As design trends come and go, law firms have historically stuck to a more traditional workplace aesthetic that is, in many cases, rooted in more than a century of legacy. However, with unprecedented challenges and shifts in workplace dynamics in the last several years, some trends are emerging.
“Our business really got started with law firms,” says Mallory Wall, project executive at BCCI Construction. “For the last 35+ years, we’ve delivered several law firm projects every year. Each law firm has its own unique needs and wants, but in that time, we’ve also seen some consistency across the sector, especially with all the uncertainty in the workplace since the pandemic.”
The big question? How to handle the return to the workplace since COVID. Many sectors have begun to adjust to a new, more flexible business model. The legal sector hasn’t quite settled on how to handle it.
“Other businesses are gearing their offices more toward creating spaces for employees to come in for collaborations and meetings only while they do their day-to-day work from home,” says Luke Thomas, director of operations at Structure Tone Philadelphia. “Law firms haven’t typically been as open to that kind of change, but we are starting to see it in their projects.”
One reason, says Wall, is the competition for talent. “Law firms are losing recruits as big tech firms hire them directly. Because we work with both tech firms and law firms, we’re able to offer some advice on what they can do to communicate a more modern vibe that’s most like that of a tech company.”
Even before the pandemic, law firms were starting to incorporate more café spaces and casual collaboration areas. With added pressure to convey an attractive culture, law firms are taking those amenities to a higher level.
As crazy as it sounds, says Wall, asking employees what they want can be the most effective means for attracting and keeping staff.
“Many of our clients have been torn between sticking with tradition or branching into more trendy workplace features. We suggest they survey their staff to ask what they think. They’re often shocked to find out it’s usually not about having ping pong tables or bean bag chairs, but things like nicer bathrooms or more lounge areas and break-out rooms. Those smaller upgrades can have a big impact on culture.”Mallory Wall, BCCI Construction
As the companies within the STO Building Group have continued to help law firm clients navigate this paradigm shift in the workplace, it became obvious they could learn from and help each other. And so the organization’s law firm initiative was born.
Representatives from across STOBG’s 13 companies, including BCCI and Structure Tone, meet on a regular basis to discuss trends, share lessons learned, and connect the dots for clients looking to upgrade or build offices in other cities. For some clients, the benefits are already clear.
“We have a great relationship with Gunderson Dettmer,” says Wall. “When they mentioned they were going to start a project in Austin, Texas, we were able to recommend an architect, introduce them to our Structure Tone Southwest team, and stay involved and engaged throughout the project.”
The same goes for negotiating the mounting challenges of the supply chain. STO Building Group’s procurement experts track trends and issue a monthly report on which materials are experiencing supply chain delays and which may be easing. The entire STOBG network has been able to bring that intelligence to their project teams to help inform decision-making.
“The information a team in one city has been able to share with colleagues in other locations has undoubtedly benefited our clients’ processes,” say Eugene White, STO Building Group executive vice president and leader of the firm’s law firm initiative.
“From supply chain challenges to local market nuances, it’s been extremely helpful to have that level of expertise behind our local teams. Advancing lessons learned from one project to another has helped us ensure more predictable outcomes.”Eugene White, STO Building Group
The efficiencies a client gains from working with this network of experts creates a win-win situation for everyone. “The client has a great experience, and we get to establish even stronger relationships with our sister companies,” says Wall. “Our clients tell us it’s just like working with the local team they know and love.”
Although the crystal ball does show a few changes in the future of law firm design and construction, law offices will undoubtedly continue to reflect legacy, reputation, and professionalism. The trick is finding just the right balance.
Gone are the days of the traditional law firm. We’re in a transition period, and culture will be key.”Mallory Wall, BCCI Construction
Luke Thomas agrees. “I believe law firms will move into creating more amenity spaces for everyone and less hierarchy in terms of designing extravagant office for attorneys. The change will be slow, but they’re getting there.”
BCCI Construction and Structure Tone Philadelphia have recently completed office projects for dozens of law firms, including these. (Bold indicates clients shared across the STOBG network.)
Debevoise & Plimpton
Fish & Richardson
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
Kirkland & Ellis
Originally Published in STOBG Insights Fall 2022
The pandemic affected construction projects across the globe—but maybe nowhere more significantly than the San Francisco Bay Area. In the US, the Bay Area had some of the most stringent restrictions, which impacted schedules, materials, and even clients’ design decisions.
That was certainly the case for Autodesk’s new downtown San Francisco office, built by BCCI Construction. The 117,000 sf project spans four floors with a three-story staircase that unites the open office spaces, meeting areas, break rooms, and special amenities across the workplace.
Two months into construction, the pandemic put the project on hold for roughly seven weeks. The Autodesk team took the opportunity to survey their employees, make adjustments to the design, and implement COVID-safe features such as plexiglass desk shields, contactless fixtures and devices, anti-bacterial film on high-touch devices, digital “community board” monitors to remind employees of protocols, and more. They also made the decision to lower the overall office capacity by 30 percent to support proper physical distancing in desk and collaboration areas.
“Some of those adjustments were minor, but some, like new furniture layouts, did impact things like electrical configurations,” says BCCI project manager Max Heath. “We had to pull together as a project team to work through decisions virtually while the jobsite was shut down.”
