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Allowing values to define workspace

How a Washington DC non-profit transformed their space while changing lives

Sometimes a workspace just doesn’t reflect an organization’s culture, and can inhibit their ability to grow.

The international non-profit organization ONE takes aim at extreme poverty and disease, particularly in Africa by uniting the efforts of experienced organizations on the ground. Co-founded by U2’s Bono and activist Bobby Shriver, ONE supports effective, proven initiatives protecting families from preventable diseases like AIDS and malaria, putting children in school, providing economic opportunity and stabilizing communities. The power of the ONE campaign awareness raising is in simple, strong messaging such as the “poverty is sexist” campaign. The OnebyOne ad spots in 2007 featured the likes of Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, and Ryan Gosling and the tagline “we’re not asking for your money, we’re asking for your voice.” The group doesn’t solicit funds from the public, but rather receives support from foundations, individual philanthropists, and corporations.

But for a cutting-edge, high-profile organization, ONE’s DC offices were surprisingly quite traditional. ONE looked to our design team to make a change. They wanted to see how we might challenge ONE’s way of working and take it in a new direction.

We were entrusted with designing for the future of ONE—to better reflect its work culture while also expressing its brand in a space that could accommodate the unique functions of a global organization in the nation’s capital.

Soul searching
In some ways, a prototypical DC non-profit, ONE’s staff includes career lobbyists and young energetic people, all passionate about making change. DC’s work culture tends to be conservative—Its highly educated professionals often expect the private offices that typically come with high pressure jobs. They can be territorial and hierarchical when it comes to space.

ONE did its own soul searching. A committee of staff from DC, London, and NYC as well as transient workers was assembled to explore a central question: What do our people do each and every day?

As a DC office, it would need a public layer to serve as a vehicle for meetings, a base for converging groups, and getting the ONE message out to visiting decision makers. It was also clear to us that the offices needed to express a singular vision of ONE, not one that varied from department to department. The design needed tell a story about ending extreme poverty in the world.

Who are we? What do we do here?
ONE had basic questions about office organization: Who deserves an office? What size should it be? Should it be private or shared? But these questions led it to question what kind of organization it wanted to be.

ONE was forced to reckon with its identity, where it saw itself going, how it wanted to work. It looked at values such as unity, collaboration, and expressing a 21st century attitude. If it wanted to be perceived as a progressive organization—it would have to walk the talk.

What was most important to ONE? To feel good and be collaborative, its team decided. It was clear that private offices were getting in the way of that and they would have to go. ONE decided there would be none.

It’s a good thing they did. Coming from an office with 20,000 square feet of space for 80 staff, ONE DC wanted to increase its headcount to 100 people while reducing overall space needed. Only one solution made sense for those desired real estate metrics—ONE would go with an open plan.

This cleared the way for a conversation about the right mix of meeting and collaboration spaces and how much technology would be present. The result? Loads of meeting rooms. The 100-person open plan office features roughly two dozen meeting spaces on a 17,000-square-foot floor plate--quadruple the usual number of meeting spaces for an office of that size.

The look
The overall look for ONE is minimalist, monochromatic, high-contrast and direct, inspired by its black and white logo and the stark style of those memorable 2007 videos. The look aligns with the organization’s aesthetic and the singularity of its mission.

Related item: Workplace design

The vibe
With the right design, ONE demonstrates to visitors and staff, exactly who they are and what they value.

The new office revolves around two common areas—each with a story to tell. Upon entry, the visitor is quickly immersed in the transformative nature of the ONE campaign, passing through a square black tunnel and emerging into a bright white space. There, one is greeted at a monolithic black reception desk and engages with inspiring ONE videos on the Wall of Hope.

At the knuckle of the L-shaped plan a large kitchen/lounge area is perfect for eating, gathering, and meeting. The area’s great views and farm tables are the center of activity for the office. Equipped with bar tables, Wi-Fi, power, and lounge seating, you can find always find ONE staff working there.

Rather than private offices, ONE DC is outfitted with an extensive menu of meeting spaces, from flexible multipurpose rooms which can handle 50 to 75 people for gatherings, trainings, seminars to fixed conference rooms for groups of 10 to 20, plus a dozen team rooms with four chairs each. Privacy is available, however, in eight private meeting rooms, phone rooms, and concentrated work rooms meant for solo activity.

The message
Washington’s non-profits and advocacy groups can be slow to change compared to the tech and creative industries, but ONE was primed for something new. This open plan workplace is a new thing for ONE, but the DC office design aligns with its bold, young, and courageous identity. This powerful organization finally has the space it needs for 100 people working to fight poverty as ONE.

Pablo Quintana is a third-generation architect in Stantec’s Washington, D.C. office with a portfolio of state-of-the-art, alternative workspaces for Fortune 1000 clients. He believes “meaningful storytelling and design can elevate the mundane into the sublime.”

More from Pablo: Engagement in the workplace

It looked at values such as unity, collaboration, and expressing a 21st century attitude. If it wanted to be perceived as a progressive organization—it would have to walk the talk.

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