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Updated: June 10, 2019 Focus: Construction, Design & Architecture

CT employers fueling office culture through new community spaces

Photos | Contributed Wealth-advisor Virtus Investment Partners has sweeping skyline views of Hartford and the Connecticut River at its newly minted offices in downtown’s Gold Building.

Taking a page out of Silicon Valley’s playbook, a growing number of Connecticut employers are relying on new innovative office designs to promote a more collaborative workplace experience for staff.

The idea of trading traditional cubicles for community gathering spaces and open floor plans has become an important tool for companies looking to retain staff, recruit new hires and maximize the amount of people who can be housed in an office, design experts say.

The trend was underscored by real estate promoter CREW CT, which recently highlighted the best real estate projects completed in 2018.

The honorees, almost all featuring new collaborative spaces, an abundance of natural light and integrated technology, offer a glimpse into the future of office design and highlight the evolving desires of employers to rethink how they use their space.

Terri L. Frink, principal at Glastonbury architectural firm The SLAM Collaborative, is one planner who knows how to bring these increasingly common office-space designs to life.

She led a design team that recently helped Hartford wealth-advisor Virtus Investment Partners overhaul its newly minted four-floor corporate headquarters in downtown’s Gold Building, which offers 360-degree skyline views of the region and Connecticut River. The new office, which houses 200-plus Virtus employees, earned CREW CT’s best-in-class commercial design.

The cost of the renovation project was not disclosed.

Frink’s team toured and studied numerous Hartford office designs long before blueprints for Virtus’ new space were finalized and a six-month construction overhaul began last July. However, SLAM wasn’t searching for inspiration during its research phase, it was looking for what hadn’t been done in the Hartford market, Frink said.

“Our goal as a design team was to be able to deliver something unique in the local marketplace to Virtus,” Frink said. “The Virtus headquarters has become a new paradigm for workspaces designed by SLAM.”

SLAM proposed several new collaborative areas including “huddle” rooms and a cafe, which the company’s previous offices at 100 Pearl Street downtown didn’t have.

Creating more natural light in the space proved a challenge because Virtus still dedicates half of its offices for private use. So, SLAM installed clear glass fronts on all private offices surrounding the perimeter of the 65,000-square-foot space.

“Virtus wanted privacy but also to be engaged,” Frink said. “They now have one of the most visible spaces in downtown Hartford. It’s a traditional program that ended up with a very non-traditional design.”

Joseph Fazzino, an assistant vice president of corporate communications at Virtus, said he’s already experienced a shift in the company’s workplace vibe as larger hallways and other widened community spaces encourage more informal interactions among staff.

The new space, Fazzino said, is also far more tech friendly.

All Virtus conference rooms include mounted TVs that pair with company laptops, and Wi-Fi connectivity and IT infrastructure have been greatly improved throughout the building, he said. A new staircase pitched by SLAM also connects employees between a reception area and other spacious gathering points.

“People can now get together without planning or reserving a room,” he said. “It certainly flows the work process.”

Photo | Contributed
Penwood Real Estate’s new West Hartford office features standing desks and glass fronted offices.

Tech-savvy space

Penwood Real Estate Investment Management is another 2019 CREW CT honoree.

The real estate investment advisory firm worked with Hartford’s Tecton Architects last year to design its new 5,300-square-foot home in West Hartford’s Blue Black Square, which earned CREW CT’s best interior design project award.

Penwood and Tecton designed an office in fourth-floor space at 75 Isham Road that features a cafe lounge area and media space, TVs, naturally lit spaces, widened hallways, clear glass office doors, and, of course, more collaborative spaces.

Penwood Principal Karen Nista initially feared the office’s hallways were too narrow, and her firm nearly moved its 12 staffers elsewhere. But Nista came up with an idea to widen the walls without having to completely reconfigure them. The larger spaces, she says, are important to spur conversation among workers, also known at Penwood as “touchpoints.”

“It was meant to create enough areas for those touchpoints amongst current staff and to make it a cool enough space for the next generation of folks coming in,” said Nista, whose firm invested more than $245,000 in the upgrades.

Nina Lapinski, associate principal at Tecton, said Penwood, similar to Virtus, was a unique client in that it wanted to be included throughout the design process and knew what it liked.

She said the tech-savvy space shows Penwood’s desire to create a fun workplace environment that can help attract younger workers.

“They all like more flexibility and it’s more attractive to new recruits,” said Lapinski, noting that these concepts are long established, and much more prevalent on the West Coast. “Connecticut is starting to get more into the fold.”

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