Why Building Better Offices Is The Key To Employee Engagement


Interaction Designer and Audio-visual Technologist at ESI Design illustrates the value in creating environments filled with surprise and delight.

Research shows that educated millennial professionals are moving into more densely populated urban environments both for work opportunities and for quality of life. The energy of cities inherently drives innovation. A recent New York Times article describes a trend of large corporate campuses returning to cities to create a new style of workplace and attract younger talent. On a more distributed scale we see the burgeoning of shared work spaces led by WeWork. In both of these trends, the growth of the sharing economy is key. When people live and work in close proximity, it allows for the efficient sharing of cultural, leisure, social and professional amenities.

Traditional office buildings tend to be more about efficiency than inspiration, favoring cold hard materials that emphasize permanence and stability over the exhilaration of daily life. However, a growing body of research is confirming the emotional toll boring buildings can have and why people who work in well-designed, surprising and delightful environments tend to be happier and healthier. Part of this comes from creating opportunities for unexpected encounters with the spaces we inhabit and with the people within them.

ESI Design has been working with Beacon Capital Partners to design engaging shared spaces on the building level. Over the past four years ESI Design has worked on around thirty “Class A” commercial buildings, giving each one a unique presence and way to dynamically engage with both tenants and the local neighborhood. Each location uses a mix of digital audiovisual media, signage, furniture and lighting to create a unique identity and a space to stop, connect and be inspired.

At Terrell Place in Washington DC, ESI covered over 1,700 square feet of wall space with a motion-activated digital display that responds to the movement of people through the lobby. The reactive walls act almost as a metronome and connect to the pace of the city, the seasons, and the ebb and flow of office workers. A dynamic audio installation by Bruce Odland reinforces the rhythm of the environment, connecting with people on multiple modalities. Each workday shows a single evolving DC–based scene either natural (cherry blossoms), urban (recognizable monuments), or abstract (firework-like patterns of color). Tenants each have their favorite scene and discover the layers of audiovisual details and how they respond to the time of day and the people as they pass by or stand still.

For Denver’s iconic Wells Fargo Center, designed by Philip Johnson in the early 1980s, ESI modernized and reinvigorated an immense 8-story atrium. ESI designed five 86’ tall floor-to-ceiling LED columns that, when viewed together, create one media canvas. The monolithic screens act as a window to the landscape beyond, displaying dynamic media inspired by the Mile High City’s natural wonders, ESI’s team of media designers and animators conceived the inventive computer-generated visuals, including a waterfall, birds and Insta-mosaic mountainscapes to fully exploit the epic physical scale of the space.

At the 76-story Columbia Center, Seattle’s tallest building, new crown lighting engages the whole city, shifting colors according to the season, visually “chiming” on the hour and celebrating home-runs and touchdowns of Seattle’s sports teams. The building sends out Tweets to all of its followers explaining the color changes. In the building’s lobby, three 30-foot LED sculptures bring the sky-high LED themes down to the street level and artistically represent the changing weather. Unique furniture and a new coffee shop create a comfortable space where tenants each have their favorite chair and their favorite weather scene on LED sculptures.

Designs like this, where people are invited to have a deeper relationship with their buildings, represent the future of workspaces. By adding an element of the playful and surprising, architects and designers create opportunities for people to connect not just with their environment, but, just as importantly, with each other – resulting in happier, healthier people that are more engaged and united in what they are doing together.

Michael Schneider is an interaction designer and audio-visual technologist at ESI Design, an experiential design firm that helps brands, corporations, and cultural institutions engage with audiences and customers through immersive and interactive environments.

Via psfk.