COLLABORATION, BY DESIGN
Innovative office spaces provide a balanced working environment for employees BY H A N N A H L E E | P H O T O G R A P H Y BY B E T H M A N N
t’s an ordinary Wednesday at WillowTree’s Golden Belt office, and both nap pods are engaged. The large, egg-shaped capsules are enclosing an employee each, workers waiting to get in a quick snooze. When they’re done dozing, perhaps they’ll walk over to the kitchen, where kombucha, wine, beer and Bull City Ciderworks – plus your normal coffees and teas – are always on tap. Or maybe they hunker down between the books in the company’s personal library. Heck, maybe they take an abbreviated afternoon and skip over to the game room, where video game systems wait to be activated. The possibilities are endless for the company’s 139 employees. And there’s a reason for that. Collaborative spaces are a nationwide trend. First introduced to the business world in the early 2000s, these flexible work spaces are becoming just as, if not more, appealing than traditional office settings. By the end of Q2 last year, the number of flexible office spaces in the U.S. grew by 34%, according to CBRE Research, and could account for 13% of the country’s total offices by 2030. It’s no surprise that several Durham companies reflect
these national trends. Their employees and operators speak of the importance of building community, and not just providing unbeatable amenities (although those certainly don’t hurt). At WillowTree, before there was a nap pod or a wellness studio, there was a question: What spaces do our employees really need? “People want to feel calm and sooth[ed] when they go to work, not frenzied and crazy,” Julia Swenson, vice president and design director at WillowTree, said. As opposed to coworking spaces, where many businesses work under one roof and share a handful of common spaces, collaborative spaces like WillowTree are designed to stimulate working together. They’re intentional about their structures, and all initiatives work in unison toward a defined objective of productivity and well-being. Take RTI International, which completed its sixstory, 190,000-square-foot Horizons building in 2018. With 16 different buildings on its campus, executives wanted to create a location that would both bring people together and make them want to stay during the workday. The result was the modern, open concept you see now. With a first-floor cafeteria,
88 • durhammag.com • April 2020
This team deconstructed their work area and moved into a semicircle for easier group discussions.
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