What kind of office space will bring employees back to work?
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What kind of office space will bring employees back to work?

Jul 20, 2023

Aug. 26—Space matters. That's what Carlene Wilson, president and CEO of Atmosphere believes, whether that space is a classroom, an office building or a hospital.

The commercial interiors company operates in eight states and has offices in Albuquerque and El Paso. It offers furniture, design support services and floor coverings, from carpet to polished concrete.

The number of manufacturers in flooring and furniture that the Albuquerque office can offer has expanded, because Atmosphere acquired Business Environments in 2022, a commercial interiors business that celebrated 50 years in Albuquerque last week.

"I was with the previous company for 27 years, and I would say that while we were established in the community and we did a great job of representing the company that we were, when we got acquired by Atmosphere, they definitely took it to the next level," said Mike Franklin, vice president of flooring.

Clientele range from 10-person companies to 10,000-person companies.

"This business is a roughly $45 million business," Wilson said, with clients that include schools, hospitals, tech companies and at least one government lab.

The Atmosphere Worklab in Northwest Albuquerque is an open space with soaring ceilings, a large staircase and a mix of comfortable contemporary furniture.

"Outside of our people, it's our biggest selling tool furniture side," said Michael Kocurek, vice president of sales, because people want to see and touch furniture before they buy. "Once you see it, it's like, 'Oh, I want that, it's beautiful.'"

The Atmosphere staff test out the furniture they're selling to see what designs work well. The team also has access to research by Steelcase, a well-known commercial furniture producer, to evaluate what furniture works best in different spaces.

"We call this a Worklab versus a showroom because we live and work here and the whole goal of this is to bring the architectural and design community, the real estate community and even prospective customers into our facility to inspire them," Wilson said.

Senior leaders in companies often want their teams to return to working in the office for at least three or four days of the work week, Wilson said. In the Albuquerque market, more workers are going to in-person work than in bigger cities, said Kocurek, perhaps because New Mexico has so many small businesses.

As people return to the office from home or hybrid work, the spaces have to be as appealing as someone's living room, said Wilson, with cozier furniture than was the office norm in the past. The Worklab offers a vision of sophisticated comfort: A soft sofa bench, round rugs that look like wicker, under round tables where employees can collaborate, and a kitchen front and center, plus an open space full of desks that can be raised or lowered so workers can sit or stand.

Workers need space to socialize, celebrate and collaborate, Wilson said. But they also need privacy for focused work, something the office can offer that homes often can't. Workers might have children, a spouse, or a pet at home who make it difficult to focus.

But privacy in the modern age does not have to look like a cubicle farm. Atmosphere offers pods, offices or meeting rooms that are sound proofed, with ventilation added via button, and that can be installed in a building to break up an open space. They also have phone-booth-sized private work areas with a comfortable bench inside and a small table to work at. When the booth is occupied, a red light goes on so no one will come in.

Wellness spaces where people can have respite or take a deep breath are also important, as is technology — something many work-from-home employees have struggled to access.

"Space, place really matters, and it's not that you have to spend a fortune creating these inspiring spaces," Wilson said. "It's about understanding how to engage team members."