As someone who specializes in interior solutions for office space, there was a time when Steven Lang's job was relatively simple.
"The 70s and 80s were all about the cubicle," said Lang, the chief executive of DS&D in Somerville. "You just needed to know how high you wanted it and in what color."
Those days are all but gone, he said, given the growth of flexible, collaborative and technology-driven office space in corporate America. That has required his firm "to be much more knowledgeable about a much wider range of product solutions," whether it's different types of furniture, building materials or the latest video-conferencing equipment.
The shift is largely tied to the open-plan layouts now sought by many tenants and their workforce, said Lang, whose firm serves the architecture and design industries. Employees now "have a range of work settings throughout the day" aside from their main stations, such as smaller breakout rooms, nooks to make private phone calls or bench-style desks that put them alongside two or three colleagues.
Not to mention lounge-style seating and café spaces to offer even more options and opportunities to break away, he said.
Along with collaboration areas, Lang said flexibility is another staple in modern office space.
"One of the big concepts is that in most companies … change is constant and you never know what the facility is going to need to support next year or the year after," he said. A tenant with that approach will opt for movable, modular furniture and walls, "so that later on if you have to reconfigure it, you're not knocking down drywall and making a mess … This is more of a plan with change in mind."
All told, there's one function of a new work space that Lang said is as important as anything else: With the ability to telecommute and work from anywhere, employees need "a place to come that is better than sitting at home or from your kid's soccer game.
"You need to create a destination that supports your corporate culture and encourages people to come there, work there and collaborate," he said "Human beings are human beings — so how does the space enhance and develop people's collaborative spirit?"
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The impact on developers
The changing needs of office users also represent an opportunity for developers — and for the glut of aging, obsolete commercial space across New Jersey.
Sam Morreale, founder and managing partner of Vision Real Estate Partners, said the Mountain Lakes-based firm looks for defunct sites in good locations that can be redeveloped with a modern feel. That means creating higher ceilings, new window lines and features "that really embrace light and air in the work space, so it really becomes a unique space, and clearly designed for that collaborative nature."
"We see the opportunity from a redevelopment standpoint to really take what was old and transform it to something that's new and exciting," Morreale said. "That's very much part of our strategy to kind of reinvent the office space in New Jersey."
Vision Equities, a separate firm of which Morreale is a managing partner, did just that last year with the opening of Bayer HealthCare's new East Coast headquarters. The developer gutted, rebuilt and expanded two obsolete buildings at the former Alcatel-Lucent complex in Hanover, transforming them into a new 700,000-square-foot complex with state-of-the-art amenities and layouts. That included 2,500 workstations that were standard from senior management down to entry-level workers, he said.
Morreale said one key in the process is creating "an environment that the visionary of the company and the HR group can see their people working in" but in a way that allows its financial caretakers to "recognize they're getting a unique combination of quality and value."