“Transparency is part of our culture,” explains Doug Conomy, Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago Office Administrator. With the firm’s recent remodeling, the physical offices now align with its existing culture and values. “Through focus groups with partners, associates and staff, the redesign was a democratic, engaged process that allowed us to reach a shared vision for how our space can shape each person’s work experience in a way that is unique to Barnes & Thornburg,” Conomy explains. “Teaming up with Perkins + Will allowed us to leverage their vast expertise in the design of law firm interiors, while staying true to our priorities. And in the end, we have been able to strike a balance between traditional and contemporary aspects of design with a bright, sophisticated space that simply makes people feel better.”
The design of an office space has enormous impact on how an office functions, Conomy describes, “Today, the space fosters interactivity in numerous ways. We’ve achieved a new sense of openness and transparency — which is such a genuine part of our culture — from the centralized cafe that brings people together on Friday mornings for doughnuts to the hospitality suite for clients in the Conference Center to eliminating wall dividers that kept staff physically close but prevented them from actually seeing each other.”
The physical transformation of the space includes eliminating large corner offices that once offered access to the office’s incredible natural light and Chicago skyline views to a privileged few. They have been replaced with broad floor-to-ceiling window wells that pour light into the space, with elegant benches that invite informal conversation.
One of the most dramatic changes to take place is the shift away from organizing the office by department. As Conomy says, “By separating teams and relocating them across our 2 ½ floors, people literally get out of their offices and workspaces to talk with their colleagues. At the same time, our employees are encouraged to socialize and connect with their new neighbors, which naturally fosters camaraderie and community.”
Another significant alteration to the space was the extension of the internal staircase, which now connects all floors. “With a staff of 200+, it can be hard to create intimacy and open communication between people, but the staircase is such an active thoroughfare, and is designed to allow people to say hello, or ask how someone’s day is going. It is the power of this sort of connectivity that reinforces the importance of transparency as a way of being.”
When asked about the impact of the new office design on hiring and retention, Conomy shares, “It’s hard to draw a straight line between a newly-imaged workspace and talent, but one indicator of the impact is the fact that we have experienced almost no attorney attrition since the remodel completed in early 2019. We believe part of the reason we continue to thrive at Barnes & Thornburg is because our work environment is a clear and positive reflection of the firm’s commitment to growth.”
With a remodel so large, bumps along the way are expected, but Conomy comments on the seamless collaborative work of Perkins + Will, Pepper Construction and the One North Wacker Ops teams. “Their collective efforts delivered the project in 49 weeks — a week early and on budget. Since the grand opening in April 2019, this reimagining of the space has invigorated and strengthened the Barnes & Thornburg culture, leaving employees feeling supported and excited about where they work.”