. Studies have shown that “playful” environments have a positive impact on the cerebral cortex—the same area of the brain where the highest cognitive activity is happening. “Play allows us to experiment, empathize, and take creative risks,” explains Viacom design partner and head of IDEO Toy Lab Brendan Boyle.

  Play allows us to experiment, empathize and take creative risks.

Perhaps the most important takeaway Third Space design can teach us is that if you want your employees to think outside the box you shouldn’t put them in one. This is a thought that’s also shared by Ross Martin, EVP of Marketing Strategy and Engagement at Viacom. “We want to encourage magical thinking,” says Martin. “We want people to know and to see and to understand where we are today and where we’re going tomorrow.”

The reality of today’s startup-filled economy is this: Redesigning a space for your employees isn’t just about being cool or forward-thinking. It’s also about creating a tangible ROI. A 2 to 5 percent increase in staff performance can cover the total costs of providing for their workspace. With numbers like that, knocking down walls (both literally and figuratively) is how companies can ultimately win when it comes to courting and retaining the best talent.