Up Close: Melissa Pesci

Melissa Pesci, AIA, LEED AP, is an Architect and Principal specializing in workplace planning and design in HGA’s Corporate Interiors Group. Here, she talks about changes driving the workplace—and opportunities to engage people on different levels.

What inspires you about workplace design?

Workplace design is really about people and understanding what makes people happy and productive. People spend most of their day in the workplace, so it is important that the design creates a positive experience for team members. In many ways, workplaces are our second home, and we often spend more time with our co-workers than with our own family during the day. The most successful businesses recognize that design supports business goals by improving efficiency, staff wellbeing, and innovation. They also recognize that the workplace is always evolving and changing as the business model and marketplace change. Companies need to adapt to changes to grow and continue to be successful.

What changes are impacting today’s workplace?

Technology is having a big impact on how we use space and how we design space. Mobile technology is changing the work environment and giving people more choices in how and where they work. And as technology evolves almost daily, the workspaces themselves need to adapt and evolve quickly to accommodate new uses. The five-year office plan has now become the two-year plan, and business owners need to reimage their space to accommodate new processes. When I first started in architecture, I was designing on paper. Now I work off a laptop and make design changes in real time using virtual reality (VR) tools that help owners make informed decisions about their workplace.

How do you address these changes?

Our process of getting to know clients’ baseline is very important. We start by discovering what is unique about their culture and business model so that we can plan spaces that elevate their business strategy and enhance their employees’ daily experiences. We often engage with the client before they sign their lease to help them better understand how the company is currently using their space, as well as how they would like to use the space in the future. We quantify that square footage to help them identify their real space need, which impacts the business model and profitability. This means addressing space utilization to make sure every space is activated and being used efficiently to save cost on real estate.

What will the workplace look like in five years?

We will see more variation that is tailored to each company, from open environments to private spaces that accommodate different personality types, work styles, and business needs. Over time, there will continue to be variation in business start-ups and more established corporations. The cyclical nature of acquisitions will create varied environments from company to company and even within a single office. There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach.

The open environment, for instance, encourages collaboration and team building, yet some companies are seeing that the open plan is distracting and even draining for certain employees. There are different levels of creativity and personal skills within the workforce, and we must recognize these nuances to engage all people and cognitive skills, from introvert to collaborator, from strategic to tactical. It gets back to understanding that every company is different, and our role as designers is to emphasize each company’s uniqueness so that we can design spaces that truly work best for them. Again, good design is really about people, not just aesthetics.

What is your ideal project?

The best projects often arise from inherent constraints—such as a tight budget, spatial limitations, or changing business model. When everyone is fully engaged in the process—the client, users, design team, community members—these challenges often can lead to new insight and exciting results. Vibrant companies live their culture and brand throughout their work as they continuously evolve. The best workplaces embody the culture of their brand.