Our firm recently moved into a brand new office space in downtown Chicago. We had been discussing a Chicago presence for a few years and decided to pull the trigger at the end of 2015. The primary reasoning behind adding a downtown office to the firm was in support of our employee retention and recruiting initiatives. As a public accounting firm, we are always recruiting young talent out of school or experienced talent under the age of 30. As with many of our competitors, it has become quite clear that the younger generation wants to work close to where they live, and increasingly they live in the city. Our initial step toward a Chicago presence came in the form of a temporary, one year lease on Wacker drive. The space was small (a maximum of 12 employees) and rather bland, but it got us downtown. We figured that over the course of 2016 we could get our bearings before deciding on a more permanent location. The new office was a minor success with our people, despite its mundane trappings and the idea of a larger fixed location began to gain more traction. With that in the back of our minds, the firm acquired a smaller CPA practice which cemented the need for a longer term commitment to a downtown office.
As it became clear that our acquisition would happen, I was given the task of searching for larger, more permanent space in the city that could accommodate up to 40 people. I was given a budget and a mandate for a downtown location accessible to public transportation, no more than 4,000 square feet, and that was about it. So, I hired a real estate broker and began looking at spaces. Over the next six months I received a pretty intense education not on just the modern American work space, but on how it affects people, their attitude about work and their productivity. I received sometimes harsh criticism and high praise for the direction that I decided to take the project. What became most clear, however, was that fitting that many people in a smaller space would require an open floor plan with few offices and no cubicles. This was going to change the dynamic of how everybody worked. Privacy would largely go away and the open office would create a dynamic where people would see each other and would be forced to interact more often. People were worried about it being too loud or not being able to have private conversations. They were worried about space and where they would put their “stuff”. These were all valid concerns, given the traditional work space that most of them were coming.
The reality, however, is that office space is very expensive and the way people work today goes against a traditional floor plan. Technology is at the forefront of our working lifestyles and it enables us to create a completely different kind of working situation. The need to store vast amounts of paper or books is gone. In most cases, the need for a private office is also gone. Setting up space where people talk to each other and interact more frequently is becoming the norm. Instilling the mindset that goes away from a person “owning” a cube or an office needs to go away. People can work in a variety of different environments, so flexibility in that environment is critical.
Today, we have been in our new space for just over a month. It has been received by all in a very positive way. People are learning that they can work very effectively in this environment and those that had strong doubts (and there were many) are adapting and thriving in the new environment. It has become a desired destination because the smaller footprint has allowed us to afford a class A building in a terrific location. People collaborate, talk openly and don’t seem to mind the chatter that generally pervades the office. Privacy is gained by heading to an unoccupied office, conference room or lounge area. People are engaged in the space and often offer their ideas for how we can make it better. This never happens in our older, more traditional offices.
So, while taking the plunge into a next generation office space can seem daunting and meet with a lot of opposition, the results can be amazing when people open their minds to a new way of doing things.