The mod­ern of­fice is smaller, brighter, edgier and a lot more fun.


When it comes to work­place goals in the new of­fice of In­te­gral Group, the writ­ing’s on the wall. “Col­lab­o­rate — chal­lenge — en­ergy — cre­ate” are among the mantras painted in the re­vamped lobby of the en­gi­neer­ing firm’s Granville Street workspace. Gone are the grey colour scheme, sus­pended ceil­ing tiles and flu­o­res­cent light­ing of the pre­vi­ous ten­ant. Now white space, cit­rus green and glass dom­i­nate the airy space over­look­ing Van­cou­ver Har­bour.

This of­fice for In­te­gral Group, for­merly known as Cobalt En­gi­neer­ing, is just one of many re­cent re­designs tak­ing over Van­cou­ver of­fice tow­ers as long- term leases are re­newed at higher prices.

Down­town of­fice space is at a pre­mium in Van­cou­ver. The va­cancy rate for of­fices is de­clin­ing and sits at 3.2 per cent, much lower than the na­tional av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent mar­ket out­look report from real es­tate com­pany CARE.

Th­ese lo­cal cost trends, cou­pled with rapidly chang­ing busi­ness tech­nol­ogy and an es­thetic shift, are con­verg­ing to pro­duce new, edgy, and some­times con­tro­ver­sial, of­fice de­signs.

Ac­cord­ing to CBRE, vir­tual and video con­fer­enc­ing, cloud com­put­ing and flex­i­ble work ar­range­ments that al­low for mo­bile em­ploy­ees — they can work at home or pretty well any­where within the of­fice that has a flat sur­face for a lap­top com­puter — have re­duced space re­quire­ments for many com­pa­nies. And the “Google ef­fect” — of­fice spa­ces must of­fer cool de­signs with op­por­tu­ni­ties for work­ers to re­lax — has cre­ated a rev­o­lu­tion­ary shift in of­fices across the globe.

Ex­pen­sive ren­tal and lease agree­ments are partly driv­ing the shift here, said Van­cou­ver­based Ross Moore, CBRE’s di­rec­tor of re­search, Canada.

“When your lease comes up, you’re go­ing to say, ‘ Why don’t we go from 10,000 square feet to 8,000? We’ll get some space plan­ners in here and op­er­ate the same num­ber of work­sta­tions but we’re go­ing to do it in 8,000 square feet in­stead of 10.’

“I hear that all the time,” he said in an in­ter­view re­cently. “And I wasn’t hear­ing that five years ago. I really wasn’t.”

By some es­ti­mates, the av­er­age space per worker has dropped from about 800 square feet 20 years ago to about 480 square feet, Moore said.

Lighter, but tighter

De­sign­ers have ditched the much- de­rided cu­bi­cles. New of­fice tow­ers are built to al­low in nat­u­ral light and with bet­ter ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems, so sit­ting close to co- work­ers is more com­fort­able. “You can now cram more peo­ple into a sin­gle floor,” Moore said.

In­te­gral’s new look, com­pleted last sum­mer for about $ 1.2 mil­lion, is func­tional but also aims to evoke a feel­ing, said Loren Cavallin, the prin­ci­pal in­te­rior de­signer at global ar­chi­tec­tural firm Perkins+ Will.

The firm has done de­sign work for numer­ous build­ings in Van­cou­ver, in­clud­ing Canada Line sta­tions, the new Flat­iron Build­ing on Melville Street, One Wall Cen­tre and the VanDusen Botan­i­cal Garden Vis­i­tor Cen­tre.

Cavallin worked on the in­te­ri­ors of In­te­gral’s award- win­ning, LEED- cer­ti­fied open of­fice. ( Lead­er­ship in En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal De­sign cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized stan­dard for green build­ing tech­nol­ogy.)

Her col­leagues are work­ing on de­signs for Google’s San Fran­cisco of­fices and Mi­crosoft’s Van­cou­ver of­fices.

