It’s all well and good to extol the virtues of the “new workspace”—open layouts, flexible seating, standing desks, collaboration areas—but as with any building, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what will or won’t work until people use it. In February, HOK moved into its new Toronto office designed by the firm itself, a process that, from conception to completion, allowed the team to experience the methodologies of their practice firsthand.
For their new digs, HOK selected the 22nd floor of a 1971 downtown tower with 360-degree views overlooking City Hall. The existing space was in good condition, but had been stripped bare, so the firm had flexibility to create a new space inside the shell. “We pretty much took ourselves through the same process as we would with clients,” said vice president Lisa Fulford-Roy. “How can we best support our employees? What functionality do we need the space to have? How can we create a positive, collaborative, close-knit culture?”
HOK’s new Toronto office combines open space design with designated “oases” like the kitchen and supply rooms to foster connectivity and “head’s down” areas to provide privacy.
After surveying their staff and holding many meetings, Q&A sessions, and designing multiple iterations, the solution was an open, circular 1,485-square-meter office with ample nooks and spaces for working privately and a unique, flexible desk system for the locations 110 employees. Desks previously took up the bulk of their old office, so to create more room in the new one, approximately 30 employees who aren’t in the office on a daily basis, have “agile desks,” or non-dedicated seating. The remaining desks are slightly smaller than the previous ones and grouped together, with open standing desks at the end of each row. Integrated technology throughout makes it simple to pick up and move around the office as needed. As a result, even though the new office is slightly smaller than the previous one, and they’ve added new staff in the past six months, the office feels spacious.
The two private offices and conference rooms are clustered in the center of the layout so that all employees can enjoy being near the windows and have equal access to natural light. Bouroullec Liane pendants and myriad white surfaces lend the space a bright, clean aspect, cushioned by wood-look laminate tile flooring that offers an acoustic buffer, and outfitted with classic furniture from the likes of Herman Miller. Seamlessly alternating between “public” and “private” spaces creates a continuous flow and puts clients and employees alike at ease.
“We wanted the space to reflect who we are as a company, but we also wanted it to be comfortable to our clients—to feel hospitable. From the minute you walk in from the elevator, it is very welcoming,” Fulford-Roy said.
Aiming for LEED Gold certification by early next year, HOK installed a highly-efficient HVAC system, insulated glazed walls, low-energy lighting, Energy Star appliances, and low-emission surfaces. The building’s location was also chosen in part based on its proximity to the subway to ease employees’ commutes. “It’s all about promoting and fostering good design principles,” Fulford-Roy said. “All the natural light is good for mental health and well-being, and honestly the views are incredible, some of the best sunsets I’ve seen in my life have been from here. We’ll all stop working to watch the sunset together and chat.”
Safe to say that six months in, the firm stands by their ideal workspace philosophy. “These were all principles that I knew to be true when it came to increasing connectivity in the office,” Fulford-Roy said. “But now that I’ve lived it, I can see how it works and speak to it passionately.
page rendered @ September 26, 2020, 4:20 pm