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How Elkus Manfredi Architects Is Uniting Five Different Companies in One Office

For two years, the firm worked with 171 employees from its client Publicis Groupe to develop a design for this 225,000-square-foot office in Boston.

Publicis Groupe Boston Office
The Amphitheater was a major addition to the project that stemmed from the architects’ two-year engagement process with the office’s future employees. © Elkus Manfredi Architects

“They wanted ultimate flexibility in their new headquarters so they could utilize any team member for any project,” says Elizabeth Lowrey, principal at Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects. The firm was challenged to bring teams from five distinct brands of the global company Publicis Groupe under one roof in Boston. (Previously, each brand had a separate Boston office.) While the new office would leverage the sharing of talent and resources, the workplace’s design also had to maintain “each individual company’s identity. It’s the mission impossible.” The two-year project, whose first phase will be completed May 2018, saw the firm collaborate with Publicis Groupe’s employees to an extraordinary degree.

On the client side, Publicis Groupe knew the change would be enormous for the 2,000 employees moving to the new site. Each brand had been physically siloed; they had not worked together before. The company’s leadership opted for a two-year timeframe during which its workers could become stakeholders in the new design, shaping it to their needs in the process. “It was critical for our project’s success to find a firm that could provide focus to the design process, employee engagement, [and] change management,” says Timothy Bergen, Publicis Groupe’s director of real estate projects.

The client and Elkus Manfredi organized ten “tasks forces” (each comprised of a mix of employees from the different brands, plus technical consultants and one Elkus Manfredi architect) that would tackle different aspects of the new office. These groups would articulate needs and concerns, as well as provide recommendations to a “steering committee” of nineteen Publicis Groupe leaders. Each team’s Elkus Manfredi architect was present only to facilitate discussions and keep the dialogue grounded. And even as these groups shaped the office’s program, they helped introduce the future coworkers and their brands to one another. (This was no small task, given the different companies ranged from highly technology-focused business consults to creativity-focused advertisers.) Moreover, the employees “could be an authentic voice with their colleagues,” relaying “the fears, gossip, what was really bubbling down there” of each brand, as Lowrey told Metropolis.

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Publicis Groupe Boston Office
The Publicis Groupe offices will occupy 225,000 square feet of a historic building currently undergoing a gut renovation and the construction of a modern seven-story addition. © Elkus Manfredi Architects

The task forces’ input ranged from subtle to dramatic. For example, through their discussions the brands agreed to share a single video lab, saving Publicis Groupe from installing redundant facilities. The “Design” task force “really co-created the environment with us, down to every material, finish, and floor plan,” says Lowrey. While each floor features the same layout and furniture, each floor also has its own distinct color palette to match its brand. Each floor is also anchored by a “joy space,” a living room–like area that serves as a social hub and wayfinding point. The “Joy at Work” task force also produced the biggest change to the project: the group advocated for a large gathering space that could host all-staff meetings as well as other events, from TED talks to sessions with the Boston Chamber of Commerce. The task force convinced the steering committee that the addition would be a great asset for the company and an economical choice, as Publicis Groupe would save on renting other large venues.

Elkus Manfredi cycled through four or five iterations of the design: the firm drew the office based on the task forces’ recommendations, brought those designs to the steering committee, incorporated their feedback, then repeated the process. In the end, the process was just as much about introducing the Publicis Groupe employees to each other and their new office as it was shaping the workplace itself. “The design process is the change management process,” says Lowrey. “If you engage and co-create with the employees, then they become part of your team and stakeholders in success. That’s what we’re so thrilled about.”

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