“With all our clients, we get into their heads and their busi­ness specif­i­cally. We go about set­ting the goals for the project and what they’re try­ing to evoke with their space and what cul­tural goals they may have,” Cavallin said.

“A dull monochro­matic scheme can get very tir­ing. It doesn’t lead to that ex­cite­ment we’re try­ing to build.”

While plain dura­bil­ity was once the key con­sid­er­a­tion in choos­ing ma­te­ri­als, now sus­tain­ably sourced wood, and “healthy” non- toxic paints and floor­ing are top of mind for de­sign­ers, she said. De­signs are re­strained, with more white space, more con­trast and a more cu­rated ap­proach when it comes to art and decor.

“Day­light­ing” is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to sus­tain­abil­ity from an elec­tri­cal stand­point, said Su­san Gushe, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect at Perkins+ Will. At the heart of the Cobalt ren­o­va­tion was mak­ing the perime­ter of­fices, which had pre­vi­ously blocked an “in­cred­i­ble view of the North Shore,” trans­par­ent. That in­volved us­ing floor- to- ceil­ing glass walls to let in max­i­mum light, and or­ga­niz­ing in­te­rior work­sta­tions so ev­ery­one could share the view, she said.

The of­fices are de­signed to be multi- func­tional: a meet­ing room is also an ex­ec­u­tive of­fice is also a video con­fer­ence cen­tre. Rooms are in­ter­change­able, less per­son­al­ized and more in­ter­ac­tive.

“We’re fo­cused on ‘ we space’ ver­sus ‘ my space,’” Cavallin said. “Es­pe­cially in the last five years, we’re see­ing our clients more and more re­cep­tive to that. We used to have to twist their arm and show them data to get them to do that,” Cavallin said. Some­times that means in­vest­ing in a beau­ti­ful ta­ble to sit around, or a to­tal de­sign over­haul.

It’s not only tech- savvy star­tups em­brac­ing mod­ern de­signs such as open con­cept of­fices, pod- like work­sta­tions and meet­ing hubs, but more con­ser­va­tive sec­tors as well, such as ac­count­ing and law firms, banks and gov­ern­ments.

New of­fice de­signs and tech­nol­ogy are even chang­ing how work is done.

De­sign changes work

At the Van­cou­ver of­fices of law firm Fraser Mil­ner Cas­grain, an $ 8- mil­lion move and ren­o­va­tion has dra­mat­i­cally changed the firm’s workspace and even the peo­ple in it, said former man­ag­ing part­ner John San­drelli, who over­saw the move and ad­vised de­sign com­pany HOK on strat­egy and vi­sion.

A mas­sive bam­boo and frosted glass stair­case winds through the cen­tre of the of­fice’s four­floor plan at 250 Howe St., in the former lo­ca­tion of Elec­tronic Arts. One level down from the main re­cep­tion area, a kitchen shared by staff and lawyers pro­vides free cof­fee, stream­lined seat­ing, a tele­vi­sion, book­shelves and com­mu­nal din­ing ta­bles.

The de­sign aims to keep clients mainly on the 20th floor, so staff and lawyers work­ing on the three floors be­low can talk openly with­out com­pro­mis­ing client con­fi­den­tial­ity.

Air­flow is bet­ter. Both staff and lawyers are hap­pier. Pro­duc­tiv­ity has in­creased, and the staff turnover rate has dropped.

Be­fore the move in 2010 from the Grosvenor Build­ing on West Ge­or­gia Street, there was a 10- per- cent turnover rate. In 2012, only two peo­ple left the of­fice of 165 staff and lawyers, San­drelli said.

“Chang­ing those things added to bet­ter mood, bet­ter mo­rale, bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

Er­gonomic fur­ni­ture was care­fully se­lected and even en­forced: gone are the oak desks and the cov­eted cor­ner of­fices. Each part­ner gets about

We were find­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily want to sit around a board­room ta­ble.


400 square feet of space.