BCCI had conducted full 3D scans of the existing space before demolition, which helped not only remove potential conflicts and challenges in the initial phases of the work but also better manage those very kinds of adjustments. The team also used Autodesk’s best-inbreed, cloud-based project management system, BIM 360, for data management and collaboration, meaning all of the RFIs, submittals, construction documents, schedules, drawings, and other records were available to the project team during the shutdown and after for the full project duration.
“Tenant improvement projects rarely get that level of laser scanning since project schedules tend to be tight. We knew those scans would make the MEP coordination process more efficient, and our overall approach to the project with virtual design and construction tools proved critical to helping us get back and up and running effectively.”Max Heath, Project Manager, BCCI Construction
Pulling together to work through the continued COVID-related challenges—from staggered trade schedules to manufacturing delays—the project team was able to bring Autodesk’s collaborative vision to life. In addition to the pandemic-related adjustments, the new office includes a number of unique amenities for employees, from a music studio and game room to a gym and shower area.
Autodesk was also mindful of sustainability, incorporating electric scooter charging stations, compost options, and an abundance of plants and other natural elements. In the four corners of every floor, custom wooden “trees,” rise up from the floor and parallel the ceiling to provide an element of biophilia while light fixtures, suspended from the ceiling, hang between the tree “limbs.” All of these special features aim to reflect the concepts employees noted they valued most during the survey process.
“The pandemic will likely have a lasting impact on how offices will be designed and operated in the future. Autodesk saw the development of their offices at 300 Mission as an opportunity to explore these new possibilities and rethink its design to support the health and wellbeing of its employees for years to come.”Wendy Peterson, Project Executive, BCCI Construction
Kena David, Sustainability Manager | BCCI Construction
The millennial generation is the first generation to grow up with mobile phones and ready access to the Internet. They’ve had the luxury of answers to virtually any question at their fingertips. Their lives have always been digital and connected.
This generation—now the largest in American history—has proved to be the impetus for many changes in the workplace, including the way buildings and offices are designed, operated, and marketed. The influx of millennials into the workplace and their affinity for technology has also shifted the way in which we think about our work environment. The real estate industry has seen a movement toward open office plans that inspire collaboration and offer flexibility and versatility, as well as work spaces that are in closer proximity to public transportation hubs, and an increase in urban-suburban communities. The classic American suburb with a long commute to the office is less appealing to millennials, and the 9-to-5 workday has shifted, with flexible schedules and remote working options becoming the norm.
The worlds of architecture, construction, and real estate have grown and adapted to meet these challenges put forth by millennials. Known for being civic-minded and environmentally conscious, millennials often make work and lifestyle choices that align with their values. For example, the well-known LEED certification established by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) is increasingly a factor when millennials choose a place to live or work. (LEED certification is an indication that a company or building owner is highly attuned to how its physical operations affect the environment.)
Millennial-inspired attention to matters of health in the workplace is reflected in a new certification program dedicated human health and wellness in buildings. The Delos WELL Building Standard has married best practices in the built environment with medical research around what makes people happy, healthy, and productive while spending time indoors. It is the first certification of its kind to holistically integrate specific conditions into architecture, design, and construction to enhance the health and well-being of building occupants. Delos developed this standard to uphold human sustainability and to transform schools, homes, offices, and other indoor facilities into healthy environments.
This post has been adapted from an article originally published for CREW San Francisco’s The VIEW (4th Quarter 2016). Click here to read the full article.
Many Millennials will tell you that there are a number of misconceptions about their generation. Frequently depicted as a technology addicted and entitled group who fear commitment, it might seem that millennials aren’t the hardest working, goal-centric, or disciplined – at least compared to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.
Members of Commercial Real Estate Women San Francisco (CREW-SF), including Alicia Deschamps, RIM Architects; AJ Jacobsen, CBRE; Erica Levine, ARUP; Verushka Doshi, Haworth; and Kena David, BCCI Construction Company, tackle the topic of millennials in the workforce in the article, “Millennial Mythbusters,” and consider both truths and fallacies of generational stereotypes.
Myth #5: Millennials avoid offices so that they can sit at home and be lazy.
BCCI Sustainability Manager, Kena David and Erica Levine, Energy Consultant at Arup address millennials being labeled as “lazy.” While acknowledging the basis for that idea, they also maintain that it is all wrong! “Many millennial-dominated companies (such as the ever hip start-up’s) allow employees to work outside of the office and standard working hours, reducing the amount of time that employees spend at their desks. This can give off the impression that millennials are lazy slackers who can’t drag themselves out of bed.”
“Flexible working arrangements may actually increase employee effectiveness, allowing more work to get done in the same amount of time. Research indicates that working in an office is actually quite inefficient.”Kena David, Sustainability Manager, BCCI Construction and Erica Levine, Energy Consultant, Arup
David goes on to note that the ability to work remotely increases productivity due to fewer distractions and interruptions that often occur in an office environment. Basically, having the latitude to work in or out of the office and during hours that are not “the standard,” gives millennials the opportunity to perform at their most optimal.
While evident that millennials are different than the generations that have come before them – whether it comes to goals, tactics, or work style – as the largest population in the workforce, they carry significant influence in the future of work environments as well as work-life balance policies.