What I Learned While at 42Floors

Yesterday, I wrapped up a one-month consulting position with San Francisco-based 42Floors.com. As a tenant rep advisor that’s passionate about commercial real estate and technology, I jumped at the opportunity to join the team and get a feel for what it’s like to work within a fast paced startup in the midst of SoMa’s exciting technology boom.

The 42Floors Crew
The 42Floors Crew

In a nutshell, 42Floors is a free search engine for office listings in San Francisco and  New York, wrapped up in a gorgeous user interface.  The model itself isn’t exactly groundbreaking, except for the fact that their current focus is not on monetization, but on creating the absolute best user experience possible.

Here’s how it works.  The user searches active office space listings and when they find something they like, they submit their contact information and the handoff is made to the listing broker, who then follows up with them to schedule a tour of the space.  Nothing revolutionary there.  Where 42Floors really sets itself apart, however, is with their Concierge; a human being that uses a telephone to actually call you.  How many companies actually do that anymore, and for free?  Their only task is to make sure you’re happy, answer questions about the market and commercial real estate, and ultimately, that you’re successful in finding your new office space online through their website.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other great features that elevate the user experience, like robust filtering options, photo-intensive listings and rental estimates for properties that don’t publish their asking rents, but the Concierge addresses a gaping hole in the online listing arena: tenants not only need but deserve the advice of an expert that’s looking out for their interests.  This is something that gets lost when a tenant uses the internet to find an office space online and then cuts a direct deal with the landlord without being represented by an advisor.  With 42Floors Concierge, the tenant can receive guidance and assistance from a professional they can trust.

My big takeaway from my experience with helping 42Floors develop their concierge program, is that tenants will always need a human advocate, and 42Floors understands that.

Just like WebMD.com will never replace the role of the doctor, 42Floors.com will never replace the role of the tenant advisor – they exist to enhance and compliment the process, be it a trip to the hospital or signing a new office lease.

The Death of the Cubicle, and Other Workplace Trends

Twitter’s San Francisco HQ, designed by Interior Architects

As tenants transition from hard-lined telephones to VOIP, abandon private offices for open areas and clamor for “brick and timber” creative spaces versus “view space”, demand for less traditional office space is on the rise.

Sure, it didn’t take a futurist to figure out that fax machines would soon be nothing more than an ancient office relic, but the cubicle?  Along with the coffee maker and printing room, cubes are the last bastion of the traditional office, and according to workplace strategist Mary Lee Duff of Interior Architects, who recently completed the design of Twitter’s new San Francisco headquarters, demand for them is waning.

The traditional concept of the high panel Dilbert cubicle has definitely been diminishing.  The drive today is for workplace settings to be more open and collaborative with a strong emphasis on flexibility.  For some clients that means going into benching systems, for others it is simply lowering the panel walls and being able to offer greater control over how to reconfigure one’s own space.

Configurability of the office space is paramount to tenants’ desires; something cubicles do not intrinsically lend themselves to.  Tenants are increasingly demanding fluidity and flexibility in almost a minimalist fashion.  Big clunky cubes that cannot be reconfigured or moved without contracting a furniture installer are more frequently being replaced with workbenches (sometimes on wheels) and demountable partitions so as to encourage collaboration.  Ms. Duff continues:

With the rise of open collaborative planning there is a need to evaluate the right balance of both focused, contemplative spaces alongside the energetic buzz of open teaming areas.  This is one of many challenges faced by design firms today in planning appropriate space that aligns workspace with the business, culture, and aspirations of each client.

But foregoing cubicles for more flexible furniture options do not come without their challenges.  Furniture on wheels can easily accommodate a quick reconfiguration due to a change in headcount or department consolidation, but where is the power and data going to come from?  Interior Architects overcame this hurdle during a recent assignment by utilizing a raised floor that could accommodate multiple power and data plan configurations in a myriad of locations.

Twitter Headquarters
San Francisco

External influences to workplace design such as globalization, increased demand for sustainability and a changing demographic are also altering the face of the modern office.  With employees regularly engaging customers and colleagues around the globe in different timezones, video conferencing and work/life slicing is gaining popularity.

Age, gender and ethnic diversity is also affecting the way offices are being built out and configured.  I know of at least one tenant that has a prayer room for their muslim employees, and a “wellness” or “mothers’ room” for new mothers is fast becoming the norm in newly-built offices.

Several other trends that appear to have sticking power are the “work anywhere” mentality, increased importance of having face-to-face meeting areas, highly configurable or “hackable” walls and partitions, small and agile workgroups, and increased transparency whereby an employee can do a 360° spin in their chair and literally see the entire office.

For further insight into workplace trends and to reach Ms. Duff:

Mary Lee Duff, Assoc. IIDA, LEED® AP | Principal
IA INTERIOR ARCHITECTS
m.duff@interiorarchitects.com