A Matter of Space: Designing newsrooms for new digital practice

Over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​decade,​ ​technology​ ​has​ ​driven​ ​unprecedented change​ in news audiences and news organizations.​ ​News​ ​organizations​ ​have experimented​ ​with​ ​business​ ​models, integrated​ ​new​ ​technologies,​ ​adopted​ ​digital​ ​platforms​ ​and established​ digital-first workflows​.

Yet in too many newsrooms, the physical spaces are stuck in the late 20th century.

Now some newsroom​ ​leaders​ ​are​ ​redesigning​ ​their​ ​workplaces ​to​ better support the behaviors, workflows and attitudes required in an adaptive, modern media company.

When The Virginian-Pilot undertook a sweeping organizational transition to digital-first publishing in 2016, editors led an in-house redecorating effort. Vibrant paint and a newsroom-wide decluttering were just part of the DIY effort. It helped re-energize the space and expresses an “out with the old, in with the new” philosophy.

Here's how newsrooms are redesigning their workspaces to move forward as modern media companies. Tweet This

Consider also ​​​Atlantic​ ​Media​ ​Group’s Quartz​,​ ​which has​ ​been​ ​acclaimed​ ​for ​rethinking​ ​the​ ​modern​ ​newsroom​.​ ​The digital-only,​ ​mobile-centric news organization developed​ ​​​a​ ​​unique​ culture ​as​ ​its​ ​team​ ​grew, ​without​ ​any​ ​baggage​ ​from a​ ​legacy​ past.​ ​Its​ ​newly​ ​redesigned​ ​workplace​ ​reflects​ ​the personality​ ​of​ ​a​ successful,​ ​​wildly​ innovative​​ ​newsroom.

And at The Dallas Morning News, Robyn Tomlin and other leaders knew their new home in the former Dallas Public Library building would have to convey that the staff is part of a digital newsroom.

“Space​ ​and​ ​behavior​,” Tomlin said, “​go​ ​hand​ ​in​ ​hand.”

This​ ​paper,​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​American​ ​Press​ ​Institute’s​ ​​series​ ​of Strategy​ ​Studies​,​ ​is​ ​based​ ​on​ some 20 ​interviews​ ​with newsroom​ ​leaders​ ​and​ ​staff,​ ​site​ ​visits​, ​and​ ​reviews​ ​of​ ​research from​ ​leading​ ​architectural​ ​firms.​

​It​ ​describes how a workplace redesign can express the unique culture and personality of a news organization. It tells the stories of news outlets great and small. ​And it​ ​includes a range of​ ​no-cost,​ ​low-cost​ ​and​ ​aspirational ​designs,​ with​ ​ideas​ about how to ​adapt​ ​your​ ​newsroom when​ ​faced​ ​with​ ​limited​ ​time​ ​and​ ​resources.

Whether​ ​you​ ​are​ ​solving​ ​logistical​ ​challenges,​ ​downsizing, overcoming​ ​space​ ​limitations​ ​or​ trying to ​to​ encourage ​new ways of practicing journalism,​ ​this ​research​ ​suggests space​ ​renovation​ ​is​ ​a​ ​valuable​ ​exercise​ ​in​ ​identifying​ ​your organization’s​ ​core​ ​culture​ ​and​ ​personality.​ ​Not​ ​only​ ​can renovation​ ​make​ ​your​ ​space​ ​more​ ​efficient and support new workflows,​ ​it​ ​can​ ​encourage collaborative behaviors and help ​raise​ employee ​morale.

Space​ ​renovation​ ​is​ ​a​ ​valuable​ ​exercise​ ​in​ ​identifying​ ​your organization’s​ ​core​ ​culture​ ​and​ ​personality.

Chapter 2

Start by ​identifying ​the​ ​problem​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​solve

“We​ ​wanted​ ​more​ ​light​ ​and​ ​less​ ​vermin.”

