Guest column

Tech companies need flexible and personalized workplaces to stay competitive, according to this Houston interior design expert

From amenities to flexibility, here's what tech companies need to prioritize in a working environment to stay competitive. Courtesy of HOK

Nowhere is the rapid pace of change more apparent than in the tech sector. Fierce competition for talent, an evolving regulatory environment, and mounting privacy and data security challenges confront both well-established tech leaders and startups, forcing them to continuously adapt and innovate.

Companies that succeed in this hyper-competitive market have two things in common: workforces and workspaces that can pivot to address new demands and business models. In a recent report titled HOK Forward: Tech Workplace Takes Center Stage, HOK explored the impact tech industry challenges are having on the office space and examined design solutions that can make these spaces more responsive and successful.

The report found that workplace flexibility is key when it comes to spurring innovation and collaboration. So too is personalization. Each company's ideal environment should reflect its culture, work style, mobility profiles, and business goals and be continually re-evaluated as the organization grows.

Five workplace trends that are gaining popularity in the tech sector include:

  • Activity-Based Workplaces (ABW) – This office concept encourages movement and empower people to select the right space for the job at hand. ABW environments are typically designed to serve four major work functions: solo work, collaboration, learning, and socializing and rejuvenation. These spaces work nicely for organizations that are market-oriented in organizational structure.
  • Neighborhood-based Choice Environments (NCE) – A variation of the ABW model, these spaces create a neighborhood or home for teams to operate out of while still allowing people to have access to a variety of work settings. These spaces are ideal for organizations that are team-based and mobile, but seek to build community.
  • Agile Environments – Scrum spaces where project-based teams from different business groups or departments can gather to collaborate on special projects. These spaces are helpful for team-based organizations that desire belonging and community, as they are highly interactive and collaborative.
  • Maker Environments for Mobile Occupants (MEMO) – These spaces are emerging in sectors where rapid development is key. They encourage experimentation and group work in entrepreneurial environments with flat organizational structures.
  • Immersive Environments – These spaces pull the best lessons learned from ABW, NCE, agile environments and MEMO and tailor them to meet the specific needs of a company to create custom spaces.

These creative approaches meld the needs of an evolving workforce with the needs of the organization. But attracting talent extends far beyond the work styles accommodated. So, how can tomorrow's tech workplace attract and retain top talent?

Amenities play a critical role. Amenity offerings should be diverse and speak to the culture of an organization. Nap pods, wellness rooms, medical clinics and maker spaces are benefits gaining popularity in the tech industry and beyond. These amenities speak to a workforce that values convenience, works hard and finds inspiration in unique ways.

Smart workplaces are gaining popularity in the technology sector. Complete with multiple sensors that track office use—such as how often a space is used and the peak times of activity within a communal space—this advanced technology can help building owners and operators optimize a space and better understand which kinds of environments are in demand.

In addition to leveraging data, tech workplaces are on the cusp of merging the digital realm with physical space. This move towards seamless technology that anticipates behavior and needs and creates immersive experiences has the potential to transform the work experience. At the center of this evolution should be a commitment to engaging, equipping, and empowering individuals to excel, which requires developing flexible, technology-infused space solutions that accommodate a growing diversity of work styles, preferences and personalities.

The tech industry's increased focus on the human experience—from amenities to immersive technology—can be applied to workplaces in other sectors. While the next big technological advancement isn't set in stone, one thing is certain: Companies that wish to remain competitive and responsive in the future will need workplaces with the flexibility and personalization that allow their people to gather, connect, innovate, and simply be their best.

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Amy English is the director of interiors for HOK.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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