Relaxed Offices Continue To Spread | The Houston Chronicle

By Nancy Sarnoff

HOUSTON (January 16, 2017)  - Those who remember the late 1980s television drama “thirtysomething” will recall the two main male characters who worked for an advertising agency. At the office, they often sat around a table, sometimes with their feet up, and threw around basketballs as they crafted clever ad campaigns.

That kind of relaxed workplace design spread throughout more than just the creative industries and is now reaching a fever pitch.

“We’ve seen it in every one of the industries we work in,” Gensler architect Dean Strombom said last week during a panel discussion on the changing workplace.

Strombom said the conventionally designed office often “holds people back from working at their highest levels.”

The panel discussion, held on the second floor of downtown’s GreenStreet development, was hosted by the property’s owners Midway and Lionstone.

One of the panelists was from WeWork, the young real estate company that started in New York City as a co-working provider and has mushroomed into a global provider of office space.

John Lewis, the company’s vice president of real estate, cited the lobby in Manhattan’s Ace Hotel as an inspiration for modern workplace design.

“It’s an average hotel with an exceptional lobby with lots of places to land, eat, drink, work, etc.,” he said. “You just have this constant crisscrossing of people.”

WeWork recently opened in Dallas and Houston is also on its radar.

‘Creativity on the loose’

Lewis explained why now might be a good time to enter this market: “We launched in 2010 in New York City — not go-go economic days of New York or anywhere — and there were a lot of people that had been separated from their companies and needed somewhere to land.

There was a lot of creativity on the loose,” he said. “There’s a lot of creativity on the loose in Houston. There’s a lot of talent.”

The company’s business model is to lease space, redesign it and rent it to users with flexible terms. Many of its customers are entrepreneurs.

Hard to predict needs

Planning office space 10 or 15 years in advance is nearly impossible, Lewis said.

“There’s not a company in Houston that doesn’t have excess space right now, which means whenever they signed their lease their headcount projections didn’t prove to be correct,” he said.

Panelist Mark Motonaga, a partner with design firm RCH Studios in Los Angeles, said offices today are about “placing the human back into the workplace.”

“Life is now more complicated,” he said. “We’re blending our outside lives with our work lives. There is no distinction. The mobile device has completely broken down our barriers.”