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by Joe Sylvester

Corporations like style, but they also like practicality, when having office space designed for their executives and employees.

But office execs and staff are finding they have less personal, but more communal space, as a way to create communication and creativity.

“They don’t necessarily skimp on the look of it,” said Jim Cummings, vice president of marketing for Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, Wilkes-Barre. “They try to make the space more efficient.”

He said that has led in recent years to less work space for employees and fewer assigned desks. More employees now are given laptop computers they can plug in to whatever desk is open, and many are sharing work spaces.

More employees also are working from home.

“Nationally, that’s probably the biggest trend,” Cummings said.

Not that the demand for corporate office space is high right now.

“Overall, the office market is quiet in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” he said. “There’s not a demand for office space. The exception to that is health care office space.”

He said the demand for those spaces include health care administration, billing and other offices, as well as clinic space for patient care.

But otherwise, “not a lot of companies are looking to move to Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Cummings said.

Those that do move here or are already here and seek an office makeover, are going for more open space and a communal working environment.

Back to nature

Architect Michele Dempsey, president of DxDempsey architects, Scranton, said biophylic design, which enhances employees’ innate connection to nature by mimicking it, bringing in elements of it and/or providing views to it, has gained popularity in the past year.

“Natural elements can increase productivity by at least 8 percent and well-being by 13 percent,” Dempsey said.

She said business leaders also are responding to her firm’s niche, Strategic Branded Experiences.

“Such environments can make businesses more money by telling their unique story and increasing customer loyalty and employee engagement,” Dempsey said.

“Companies put so much money into logos and letterhead or developing their mission and values — then neglect to bring their brand into their physical space. Yet, employees who work in such branded environments acknowledge that it fosters a personal connection to the brand.”

She said recent studies show that increasing an employee’s level of engagement with a brand can improve their performance by 20 percent, and their probability of departure drops by 87 percent, Dempsey said.

She added, “Activity-based workplaces, where areas of the office are designed around various tasks and individuals aren’t tethered to an office or desk, are still gaining popularity. These spaces done right promote collaboration, provide flexibility, and can reduce the need for space, saving significant money in leasing. That said, it is important to note that every organization is different and must be carefully tailored to the way they work and company culture.”

She said sit-stand desks have increased in popularity and spaces are being designed to encourage movement throughout the day rather than providing a gym.

“Some organizations have gym memberships as a part of their benefits instead,” Dempsey said. “Spaces that encourage social interactions where employees “casually collide” promote friendships and collaboration with colleagues and also lead to a positive work attitude and better well-being.”

She said 60 percent of workers would feel more motivated and recommend their organization as a place to work if action was taken to support mental well-being.

Informal get-togethers

Meanwhile, workplace cafeterias have moved toward cafe-style settings that are more comfortable and sociable.

“The ‘town center’ is also gaining popularity. This is a break area with an island or counter with stools that can also double as an informal meeting area,” she added.

Cummings said companies want more wide open spaces, except for examination rooms in clinics, of course.

Health care companies also require specific conditions for electronic storage of medical records.

“HVAC is really important,” Cummings said. “Computers give off a lot of heat.”

He said companies that have space built here have certain other requirements, as well.

“Parking continues to be a big driver,” he said.

They want parking next to the building.

“They want easy access for their work force,” Cummings said.

Dempsey said it’s clear that workplace design is an investment.

“Companies are eternally watching what they spend, but if they can see a return — whether that be less sick days, more efficiency and productivity, lower operating costs, more sales and higher levels of employee engagement and customer loyalty — they will spend the money,” she said.

“We call it Return on Design and have collected the data to show that our research-based design and branded environments will positively impact their bottom line,” she said. “As importantly, it will inspire people to love what they do and where they do it.”