Four walls and a door, possibly a view, and this is your home away from home, the place you and your fellow employees spend a large part of your waking lives: your place of work. How do you make it yours yet make it functional and maintain a company image?
The good news is that corporate Cincinnati is beginning to welcome all the possibilities.

"The past couple of years it's opened up again. This is one of the most exciting times ever," says Dawn Dutcher Schwartzman, "Chief Imagination Officer" for Enriching Spaces.

From small home offices to huge corporate enterprises, the prospect of changing workspace through moving, construction or renovation can be intimidating. Too often, the people in charge rush through the process, or think they're clever by doing it on the cheap. Schwartzman and other professionals point out there's nothing cheap about buying stuff that isn't used or used well.

"We just came from the Dilbert era," Schwartzman observes, referring to the cartoon that portrays office cubicle life as hell on earth. Employers who went with sterile, mass production environments learned a hard lesson: they weren't getting much enthusiastic or creative work from their people. "How do you tell people to think outside the box when you're literally putting people in boxes?" Schwartzman chuckles.

Young professionals want hip space, a good chair and top technology, she adds, while "the old vet is obsessed with holding on to his real estate."

Lu Ann Holmes, FASID, is the Cincinnati-area representative for Haworth office furniture, whose motto is "change by design." She says increasing globalization means more Cincinnati area business people are experiencing innovative office design in other countries, and many in turn want their offices to appeal to international clients and visitors.

In the new era of workplace design, remember these words:

"¢  Convergence and collaboration
"¢  Adaptability
"¢  Mobility
"¢  Technology integration
"¢  Security
"¢  Environmental
"¢  Holistic
"¢  Color
"¢  Image

Convergence and collaboration refer to deliberately creating places within the company walls that invite co-workers at all levels to encounter one another in productive and creative ways. Adaptability means what it suggests: create spaces and use furnishings and equipment that allow your business and employees to be flexible. Holmes notes the average size of office space is declining as the cost of buying or leasing rises, so it's important to make the most of what you've got.

Part of the flexibility equation is mobility. Wheels or casters are appearing on almost all office furniture"”chairs, tables, cabinets, bookcases­"”and even on higher-end furnishings. "If it can be on casters, put it on casters, for sure," Schwartzman laughs. Holmes agrees. "With a half-diameter mobile table, you can quickly create a conference area without a dedicated conference room."

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

Computer and electronic hardware are becoming more integrated and less intrusive or distracting in new office designs. The executive office or board room with wireless everything"”audio, video and digital communications"”has become commonplace.

Technology and security were the two main factors that prompted Grant Thornton LLP's recent move from the Baldwin Building to the Cornerstone office building on Smith Road near Rookwood Commons. The accounting services firm saves time and money through video conferencing with clients and resources, locally and worldwide. They required a dedicated room, complete with screens and microphones.

Robert C. Taylor, managing partner of the Cincinnati Grant Thornton operation, says video conferencing allows his employees to interact with clients all over the world"”without the expense and hassles of international travel"”and also forces all parties to be "fully present" in their video meetings.

KZF Design and Loth Mbi collaborated in the design and furnishing of the Grant Thornton offices, which are bright, inviting and functional without being stiff. And forget all that fumbling with cables. For electronic conferencing, microphones are built into the conference room table and embedded in furniture.

SECURITY

Whether you work solo, doing business from home, or have a large operation with global connections, security cannot be ignored"”from the locks on doors to the firewalls that protect internet communications.

As a public accounting firm, Grant Thornton needs uninterrupted and totally secure data. The company wanted the flexibility to work anywhere within its walls through wireless connections, yet also required traditional hard wiring for data access and communications.

According to Suzanne Carney, ASID, of Champlain Haupt Architects, "Accommodating technology keeps becoming more and more critical. The ability to sit down and plug in and to create virtual offices, to handle technology, is the most important aspect of creating an executive office today."

ENVIRONMENTAL

Tristate companies appear to be more environmentally conscious about workplaces, and that trend is reflected in what the market offers. "Environmental" can encompass everything from being socially responsible about waste to guarding the health of employees.

Holmes points out that as a global company, Haworth has to stay current with other trends, and environmental concerns are influencing furniture design and construction. Now customers can buy chairs that are made of recycled materials and are recyclable at the end of the chair's life. Fabrics and plastics cannot pass off toxic gases. Holmes notes that the new Zody chair from Haworth is made using wind power.

