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The office of tomorrow. . . today

From the outside, the new office digs for this high-powered ad agency look about as cutting edge as a warehouse with a new coat of gray paint.

But inside this 100,000 square-foot space lies a blueprint for the office of the 21st century.

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TBWA Chiat/Day modeled its three-story, Los Angeles space after a city - complete with boroughs, Main Street, and its very own Central Park.

Offices have been replaced with cliff dwellings. And cubes with nests. Conferences rooms are out. Small meeting rooms are in. So are kitchenettes, a cappuccino bar, and comfy chairs.

And what company would be complete without its own basketball court? In fact the chief financial officer sits courtside. (Never mind the chain-link fence around his desk.)

"We try to use architecture as a management tool to inspire and stimulate the work force," says Laurie Coots, chief marketing officer for North America at Chiat/Day. "All of this creates an environment in which creativity is more likely to happen."

The advertising firm is not alone in its efforts to be radical. From New York's investment banks to Silicon Valley, the much prophesied office of the future is finally taking shape.

While you won't see most white-collar companies copying the ad agency's cement floors or surf boards in the reception area, there are plenty of parallels.

The name of the game is teamwork.

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Status is out. So is the corner office, or any office. Think mobility. Think wheels. And think high-tech.

Faced with a variety of forces - changing work habits, expensive real estate, and pressure to recruit and retain top talent - companies across a variety of industries are moving into cutting-edge quarters.

And these businesses find that a well-designed office becomes a competitive advantage.

"We're starting to hear a different dialogue at companies," says Nila Leiserowitz, who heads the workplace practice at Gensler & Associates Architects in Santa Monica, Calif. "In the '80s, the focus was on housing people. Today it's about the people and the type of work that takes place."

Office designs slow to change

No doubt the office of the future has been slow to debut. Most companies are still set up the same way they were back when people worked 9 to 5 and most work had to be done face-to-face.

"The office of today looks just like the office of 1950, and it still often functions that way," contends Barbara Burkhardt, an associate principal at Callison Architecture in Seattle.

But the way people work has changed, particularly in the past 10 years. Companies have downsized, reorganized, and flattened out hierarchical structures. Management now trumpets team work and collaboration.

But the physical office space has rarely kept pace and often becomes an obstacle to such ideas. Managers still hide away in offices, and workers are still stuck in cubes. No one can move the furniture without a work order. And forget about a spontaneous meeting. You have to reserve the conference room.

So some firms are literally tearing down the walls. They're designating more square footage to group space to encourage communication. They're adding small meeting rooms, work counters, juice bars, even living rooms with soft chairs. They're hanging white boards in hallways (in case you want to brainstorm with a colleague on the way to the copy machine), and installing modem access everywhere (even the bathroom).

Most companies designate 75 percent of total floor space to individuals and 25 percent to group space. Those numbers, say experts, will reverse in the office of the future. "Companies are starting to recognize that these informal interaction spaces are incredibly valuable to work," says Clive Wilkinson of Clive Wilkinson Architects in Los Angeles, which designed Chiat/Day's new office.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the ad agency's layout is the openness - the vast warehouse ceiling hovers three stories above. Yet the office is surprisingly quiet thanks to insulation on the ceiling. Few would guess 500 employees work here.

At the heart of the office is Main Street, where cell-phone toting employees converge and diverge. On either side of Main Street rise three levels of shed-like buildings dubbed cliff dwellings. These open offices house the creative teams. The rest of the employees sit clustered together in account teams - each employee assigned to a movable workstation.

Want to chat with a client? Walk over to Central Park - a large open space with skylights, lined with small tables and chairs amid an orchard of ficus trees.

Need some privacy? Stake out one of the many small meeting rooms or grab a seat on any of the couches and chairs tucked in just about every open corner.

"If you offer enough choices, you will be able to meet everyone's needs at every point in time," says Chiat/Day's Ms. Coots.

Yet the ad firm learned an important lesson at its former building - that people need some privacy or a space to call their own.

"We learned that dedicating our entire space to collaboration was unrealistic," says Coots. "It was like working at a cocktail party."

"People had to work harder. They had to be more organized - more together - to maintain that level of productivity," Coots says. "That took its toll emotionally."

Personal space vs. group space

Yet these open offices still challenge something sacrosanct to workers - personal space. Indeed there is no greater symbol of worth than the cherry desk, matching credenza, mahogany paneling, and an office with a view.

New workplaces reverse all that, and it's not just the creative firms, such as ad agencies, breaking ranks.

Accounting giant Arthur Andersen four months ago redesigned its six floors in a Los Angeles skyscraper.

At first glance, the changes seem mostly cosmetic - no more cherry furniture and dark color schemes. But the firm also ditched the politics of offices. Reserved for managers and partners, all the offices shrank and moved away from the windows to the interior. The cubicles migrated over to the windows.

Part of the reason for the change was to update the firm's image. "We hire a lot of people right off of campus. We want to feel with it and attuned to their needs," says Dick Poladian, partner for the Southwestern US. He gave up his office for a cube to keep his window view.

Many of them, he says, like the new look and the greater access to senior managers - since some have opted for cubes over desks to keep their window seat.

"For the more senior people it's a change," he concedes. "The office was ... a statement of who you were and how long you've been there. I like it, but not everybody has embraced it quite as readily."

Callaway Golf Ball Co., based in Carlsbad, Calif., took a similar leap. In the building it opened at the beginning of the year, which will house its new golf-ball business, the company eliminated offices and moved everyone into the open work environment of cubes.

Andrew Gracey, who directed the project for Callaway, says it's still early but the office energy level seems higher, and workers use the informal gathering spaces.

"It is difficult to make people communicate," he says. "But you can provide the tools and an environment that ... promote communication, team work, and collaboration."

What's out What's In

Offices Work stations

Break rooms Town centers

Conference rooms Huddle rooms

Cherry desk Modular work system

Florescent lights Skylights

Filing cabinets Rollers

Black and white Earth tones

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