Sunlight floods into the airy, high-ceiling offices of the 1920s car dealership that Garcia Properties renovated three years ago.
It’s a lot better than the “broom closet” of an office the real estate and development company used to call home, said Garcia Properties co-founder Jenifer Garcia.
“They love it,” she said of the firm’s roughly 50 employees. Garcia Properties is among the 150 organizations recognized as a 2019 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Top Workplace.
The $2.5 million renovation of the historic Brahm-Mitchellette building on South Kingshighway Boulevard in the city’s Northampton neighborhood turned what Garcia Properties co-founder Ivan Garcia termed a “pretty hideous” building into a prominent example of renewal. Now, a mural of a “Greetings From St. Louis” postcard depicting the Gateway Arch and Mississippi riverfront graces the wall for southbound motorists. A bright, open floor plan gives employees, many of whom are often out of the office tending to clients, plenty of options for where to work when they are in the office.
“We want to be an inspiration to people in the neighborhood that hey, it’s OK to invest a lot of money here,” Ivan Garcia said. “But then also it’s an inspiration to us when we come in. We want to come in and work in a place that inspires us to do bigger and better things. And our people should be in an environment where they should be proud of what collectively we’re doing as a team.”
Not every company will have a historic building to remodel into an open-air office space. But whatever there is to work with, the layout and aesthetic of a workplace still matters — even with technology enabling employees able to spend more time away from a company’s home base.
“Why should they care and spend money on it? We have this conversation every day with companies,” said Michelle Rotherham, director of interior design at St. Louis-based architecture firm Arcturis. “They’re struggling with that same question.”
In the past, companies often had employees who either worked from home or worked from the office, she said. Today, it’s more about flexibility. A 100-employee company doesn’t necessarily need 100 desks. It’s getting closer to a 50-50 split between meeting space for brainstorming and group work and quieter, more individualized office space where employees can put their heads down and crank out a presentation.
”Most companies need their people to come to work, at least a portion of the time, because in person interaction is just so critical in a lot of ways,” Rotherham said. “You can get a lot done remotely, even on a video conference call ... I can have a logistical meeting, what are we getting done, what’s a deliverable look like. It’s not necessarily about ideation or creating something new. I feel like those are in-person interactions.”
Making your office look like a place where employees want to come into work isn’t cheap. And it’s an investment that doesn’t necessarily pay dividends right away.
“No one’s going to do their best work and be their most productive and give their talents to the world if they’re doing something they don’t like in a place where they’re not inspired,” Ivan Garcia said. “Every employer should try to invest for the long term. And the long term is having people in an inspired environment. That’s going to put money in your pocket long term. But short term, it requires a huge investment.”
Often, sprucing up the office’s look and layout happens when you sign a new lease or buy a new building. But with the tightest labor market in decades, not keeping the office fresh can hurt recruitment.
“It’s extremely competitive out there, so you’ll potentially lose good people if you don’t invest in the space they’re working in, especially when it comes to younger talent,” Rotherham said.