VIDEO | Building the Holistic Workplace

DPR Sacramento | SmithGroup

The dictionary defines “holistic” as “treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors . . .” As companies compete for the best and brightest talent, the work environment, and its effect on mental, social, and physical wellbeing, has emerged as a crucial factor in the recruitment and retention process. In October 2019, the workplace studio at SmithGroup’s San Francisco office convened a panel event to debate and discuss the opportunities and challenges that teams commonly face when creating a holistic workplace project.

The event took place at the SmithGroup-designed office of Affirm, a financial tech company with 700 employees. Our team was joined by Claudia Fulga of Fivestars, a 300-person marketing technology company; Matthew Buecher from Salesforce, a cloud-based software company with 45,000 employees worldwide; and Russell Kamp, a facilities and real estate manager at Affirm. Colleague Andrea Gulyas also joined the panel, while Lise Newman, SmithGroup’s Workplace Practice Director, moderated the discussion.

SmithGroup Perspectives Holistic Workplace Panel
Panelists included from left to right Lise Newman (moderator), Claudia Fulga, Russel Kamp, Andrea Gulyas, Drew Padilla and Matthew Buecher.

Bright Lights, Big City

The topic of location within diverse urban environments sparked robust dialogue during the panel discussions, with particular emphasis on the San Francisco marketplace, where all of the panelists and their firms are based. Local companies and design firms are well aware of the soaring rates that tenants expend for office space within the city, with rates escalating and even hitting national highs for properties within the Bay Area. Participants shared the factors that influenced their companies’ decisions to choose San Francisco as an operational base, underscoring the vibrancy and community connectivity that urban locations offer.

Based near San Francisco’s South Park, a green space in the South of Market neighborhood, Fivestars’ leadership team encourages employees to escape from office distractions and work outside. According to Claudia Fulga, this gives employees the opportunity to engage in San Francisco’s local urban scene and, on rare occasions, conduct job interviews.

As the city’s largest employer with their headquarters located in downtown San Francisco, “setting up shop in the heart of the city and cities around the globe is key to Salesforce’s real estate strategy,” said Matthew Buecher. He also shared that this philosophy allows the company to be closest to top talent, leading customers and deepening its commitment to the communities where Salesforce calls home.”





Kirkland & Ellis Welcome | SmithGroup

Healthy Workplaces. Happy Employees.

The concept of healthy and sustainable workplaces also drew much attention during discussions. While some industries do not yet fully understand the importance of investing in initiatives that support employee health and wellbeing, other enterprises like Starbucks and General Motors have gone all-in to promote employee wellness—with the coffee magnate and automotive powerhouse spending more on employee health than on coffee beans and steel, respectively. Designers on the panel agreed that companies across industries should offer robust and egalitarian wellness initiatives that extend to include greater access to daylight and healthier and environmentally friendly furnishings, finishes and building materials.

Quiet Zones | SmithGroup

Zen and the Art of Worker Satisfaction

Nearly all tech companies offer spaces for meditation, yoga, reflection or just a few minutes away from the distractions of the larger office. Panelists recommend forgoing the creation of lavish meditation spaces that nobody uses in exchange for smaller calm, quiet spaces within the larger office. Matthew Buecher stated, “As you grow as an organization you need to micro-tailor these amenities. Go ahead and create flexible spaces that can be easily tailored for your employee’s needs, or add Quiet Zones where they can find respite for deep focus, heads down work. These zones work for the greatest number of our teams and are adaptable as an organization evolves.”

Affirm Annex | SmithGroup

Getting Some Culture

Beyond the physical design of a workspace, company culture is also important to an organization’s success. “We’re never going to beat Google at being Google,” said Affirm’s Russell Kamp. “What we’re going to do is create Affirm’s unique culture and sell that.” Buecher shared that Salesforce’s culture is the company’s greatest competitive advantage and it’s centered around four values – trust, customer success, innovation and equality that we live by every day.”

A selection of cultural takeaways from panelists include:

Drew Padilla: If you have an authentic, dignified organizational mission that inspires employees, you don’t need to rely on peripheral amenities.

Claudia Fulga: Build an egalitarian ethos where people across departments or disciplines lunch together and interact. Everyone has a unique perspective and can offer ideas. That kind of integration builds community.

Russell Kamp: Culture creates itself and grows organically; help it, encourage it and be thoughtful about what you want to change.

Matthew Buecher: Don’t over-rely on technology. Try to build a work environment that’s calm and relaxed. Create a place where employees can do the best work of their lives rather than one that has all the bells and whistles.

Create Spaces for the Whole Person 

“Holistic” is a word that virtually defines itself – whole, complete, all-encompassing. Still, when it comes to the design of a workspace, one size does not fit all. As architects and designers, we must go beyond the simple design of space and become trusted advisors to clients in the matters of employee wellbeing and health. Working together, we can achieve holistic design solutions that celebrate a client’s unique culture and are tailored to meet their specific business goals and needs.