5 Ways to Create a High-Performance Office Space

Gensler veteran Joseph Brancato reveals how office design can improve employee satisfaction and address cities' increasing populations.

By Samantha Goldberg, Associate Editor

As the world’s population continues to increase, urban cities are feeling the most pressure to deal with the growing density and the quality of life of its people. New York City alone has experienced rapid growth in just the past 15 years, with its population increasing by one million people over that time period. Joseph Brancato, a 30-year veteran of leading architecture firm Gensler, spoke at a real estate networking event at the company’s Manhattan office to discuss this challenge and how it’s affecting the drivers for office design and development.

Joseph Brancato, Gensler

“The world is changing fast and the adaptability of our cities will assure their relevance,” said Brancato, co-managing principal for Gensler’s Northeast and Latin America Regions. “Gensler is a key player in the evolution of cities. We have a front row seat to see and understand the change that’s going in in these cities and we know we can have a significant impact on the cities as long as we understand how people use cities and use buildings.”

Brancato discussed how Gensler not only designs new buildings, but also takes on the task of transforming neighborhoods in urban areas by repositioning existing buildings that have lost their relevance—two strategies that are needed to deal with the increasing density of urban areas. Today, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in cities and than number is expected to bump up to 66 percent by 2050, according to a 2014 World Urbanization Prospects report.

Brancato said the trend toward moving to cities is largely led by young people and empty-nesters. “There’s a lot to be said for having everything you need within walking distance or easily reachable by hub of transit,” Brancato said. Brancato touched on several ways to accommodate the growing population, including transforming or regenerating underutilized infrastructure for new uses and adding public spaces that provide relief in dense communities, pointing to New York City examples, such as the transformation of the Chelsea High Line and Times Square.

Brancato focused mostly on how new and existing buildings need to be designed to deal with the transforming ways of living and working.  As Brancato said, gone are the days of the “pancake office building,” which is the design of many older office buildings with low ceiling heights. Newer buildings are being designed with higher ceiling heights, more amenities, and bigger floor plans.

Today’s workers are looking for more out of their work environment, and Brancato pointed to the desires that designers need to be aware of in order to attract the best talent and satisfy the growing population, including:

1. More open-plan and collaboration space. “Take private offices off of the perimeter, provide less individual space, and make the environment more open and transparent to create a buzz,” Brancato said, adding that the ideal office space has a balance of focus space and collaborative space so employees have both work options available.

2. Increased mobility: Many employees no longer work the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and need to have mobility within and outside the office. “Within the office, let the user customize their work setting, choose whether to sit or stand, and where and how they want to work. For outside the office, you need to provide employees with the technology and give them the access to work anywhere,” Brancato said.

3. Convergence of technology: “Workplace technology and personal devices are now networked and responsive to each other. Technology is prevalent everywhere and enables us to run our facilities better and more efficiently,” Brancato said.

4. Socially conscious spaces: According to Brancato, today’s buildings need to take into account the health and well being of their employees by considering factors like the air quality and lighting of their buildings, pointing out that LEED has almost become the standard. “It’s important not only as a marketing tool but also shows employees that you care about them.”

5. More amenities: “The war for talent is getting fiercer and amenity spaces are helping make a difference,” Brancato said. “Amenities are a great way to express the brand and culture of your organization, often tailored amenities that you know your employee demographic is going to appreciate and care deeply about.” For example, maker-specific amenities might include 3D printing, photo studios and indoor parks.

Brancato also pointed to a few of Gensler’s current projects that incorporate these drivers that designers have to think about when looking at new building stock, especially for office buildings. “Changes to buildings are becoming relevant for many different types of uses. But overall, buildings are only the stepping stone to improve the neighborhoods and enable the increased urbanization of our cities,” Brancato said. “As we start to go up vertically, we need to start to consider the horizontal plane in our cities to improve the quality of life in an ever-increasing density and urbanization of our cities.”