Ware Malcomb’s Heather Goff Steers L’Oreal, Bionic Office Workers Away From the Lonely Desk

L’Oreal workspace designed to boost collaboration gives a glimpse of the office of the future. Courtesy of Ware Malcomb.

To catch a glimpse of the workplace of the future, Ware Malcomb Interior Architecture & Design Director Heather Groff suggests looking at the headquarters she worked on for cosmetics and perfume maker L’Oréal. The 66,000-square-foot office in Clark, New Jersey, which the company dubbed “The Hub,” banishes a staple of traditional office life: the cubicle.

Because its workforce is entirely mobile, L’Oréal wanted an activity-based environment, meaning there is no traditional cubicle space. Instead, a flex-space concept converts usable space from private offices and desks to unassigned open work areas designed to emphasize collaboration and social interaction.

“Each department had a distinct theme or ‘neighborhood’ designed into the new workplace,” said Groff.

Alternative work areas replaced most of the enclosed offices, Groff said, adding that, “This is a big trend in commercial interiors: creating that community and coffee shop- or living room-like environment. It’s not just computer desks.”

Groff’s design ideas may affect the offices that many U.S. workers use in a decade or two. More than 80 percent of companies in the United States are considering moving toward an open, flexible concept with a variety of work areas, according to a 2014 report on workplace redesigns by research firm Deloitte. In a 2015 office worker survey conducted by the Dublin Institute of Technology, respondents aged 20 to 34 were shown to have less difficulty concentrating while working within an open office plan than respondents in the age groups of 35 to 44 and 45 to 54. Almost 50 percent of respondents said a more open design had a positive effect on productivity.

Groff’s 20-year career has taken her to both coasts. Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Boston’s Wentworth Institute of Technology, she moved to San Francisco and later to New York, where she joined architecture and design firm Ware Malcomb in 2014 as a studio manager. Ware Malcomb promoted Groff this year to lead its Design Studio and essentially run its New York operations.

Her work for startup consulting company Bionic took a similar approach to L’Oreal, but to a lesser extent, in building a 10,000-square-foot office at 4 Columbus Circle in New York City.

“The plan for Bionic is to transition to an activity-based workstyle,” Groff said. “They have bench desk areas and other collaborative areas that are alternative environments for a change of scenery. As they grow, they will shift to unassigned workplaces.”

Through her work on these projects, Groff developed the concept of an activity-based work spectrum. “Companies fall along a spectrum of traditional on one end, to really what L’Oréal has done on the other end. Lots of companies fit in the middle along different gradients,” she said.

Groff said she is building workplace experiences into Ware Malcomb’s Workplace Strategy group, which collects information on what clients want and organizes it into more cohesive styles.

“In the past, office redesigns were driven by an expansion or a lease expiration and need for space. The process was very cut and dry. You collected the number of people, their role, and they would get a predefined workspace. Workspace Strategy takes into account the other goals that the company wants to achieve within their physical environment,” Groff said.

Corporate interiors have significantly changed in the past several years, according to Groff, who tracks trends for Ware Malcomb. Her research has shown that while the overarching themes in interior architecture remain relatively stable, nuances within them have changed, creating different design approaches.

Take technology, for example. Five years ago, worker mobility throughout an office was the major emerging trend in technology affecting workplace design, according to Groff, but mobility is now expected.

“The shift in the technology conversation is now that you are mobile, you have new barriers to overcome,” she said.

Desk reservation systems are now key to a mobile, modern workforce.

“So at L’Oréal, the workforce is entirely mobile,” Groff explained. “The desk reservation system really helps to make their workday seamless, make sure employees going in and out always have a place to work and can easily locate coworkers.”

There’s a movement toward collecting data on how the workplace is used. It’s no longer enough to design an office and move on to the next project. In coming years, it will be increasingly important to catalogue how many people are in the space, how long they were there and what they were doing, Groff explains.


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