2020 Vision: Big, Bold Ideas

As our Richmond office prepares for a big 2020 move, we’re sharing the details on our process and our progress. Previous installations in our 2020 Vision series can be found here.


The truth is: tough decisions are never made all at once. They require thought, research, time … and more thought. (And sometimes more time.) Which was why, knowing our lease was up in 2020 and change was inevitably coming, we started early. (Read more about our initial planning meeting here.) Because, while we recognized our space wasn’t working for us as well it could, it’s still home, and it’s been a good one.

Armed with pages and pages of notes, imagery, and thought maps, our 2020 Vision team returned from our initial brainstorming session with an agreed-upon list of must-haves for our new space … but a lot of questions too. What was the best way to take what we’d discussed and share it with our 150+ team? How could we engage them on next steps? And, really, where do we go from here?

When we partner with our clients, one of the biggest things we hone in on is sharing and exploring what’s out there. We want our clients to see how other companies are navigating the challenges they face. How are they implementing specific technologies or design strategies? And, ultimately, how do they view returns on specific investments one, two, and ten years later? Sometimes seeing first-hand how furniture, fixtures & equipment selections, new tech, or design trends interact with space can be the boost our clients need to understand how it can work for their space, too.

Every company’s work environment is nothing if not essentially particular to the type of work they do, and the ways they do it. What may work (pun intended) for one firm may not work for another; but understanding what’s out there, why design aspects are worth considering, and how translating specific ideas to better reflect the brand is critical to the process. Seeing can be believing.

With a roster of workspace clients from multi-national Fortune 500s to boutique agencies, and access to industry-leading research and products, we’re fortunate to have a front row seat to the vast array of ideas, inspirations, and innovations happening in workplaces everywhere. Which meant, we had a plethora of concepts and case studies to draw from to move our thinking forward; what we were missing was a real sense of “being seen.” We needed to hold a mirror up to ourselves to see what made sense for us – for our people, our culture, and our work – and how we could translate some big, bold ideas into functional space.

workspace ideas

If you work in an office (or a medical building, school, laboratory, manufacturing facility, or … anywhere, really) you likely have opinions about it. How well it functions for the tasks being conducted day-in and day-out; how warm or cold it is; how close the good coffee place is or how far it is to get to your car or train every day, and much (much!) more. One of the most suggested and most beneficial activities we undertake with clients who are considering a big change in their space is a “hearing the voices of many” exercise.

The specific methods and tactics we use really depend on the client, what they’re trying to achieve, and how they want to engage with their staff, but the overarching goal is to hear a diversity of thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics to help bring clarity to big questions. We believe this is an essential step in connecting the dots in any company’s employee experience; change needs champions and engaging the people who will be most impacted by changes (large or small) in your environment in the process is the most effective way to implement successful change.

Having prioritized big items in our planning session, we wanted to deep dive on some specifics to get a real sense of how our team felt about everything from the views and how we structure our studio seating to whether we should we install a shower and much more.

voices of many exercise

Knowing people think and process differently, we specifically created an activity that incorporated weighted responses, write-in areas, and image boards. On one sheet we asked employees to add images of spaces they’d seen and loved (or alternately, spaces they’d hated and why). On another, we posed questions about what the future of our space should be mindful of. Another asked our team to cast their votes (via stickers distributed to everyone) on items of importance to them. “What’s working? What’s not?” gave team members an opportunity to pinpoint things that need improvement in our next office iteration, while celebrating those elements we shouldn’t lose.

These activities did more than give our 2020 planning team the intel needed to move forward; it spurred amazing conversations (both in paper and in person) amongst our staff. During the two weeks the boards hung in our collaboration space, it wasn’t uncommon to see people checking out what their peers had included, adding a note or an image, or discussing their thoughts with colleagues. While feedback was technically anonymous, the activity itself created a dialogue and shared experience we couldn’t have replicated otherwise.

The takeaways proved invaluable as we moved forward in assessing next steps, outlining priorities, and developing a path forward. A desire to stay in the city was heard in initial planning and reinforced by the staff who call our firm home; access to amenities, restaurants and outdoor spaces, and the hum and vibe of downtown was a must. We already knew the function of our space needed attention; flexibility and diversity of environments were top priority for our growing 150+ person staff that wants control over choosing the space that makes them most productive. The office experience – whether you’re a guest, client, or employee – needed to reflect what makes us great: our people. Our staff was aligned that our office is the best way to mirror the talent, generosity, and spirit of our creative teams and their ability to design amazing experiences and spaces for our clients.

big bold ideas

The real question remained: could we reimagine our floorplan, incorporate some big, bold ideas, retain walkability, access to parking and the outdoors, and create the meaningful experience we wanted all within our existing S.15th Street location? The short answer? No. But that decision wasn’t made immediately, and we kissed a lot of frogs before meeting our prince. So, how did we make the leap from where we are to where we’re going? (Have you heard? We’re headed to Richmond’s James Center in less than a year!)

With the countdown to our big move on, we’re digging into how we translated the big ideas into the floorplans and design decisions taking shape today; and next time we’ll explore the spaces and places that didn’t quite make the cut. By treating ourselves like a client (likely — as designers designing for other designers — the toughest client we’ll ever have), we’ll get up close and personal with our own process, and we’ll share the lessons we’ve learned along the way.