Ev­ery­thing — even the cap­puc­cino — was de­lib­er­ately cho­sen to en­cour­age con­ver­sa­tion, rather than awk­ward chat in the el­e­va­tor or scur­ry­ing off alone to Star­bucks. There’s even an out­door pa­tio on the 19th floor. If talk turns se­ri­ous, work­sta­tions are scat­tered around com­mon ar­eas.

Such de­sign strate­gies have been the main­stay of the high­tech world for years, ever since Google made mini- putt golf in the of­fice seem like a re­quire­ment, not a whim­si­cal bonus.

That’s the way An­drew Reid saw it when plan­ning the $ 1.5- mil­lion ren­o­va­tion for the of­fices of Vi­sion Crit­i­cal, the mar­ket re­search firm he founded last year.

In Vi­sion Crit­i­cal’s of­fices on the mez­za­nine level of 200 Granville St., a four- hole putting green is placed be­tween the long ta­bles where com­puter soft­ware coders work in teams and the glassed- in meet­ing rooms ( named af­ter peaks on Whistler Black­comb).

There are lime- green ac­cent walls, walls sprayed with graf­fiti art, and walls turned into white­boards and black­boards for brain­storm­ing ses­sions.

What was once a cor­ner of­fice is now a meet­ing room over­look­ing Coal Har­bour, com­plete with astro- turf car­pet­ing, mul­ti­coloured stools and white leather couches.

With a beer fridge, ping- pong and foos­ball ta­bles and ar­cade games on hand, how does Reid mea­sure pro­duc­tiv­ity if it’s never clear some­one should be at their desk?

“Per­for­mance,” he said. “Ve­loc­ity. How much code they’re writ­ing and how quickly.”

The same phi­los­o­phy pre­vails at telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant Telus, which will open its Telus Garden home and of­fice build­ing at Sey­mour and Ge­or­gia Streets in 2015, and has made smart de­sign part of its “in­tel­li­gent work cul­ture.”

Also by 2015, the com­pany plans to en­sure 70 per cent of its work­force is mo­bile, greatly re­duc­ing the amount of of­fice space re­quired and sav­ing $ 270 mil­lion in Cana­dian real es­tate costs by 2016.

Those em­ploy­ees can work “when­ever and wher­ever it’s most pro­duc­tive for them,” said An­drea Go­ertz, se­nior vice- pres­i­dent of strate­gic ini­tia­tives and cre­ator of the so­called Workstyles pro­gram.

“We’ve really seen our team mem­bers evolve in the way they work, and we started notic­ing this trend six or seven years ago, as we in­tro­duced more tech­nol­ogy that al­lowed peo­ple to work from cof­fee shops or from home. We de­cided it was some­thing we should em­brace, given our fo­cus on tech­nol­ogy.”

Staff report feel­ing grate­ful for the time sav­ings and flex­i­bil­ity to work late nights or early morn­ings. In turn, em­ploy­ees re­main loyal to the com­pany. It also keeps cars off the road and re­duces Telus’s en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print, Go­ertz said.

Telus is avoid­ing tra­di­tional closed- in of­fices and go­ing open con­cept with work­sta­tions, some open cu­bi­cles, quiet spa­ces and group spa­ces “that al­most have a fam­ily room or liv­ing room feel to it,” Go­ertz said.

“We were find­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily want to sit around a board­room ta­ble,” she said. “That’s not how they work best.”

Pri­vacy back­lash?

Such multi- func­tional work spa­ces have been pop­u­lar for about a decade, but some warn a back­lash could oc­cur in a few years.

“I think we’re go­ing to see a need for some pri­vate ar­eas for peo­ple to have some quiet time, to do some head- down work. Col­lab­o­ra­tion has maybe reached its max­i­mum level in our work­place,” said Cavallin of Perkins+ Will.

Work­ing with­out el­bow room can lead to con­flicts among col­leagues, said Paul Kings­bury, who teaches so­cial and cul­tural ge­og­ra­phy at Simon Fraser Univer­sity and stud­ies how the psy­che is af­fected by the en­vi­ron­ment and so­ci­ety.