Employee health is linked to office environments, and should figure into the equations. Ergonomic considerations"”designs that strive to provide improved comfort and productivity, and prevent stress or injuries"”are gaining mainstream acceptance. A good consultant will show a company how to benefit from investing in advanced chairs, articulating keyboards, and placing cabinet and file drawers or shelves within easy reach.

Holmes says newer chairs are easily adjustable intuitively, without having to consult a user's manual. The Haworth Zody chair has won numerous design and art awards, and was the first to be endorsed by the American Physical Therapists Association, she notes.
Any new or updated office project should also consider the bad choices that can cause "sick building" syndromes. More "clean" or "green" options are available in carpet and flooring, upholstery and other fabrics, plastics and ventilation systems.

HOLISTIC

Dawn Schwartzman and Enriching Spaces have built a reputation for creating workspaces with blended elements to create a more pleasing ambience. When the atmosphere is safe, nourishing and comforting, employees are more likely to enjoy work, not dread it. "It's an antidote to fewer people having to do more work," she remarks.

Schwartzman and Enriching Spaces are known for introducing feng shui to office design here. The Chinese system holds that natural flows of energy can be affected positively or negatively by the orientation of structures and arrangements of objects in relation to each other. When Schwartzman spoke at the international conference on feng shui in San Diego last year, she was surprised to learn that Cincinnati is now talked about as a "hotbed" for the movement.

"Creating a holistic environment is important to attracting new employers and to presenting an authentic message to customers and associates," Schwartzman observes.

COLOR

"Colors are back," Lu Ann Holmes says about the look of offices. "There's a lot of orange in our new color palette, following what clothes have been doing." Browns are also back as an alternative to black, gray and metallic colors. Mixed metal-wood construction is very poplar, she adds.

Schwartzman agrees about office colors now following what's trendy in fashion and retail. In carpets, fabrics and upholstery, the era of redundant tweeds is fading in favor of more variety in patterns. "Now you can be wonderfully wild."
At Grant Thornton, KZF Design introduced stimulating color schemes, skylights and unique artificial lighting solutions. Many of the staff of young professionals work long hours. Keeping them happy "was critical in this project," Taylor says.

IMAGE

A place of business contains ingredients that compose an image the company projects"”to insiders and outsiders. And in a business world where nearly everyone seems obsessed with "branding," that image projected to the public is more important than ever.

"Design matters big time," says Schwartzman, pointing to CEO, A.G. Lafley as having a "huge influence" on bringing creative design back into the work areas of P&G. More top executives are getting involved with office design decisions. With another one of Schwartzman's clients, First Financial Bancorp in Hamilton, CEO and President Claude E. Davis oversaw the transformation of the look and feel of the company's offices.

OTHER FACTORS

Michelle Overman, ASID, of Loth Mbi, says the Western concept of a private office as four walls has moved to a more transitional space that's a "little contemporary." It still signifies the status and hierarchy of the business structure. Eastern cultures (and European offices) favor the open office approach, with younger employees working with older, more experienced employees. Open mentorship flourishes in this environment, she notes.

Gender differences also deserve consideration, she adds. Men tend to prefer big, open traditional offices, and are not concerned with having materials at hand. They tend to like walls of awards or photos of themselves with business contacts. Women often like more compact work spaces with clean lines, and tend to be more concerned about having materials easily accessible. Overman says women tend to choose more transitional furniture"”that's transitional, not traditional"”and are more likely to want artwork on the walls.

MOVING ANGST

Some companies delay making any changes involving moving furnishings, equipment and people because it seems so daunting, and many cannot afford a single business day of "down time." But companies such as Loth that specialize in business moves have become increasingly sophisticated in their skills and techniques.

Taylor at Grant Thornton was pleased with his firm's move. "It went really very well"”well planned, well orchestrated, and with a critical time line that was met."  The planning and work of all the professionals involved "kept stress out of the system," and allowed employees to concentrate on their work, not the move.

WHERE TO SEEK HELP

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) is a dependable place to start when you're considering moving, expanding or updating office space. Jon Blunt, the President of the Ohio South/Kentucky Chapter, offers various experts who are willing to help. The ASID web site (www.asid.org) has an online referral service: a typical search for the Cincinnati area turned up dozens of professionals.