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Three global corporations presented their HQ renovations: Toyota, Coca Cola, and Mazda, with personnel totals ranging from 500 to 6,600.  Corgan, Gensler, and LPA were respectively responsible for design, but only Toyota partnered with their architect/designer for the presentation. Coca Cola and Mazda were presented by their internal workplace leaders.

In each case the process was familiar: define goals, get leadership buy-in, hold a visioning session, carry out intense change management, establish pilots and a master plan, layer in the employees, focus on FREE space, variety, and empowering the individual to make choices about when, where and how to work.

Each company invested heavily in their FREE space; Coca Cola built their’s out before office space construction even began. No expense was spared to provide high-quality food service, in recognition that keeping people dining together was important.

The question of assigned vs. unassigned seating was more interesting than usual. Coke decided it was too difficult to even address and built 1:1, but not at the expense of FREE space.  Mazda did the same, but has already found that 50% have unassigned by choice.  Toyota also assigned desks 1:1, while acknowledging that as they grow they will gradually and organically un-assign.

 As for space allocation, Toyota pushed the boundaries. They devised a 50:50 ratio of dedicated and shared space, with each part being a mix of ME, WE, and FREE space.

The guiding principle of “Where work gets done” permeates every design consideration.  Desks are allocated 1:1 so that people feel a sense of ownership, and their locus of control comes from the permission to work where they feel most efficient.  It’s an activity- and personality-based workplace.  Toyota put it best during their change management sessions: “Design your day,—figure out what you need to do, where or whom you need to work with, and go!  We are still of course providing collaborative spaces (with significantly more technology support); enabling people to concentrate and rejuvenate allows them to make better use of that collaborative space.”

Toyota offered four workstation workstyles, and every desk is Sit Stand—the pilot program showed what a significant satisfier they were, making the data irrelevant to the decision.

The Toyota campus was designed without ‘programming’ or headcount.  That data was layered in afterwards. (Square foot p/p is not considered a relevant metric, as people work more fluidly around the entire space.)


Each of the sessions relating to areas of Open Plan office design addressed a key issue from a number of different angles, namely Designing to support concentration and rejuvenation.

The relationship between collaboration and innovation, and its value, are well understood.  Accordingly they were secondary to other session topics.

Leesman used data to drive a discussion with TD Bank and Fannie Mae, asking whether there is a workplace for everyone.  Their answer was “Yes, but we haven’t found it yet.” Their research shows a person’s ‘work profile’ is more relevant than the generation they represent, which is notable given the current obsession with Gen Z.  Understanding your company’s mix of worker profiles is key to knowing how to design space for them. Leesman’s research supports a Neighborhood approach to planning workstations in groups of about 20, with buffers in between.

T-Mobile & G.E. focused on the psychology of introverts and extroverts, arguing that design that takes into account these extremes will also benefit the people in between.  The goal here is to support everyone to do their best work—focusing on the work, not a prescribed style.

Employee engagement and productivity were shown to be directly related to the control of how and where we work.  People are most effective when they can choose where to work during different parts of the day. Not only do tasks vary throughout the day, but employees’ needs vary from 9 to 5 as well.

The GSA has stated that “you can measure anything you can define, and you can improve anything you can define,” citing research by Dr. Craig Knight on the effect space has on productivity.  The GSA has also published research and guidance on sound, with a study on light to follow.

Capitol One recently released their 2017 Work Environment Study, again finding that noise and ‘lack of privacy’ were key issues. They also found that “88% of office professionals have their best ideas when they're working in flexible space options.”

Less focus on the workPLACE and more on workHOW adds a much-needed layer of detail to the subject of open office design.


•       Neighborhood planning, 20-40 desks

•       Use buffers to define and protect open office space

•       Focus on planning concept, less on programming

•       9’-0” between desks, surface to surface

•       Give private space to recharge, relax, rejuvenate

•       Pilot, pilot, pilot, whenever possible

•       Give people control over aspects of their workspace

•       If unassigned is too extreme, plan for 1:1 and they’ll grow into un-assignment

•       Increase the amount of shared space, up to 50:50

•       More huddle rooms

•       More focus rooms

•       More outdoor space

•       More ways to work away from their desk

•       Focus on amenity spaces first, then the workspace

•       Don’t stereotype the generations

•       Design for a variety of individuals

•       Provide choices


Written by our guru of workplace design: Richard Lott