Spaces   //   January 31, 2022

Making a grand entrance: Why building lobbies matter more than ever

If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Those stubbornly uninviting office building lobbies, anchored by the imposing marble desk manned by stone-faced security guards demanding to see your photo ID and ultimately, if you’re lucky, granting you access through the turnstiles. (The award for most inhospitable entrance has to go to the talent agency Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, where a sign coldly, unironically informs visitors that “CAA Does Not Validate.”)

Increasingly, however, the lobby has moved from bit player to the starring role of the workplace experience. The downtime away from the office due to the pandemic has had companies and designers reconsider the role of the entranceway, in terms of aesthetics as well as functionality. Just as 9/11 underscored the essential security role of lobbies and those who attend them, featuring technology to bolster the safety of employees and guests, the emergence of Covid-19 has put lobbies on the frontlines of protecting people, again with the aid of machines.

Larry Cohn, principal at Shadow Architect in New York, which designed the new Brooklyn headquarters of the ad agency Mother New York, noted that as Covid protocols have evolved, so has the design of building entrances, which must facilitate everything from social distancing to temperature checks.

“What’s clear is, an attendant pointing a thermometer gun at your forehead is not going to cut it,” he said, predicting that lobbies moving forward will see an increased tie-in between proof of vaccination and temperature checks to security and access controls. That could be in the form of more commonly used vaccination passes and facial recognition technology, to pre-check calendar scheduling systems tied into vaccine checks. “The key architecturally, and from a design point of view, will be how to achieve these safety measures graciously and with the most seamless experience for visitors,” he said.

It’s not all about safety. A lobby, after all, is also intended to be a scene setter for a business, one that, from the first moment, conveys the mission and personality of the company and that is inviting. To that end, more building entrances feature kiosks serving gourmet coffee and snacks and lounge areas for guests, as well as de rigueur technology like phone chargers and WiFi access. Such amenities “bring to life what could otherwise be a dull and sometimes barren space,” added Cohn.   

“What’s clear is, an attendant pointing a thermometer gun at your forehead is not going to cut it.”
headshot of Larry Cohn, Principal at Shadow Architect, P.C.
Larry Cohn, principal at Shadow Architect in New York.

“The entrance plays an important role in setting the tone for how we want people to experience the company and the brand. We see the benefits to reimagining the office entryway, as intentional design, setting the stage for that experience,” said Candace Nelson, a principal at Intereum, which specializes in office design and audiovisual solutions.

Nelson is not surprised to find more attention being put on office entrances as our work routines have evolved. “The last two years have provided challenges, and opportunities to reimagine the office experience for employees, guests and work policies,” she explained. “Human connection and in-person opportunities can’t be replaced. Transforming lobbies and receptions bring people together — safely, comfortably — and replace an element that has maybe been missing.”

Designing a pleasing entryway ought not to be an afterthought, as it could well impact the bottom line. Nelson explained that with her company’s commercial real estate clients, their business is attracting tenants to vacant office spaces — so the lobby is nothing less than the product that’s being sold. Similar to a residential real estate agent staging a home for sale, Intereum “creates a glimpse into what a space could be for that potential client,” she said. “Flexible furniture, agile technology solutions and tools demonstrate an idea of what being back at the office can deliver. A focus on the entrance is always at the top of the priority list.”

Beyond aesthetics and safety, there’s another purpose of the lobby, of course — efficiently getting people where they’re going. To that end, more attention is being put on pathways defined by lighting, ceiling height and wall treatments, said New York-based commercial architect Kenneth Hinchcliffe

“The entry impresses upon the individual the image the building owner wishes to convey, and that is often modernity, technology and, in this post-9/11 world, security,” Hinchcliffe said — but at the end of the day, “the experience should be logical and lead one naturally to one’s destination.”

3 Questions with Michael Gullaksen, CEO of performance marketing agency NP Digital

You joined the company in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic was new and there was a lot of uncertainty in the world. How did you lead through those early days?

I tried to instill confidence in them [our employees] that while this is something the majority of us have not experienced before, I had led organizations through the Great Recession between 2008 and 2009 and I actually launched an [search marketing] agency in 2009, called Covario. I didn’t want to minimize the impact the pandemic has had compared to that time, but when communicating with the team, I likened it to having gone through that period, and doing it successfully. There were a lot of unknowns, but our outlook on digital marketing is usually the last thing to be reduced in any sort of economic challenging time. Oftentimes, it’s accelerated. So I was bullish on the idea that I thought this would accelerate the need for digitization.

How did you build trust?

A challenge over the last two years is the lack of face time and breaking bread with each other. There’s a lot of benefit in spending time with employees outside of work environments, like the happy hours, the dinners. I try to humanize myself with the company as much as possible. We made a concerted effort to really celebrate the personal aspects of employees’ lives. We put together a reel at the end of last year that highlighted people having babies or getting married [I got married in December] or getting new dogs or cats. We wanted to highlight the things that are most important, and that’s their life outside of work. And I’ve got an open door policy. People can reach out to me with anything. I love being in the weeds and getting to know all the employees.

How do you create company culture, especially for all the new hires over the past two years who in many cases haven’t met their teams in-person?

We have an exorbitant amount of experiences that we try to do on a weekly basis. Everything from virtual yoga, to virtual happy hours, virtual training, virtual lunch-and-learns, you name it. As for in-person, we’re getting people together when they feel comfortable. Obviously, all of this is always encouraged but not required and whatever the staff feels comfortable with. — Tara Weiss

By the numbers:

  • Only 44% of 4,000 managers surveyed across eight countries including the U.S. and U.K., believe they have the right tools to be effective managers in a hybrid environment.
    [Source of data: HubSpot’s 2022 Hybrid Work report.]
  • 89% of the 1,200 U.S. resigners polled across industries including finance, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, hospitality and marketing, say they would take a part-time or second job to support the transition. 
    [Source of data: Cengage Group’s What’s Next for the ‘Great Resigners’ report.]
  • 59 million people are freelancing in the U.S. alone, accounting for 36% of the total workforce. 
    [Source of data: UpWork’s Freelance Forward 2020 study.]

What else we’ve covered

  • Profile: “I was told I should know better because I’m Black”: Jellyfish CEO Rob Pierre, spoke candidly to WorkLife about his personal journey leading a business through the pandemic and rise of social injustice movements in early 2020.