Plants, am­bi­ent light­ing, a clever lay­out and even cu­bi­cle height are some de­sign con­sid­er­a­tions when try­ing to pre­vent work­ers from feel­ing trapped or “hum­drum,” Kings­bury said. It avoids the “cel­lu­lar, soli­tary workspace.”

The orig­i­nal pur­pose of the wall- less cu­bi­cle in open- floor plans was to cause low- grade para­noia.

Slack­ing off would be ev­i­dent be­cause vis­i­bil­ity was so high, and pro­duc­tiv­ity would thus in­crease, Kings­bury said.

The more mod­ern sen­si­bil­ity tries to pro­mote ca­ma­raderie and team­work in­stead, but it doesn’t al­ways work as planned.

But, warns Kings­bury, the trend to closer and tighter risks “tak­ing away breath­ing space be­tween you and your col­leagues. You’d have over- prox­im­ity to the other per­son’s life, their an­noy­ing habits, the way they laugh on the phone.”

That makes it all the more im­por­tant for hu­man re­source de­part­ments and man­agers to hire com­pat­i­ble em­ploy­ees, he said.

When her com­pany’s lease was up in 2012, in­surance bro­ker Kather­ine Bell was ex­cited about the de­ci­sion made by the firm — which she did not want to name — to stay in its Bur­rard Street lo­ca­tion but down­size and brighten up the space in a ren­o­va­tion that is still hap­pen­ing.

The move — from beige cu­bi­cles to an airy space with day­light stream­ing through — has proved ben­e­fi­cial in some ways and frus­trat­ing in oth­ers.

Be­sides the usual grow­ing pains, like dry­wall putty still show­ing in the hall­ways and the oc­ca­sional plas­ter shower from the ceil­ing, there’s also deal­ing with three de­part­ments in one room, and the new dis­trac­tion of a dozen peo­ple talk­ing on the phone with no sound bar­rier, Bell said.

“You can hear ev­ery­one’s phone con­ver­sa­tions, whether it’s with a client or their wife or their hus­band or their kid.”

But sit­ting with a su­per­vi­sor at her right el­bow is ben­e­fi­cial.

“I’ve gained a huge ad­van­tage by sit­ting next to her be­cause I will learn so much from her. I joked at lunch yes­ter­day that I learn more from her talk­ing to her­self than I ever did sit­ting by my­self se­cluded in a cor­ner.”

In that spirit of equal­ity, all but the most se­nior VPs have iden­ti­cal work­sta­tions, and an as­sis­tant vice- pres­i­dent with 40 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence lost her of­fice.

Be­fore the move, Bell would have had her own within four years of join­ing the com­pany. The way things are now, it’s likely to take decades for her to get an of­fice with walls, she said.

At law fi rm Fraser Mil­ner Cas­grain, an $ 8- mil­lion move and ren­o­va­tion has dra­mat­i­cally changed the workspace. The de­sign in­cor­po­rates the lat­est think­ing in offi ce en­vi­ron­ment and aims to make staff hap­pier and more pro­duc­tive. Shown is the mas­sive...


An eye- catch­ing fea­ture of Vi­sion Crit­i­cal’s offi ce is a four- hole putting green. It also has a beer fridge, ping- pong ta­ble, foos­ball ta­bles and ar­cade games.


At left, Cobalt En­gi­neer­ing’s ren­o­va­tion re­placed the solid walls of perime­ter offi ces with glass to let in more light and give ev­ery­one an in­cred­i­ble view of the North Shore. Mar­ket re­search fi rm Vi­sion Crit­i­cal turned a cor­ner offi ce, right, into...


At law fi rm Fraser Mil­ner Cas­grain, the de­sign of an $ 8- mil­lion move and ren­o­va­tion cre­ates a cut­ting- edge offi ce en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing a staff room with free cap­puc­ci­nos and TV.

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