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Omaha Magazine

Designed with People in Mind: Gallup’s Innovative Offices in the Age of COVID-19

Jul 24, 2020 08:50AM ● By Chris Bowling
lounge area in Gallup's Omaha office

Shari Theer misses the days when a meeting meant a chair swivel and quick conversation over a low desk divider.

Now, like many Americans, her team at Gallup’s Omaha office, where she’s the chief marketing officer, is hidden behind a dirge of instant messages, grainy video calls, and other challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic that’s limited Americans’ personal and professional lives.

But as people search for a sense of normalcy, Theer can’t help but think of her office.

“You miss the energy that comes from working with excited, talented, smart, collaborative people,” she said. “We’re all still the same people. But now it’s a click and a Zoom call to get to the person. It’s not a turn-around and say, ‘Hey, I have a question for you.’”

Gallup remodeled the 34,000 square-foot area three years ago, shifting from a typical office space to one molded to growing needs for collaborative, impromptu, and nimble work styles.

The result is a semi-open floor plan that features glass-walled conference rooms, lounge areas that mimic a coffee shop, and desks with low dividers that soak up natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows behind them. Furniture colors range from muted cobalts and mustard yellows to black and white, all of which pop against a simple grey carpet. The windows that line the walls offer panoramic views down Abbot Drive toward downtown and TD Ameritrade Park.

It’s a sharp contrast to what was there before: 6-foot tall cubicles covering 40% of the floor and private offices surrounding the perimeter, blocking most window light from reaching the interior.

When Gallup Property Director Scott Moulton started to reimagine the space, originally built in 2003, he said it needed to be flipped on its head to accommodate new ways people communicated, worked, and pushed Gallup’s mission.

“Nothing we design with space matters if those pieces aren’t in place,” Moulton said, “and I think what we’ve designed here is a good reflection of our culture.”

Of course the space, conceptualized by Moulton and designed by Holland Basham Architects, isn’t seeing much use right now.

On an early May Zoom call, Moulton sat in front of a glass wall looking toward the cavernous building, its desolate walkways empty save for a vacuum cleaner left plugged in by its last user.

It’s a weird situation, Moulton said, being a property director in a time when properties, from office buildings to schools, have little direction. But one benefit of spending his time philosophizing about the future of work for Gallup offices he oversees in Chicago, London, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, is fluidity is baked into the design of this workspace.

Even before the pandemic, only about 60% to 70% of Gallup employees actually worked from the office on any given day, Moulton said. Those numbers will likely appear not only here, but for other large companies across America as people slowly return to work.

“We strongly believe that the future of work is what I think everyone else is figuring out,” Moulton said. “People will work remotely. People won’t be in the office all day every day. So doing a space built for flexibility just makes more sense.”

Theer can’t wait for a time when her team can gather and work together again.

Working from home hasn’t brought down the quality of her or her team’s work, but being away from the office has hampered how they’re able to get things done. Because while the office is just a space, its thoughtful design aligns perfectly with her team’s workflow and enhances the natural abilities of the people who inhabit it.

“When you get those things clicked together,” Theer said, “you really do put together a beautiful puzzle versus having a set of pieces that you’re looking to have a way to connect together.”

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This letter was in the August/September 2020 issue of B2B.