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By Dave Gardner

The luster on the traditional ivory tower corporate office may be fading to a dull gloss as appetites and designs for executive offices change with the millennial times.

According to WHY magazine, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t use a personal office and instead works in an open workspace with other employees. In addition, modern offices around the corporate world now utilize designs in which entry-level employees are directly exposed to their executive masters.

Michele Dempsey, owner of DxDempsey, confirmed that, as office styles change, the goal of having a work environment which can foster an enjoyable day is still the norm. Her designers are also increasingly being asked to help clients create office space that identifies a company’s brand story, while creating an experience that will help drive the bottom line in a sustainable fashion.

According to Dempsey, many higher-ranking executives still desire office amenities such as a private bathroom. But, appetites for a dream office now may include styling that promotes employee emotional wellness, while breaking down silos and inspiring communication.

Plants and the availability of ample natural light are increasingly in style. Executives also demand space for quiet thought and private communication, despite the thirst of millennial employees for communal working environments in open space that increasingly may use bench desking.

“The younger employees, as a group, may enjoy working in an open and transparent environment, but the executives still have needs for noise control, a place for private conversations and visual privacy,” Dempsey said.

Cravings for natural sunlight across the workforce have reached new highs, which Dempsey said is a marked contrast to past situations where bottom-ranking employees had little natural light. This older scenario has been replaced by an understanding that natural light improves employee productivity, with the inclusion of workplace plants escalating morale.

“Architects are consistently being asked for strategic glass placement for light penetration from outside,” said Dempsey.

She summed up this movement by declaring that decreasing numbers of businesses wish to present the boss as a god hidden within an ivory tower. The old fear and intimidation image of past executives is eroding and being replaced by company cultures, and offices, that communicate accessibility.


“Executive appetites being expressed to architects involve an analysis of company DNA and company presentations for creation of a specific culture, and then creation of this within the office spaces,” Dempsey said.

Office designs for the boss still vary according to the personality and preferences of the inhabitant, according to Denise Luikart, associate principal and interior designer with Highland Associates. A need for work efficiency is commonly expressed to designers, which in the case of younger executives may now include a convertible desk that can be used while both sitting and standing.

Conference space and a meeting area may be included within the same office, with amenities such as a treadmill or private bathroom. Luikart agrees with Dempsey that appetites for natural light are now expansive, and are being matched by an open office movement despite some holdover environments where ivory tower hierarchies still prevail.

“Old habits die hard, and the ivory tower office is one of these,” said Luikart. “The physically rich office is a symbol from a past era, and some appetites for these still are around.”

In an interesting twist, according to Luikart, modern entrepreneurs often display varied life outlooks that show up in their tastes for office designs. Community-based businesses may strive to offer “open” office presentations, which contrasts to appetites within publicly traded corporations where executives want to be apart from the rank-and-file.

Costs for office presentations are another issue. Luikart confirmed that, despite a gradual improvement in NEPA’s business environment since the Great Recession, only a rare group of executives is not vitally concerned about costs for working spaces. Financial expenditures for office design therefore can be used as a barometer to read a company’s culture and its concern for cost control as part of a business plan.

“Community-based organizations in particular want modest offices as part of their down-to-earth identities,” said Luikart.

Utilization of advancing IT technology is a critical need being expressed by many executives, according to Jim Cummings, vice president of marketing with Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services. This is playing out with appetites for a trusted millennial to be close to an older executive so that the younger employee can be available to help in the use of new IT devices, such as tablets.

“Executives of all ages now recognize that quick decisions frequently have to be made, and many business decisions will be operated remotely,” Cummings said. “Having a millennial right there for assistance with the needed technology can be a useful asset.”

Office appetites also vary by job function. Cummings described how customer service managers often want open space and windows galore which are not ornate but symbolize company core values. The ability to close an office door for privacy is also paramount.

Health care is another arena where office space must fulfill process demands. Physicians need comfortable exam space that offers complete privacy, while computers in medical spaces produce substantial heat that must be removed by robust HVAC systems.

“High speed fiber internet is also vital,” said Cummings. “Within our CenterPoint complex, we have been careful to offer only 100 percent fiber optical cables.”


Maria MacDonald, director of undergraduate interior architecture studies at Marywood University, quipped that as the workplace “March of the Millennials” ramps up, employers across the country are being forced to offer barrier-free office designs that encourage collaboration, flexibility, a connection to nature and executives working next to interns. Open information exchange across all areas of an organization are vital, with open and casual informality becoming the new norm.

Executives must accept, and even work, within workplaces with eat-in kitchens, lounges, open desking, tables, instant connectivity and open areas. Cubicle designs and ivory tower offices are not a part of this environment.

“Creation of a ‘Main Street’ cell phone lounge is becoming popular, and employers who resist these changes are going to be in for a bad time when they compete for technical talent among the up-and-coming millennials,” MacDonald said.