April 25, 2022

Open layout and zombie dodgeball: creating a welcoming post-pandemic office space

“I was in a pretty grueling series of meetings with our comptroller,” Kirt Nilsson recalls. “We had a break, maybe five minutes between meetings. He and I are both big Timbers fans, so we got in a quick round of penalty kicks. We headed into the next meeting with our heads clear, and a different connection between us than we would have made at the coffee machine.”

Wait… what? Penalty kicks in the office? Yes—and traditional golf, disc golf and zombie dodgeball.

Nilsson is president of Charter School Capital (CSC), a successful private company that recently built out and moved into a space in the 1000 Broadway building downtown. And he likes telling stories about the game simulator the company installed in their new space. This isn’t just adding a ping-pong table in a back corner, or offering beer on tap in the break room. It’s a modern and thoughtfully considered part of working and doing business. And it’s indicative of the ways both work and workers will return back to the office.

CSC is a multi-pronged resource for charter schools. The company, founded 15 years ago, has evolved to offer its clients three main services: finding the right location, securing financing, and marketing to draw students and staff.

When the company’s prior lease expired in June 2021, they had already been giving a lot of thought to how they wanted to “house” their employees and their business going forward. At that point in the pandemic they were mostly doing work remotely, but an office location would always be central to their model and clientele. Recognizing the working mindset had shifted permanently, they wanted to ensure their new office space would meet their business and growth goals, and also be a place their employees wanted to come back to.

“The timing of the pandemic was actually serendipitous for designing a new space,” Nilsson says. “The disruption caused everyone to check their old thinking at the door. We were able to focus on what we wanted now, not the status quo.”

After much internal discussion and employee input, what they wanted was a more light-filled, airy, collaborative environment that was inspiring rather than confining. They searched the market for a new space, and ended up choosing an 18th-floor suite at 1000 Broadway, working with the NAI Elliott leasing and management team.

The collaborative team of CSC and NAI Elliott went to work. They negotiated what Lucy Winchester, Operations Manager for CSC, calls “the best deal we saw on a lease.” Then CSC connected NAI Elliott’s management team with their architect and contractor, and collectively they created a buildout plan to match the lease’s agreed-upon tenant improvement budget. From there, real estate manager for NAI Elliott, Liz Killpack, was their main point of contact, handling all the project contractors, keeping everyone in direct communication and even arranging a place to store CSC’s equipment until the buildout was complete seven months later. “NAI Elliott had the feel of a family business,” Winchester says of the overall project. “Our previous relationship felt very corporate, but for this new space and project we had one point of contact in Liz, and that was great.”

CSC moved into their new space in January, after experiencing the delays and other challenges typical of the pandemic. “It actually gave us more time to make the right decisions and move comfortably, because our people were still working remotely,” Nilsson says. “With things changing constantly, flexibility was our watchword, and that carried over into the design of the space, too.”

Nilsson and his team knew the feel of the space was the most important component. Their new home includes three sides of the building, so natural light permeates. The first thing people see when they arrive is an open area with a wall of photos, of students from the schools they’ve worked with. “It sets the tone for why we’re here,” he explains. There’s less planned seating than the previous space, with various stand-up tables for people to collaborate in pairs or small groups.

Nilsson likens it to more of a loft-like space than a traditional partitioned office. “There’s a new generation who really want their work environment to be a welcoming, attractive space,” he says. “We strived to create a place they would really want to come to.”

Which brings us to the game simulator.

There are plenty of welcome touches built into the space—like a community room with yoga classes, the requisite gourmet food and drink choices, and wraparound views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. Plus owner upgrades to the 1000 Broadway building that include a palatial lobby, ion bars in the HVAC system, and elevator and corridor refreshes. But the centerpiece of the CSC space is the simulator.

Nilsson explains. “We wanted to have something different, that would make the team really want to be here, and offer a different way to collaborate and interact beyond desks and tables. The simulator provides an immediate option for anyone to collaborate with anyone else, in a fun way.”

So team members can talk through a concept or project while walking the disc golf course, or focus on penalty kicks while their creative business brain churns in the background. Some managers have used zombie dodgeball as a team-building exercise. And the company is bringing in a traditional golf instructor to offer tips, so everyone can take advantage of the ability to play a few holes anywhere in the world without leaving work. The old construct of deals being made on the golf course is taking on a whole new aspect.

In the end, the CSC was able to select and build out a space where staff thrive in the post-pandemic working world. The team is already loving the space and motivated to work together. Team members are using a hybrid model of remote and in-office work, and when they’re in the office they’re feeling more relaxed and productive than they did in their previous space.

Thanks to a thoughtful and inclusive planning process and a successful collaboration with NAI Elliott’s team in adapting the 1000 Broadway space to the environment they were seeking, CSC serves as a model for the future of office tenants in downtown Portland. And the team is getting better at defeating zombies, too.

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© 2022 NAI Elliott - All Rights Reserved

© 2022 NAI Elliott - All Rights Reserved


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