Executive​ ​Editor​ ​David​ ​Shribman​ ​was​ ​blunt​ ​about​ ​why​ ​he needed​ ​to​ ​move his staff out of​ ​the​ ​historic​ ​offices​ ​of​ ​the Pittsburgh​ ​Post-Gazette, where journalism had been practiced since 1927.

For​ ​some​ ​newsrooms,​ ​relocation​ ​or​ ​new​ ​construction​ offers ​the​ ​best solution​ ​to​ ​several​ ​types​ ​of​ ​problems,​ ​whether​ ​it’s​ ​dealing​ ​with​ ​a newsroom​ ​emptied​ ​from​ ​rounds​ ​of​ ​layoffs,​ ​making​ ​room​ ​for future​ ​growth,​ ​or​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​workspace​ ​tailored​ ​for​ ​new​ ​digital practice.​ ​For​ ​the​ ​Post-Gazette,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to​ ​walk​ ​away​ ​from the​ ​past​ ​and​ ​not​ ​look​ ​back.

“We​ ​had​ ​the​ ​worst​ ​newsroom​ ​in​ ​history​ ​—​ ​old​ ​building,​ ​no windows,​ ​divided​ ​up​ ​into​ ​little​ ​warrens​ ​because​ ​of weight-bearing​ ​walls,”​ ​Shribman​ ​said.​ ​“It​ ​wasn’t​ ​conducive​ ​to anything.​ ​Ugly,​ ​dirty,​ ​depressing.”

A glimpse back in time: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s historic newsroom as it appeared in 1957, when it housed the Pittsburgh Press. (Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh-Post-Gazette)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newsroom around 2001. (Photo by J. Monroe Butler II)

Moving​ ​also​ ​made​ ​economic​ ​sense.​ ​Besides needing ​to replace​ ​the​ ​paper’s​ ​“antediluvian​ ​presses,”​ ​Shribman​ ​recognized the​ ​value​ ​of​ ​the real​ ​estate​ ​on​ ​the​ ​banks​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Allegheny​ ​River​ ​in downtown​ ​Pittsburgh.

“We​ ​were​ ​sitting​ ​on​ ​the​ ​best​ ​piece​ ​of​ ​land​ ​in​ ​Pittsburgh,”​ ​he said,​ ​“and​ ​we​ ​felt​ ​we​ ​could​ ​make​ ​some​ ​money​ ​by​ ​selling​ ​it.”

Robyn​ ​Tomlin,​ ​managing​ ​editor​ ​of​ ​The​ ​Dallas​ ​Morning​ ​News, had​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​opportunity.​ ​The​ ​company​ ​could​ ​invest​ ​in​ ​the newsroom’s​ ​future​ ​by​ ​moving​ ​from​ ​a​ ​historic​ ​building​ ​in​ ​a prime​ downtown ​location — and letting go of nearly $1 million in annual maintenance expenses.

​The Dallas Morning News staff gathered for a group photo in front of the famous “Rock of Truth” in April 2017 to mark the 175th anniversary of parent company A.H. Belo, named for the founder of The Dallas Morning News. (Photo by Evans Caglage)

“We​ ​have​ ​been​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same​ ​building​ ​since​ ​the​ ​1940s,​ ​a wonderful​ ​downtown​ ​building​ ​with​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​history​ ​tied​ ​to​ ​it,” ​Tomlin said​. The building’s​ ​signature​ ​feature is​ a ​three-story-tall inscription ​chiseled​ into its stone facade, known as the “rock​ ​of​ ​truth.”

Like​ ​the​ ​Pittsburgh​ ​Post-Gazette,​ ​the​​ ​News needed​ ​to​ ​distance​ ​itself​ ​psychologically​ ​from​ ​the​ ​past​ ​and​ ​its “crazy​ ​little​ ​hovels​ ​and​ ​hallways”​ ​as​ ​it​ ​transitions​ ​to​ ​a​ ​new​ ​way of​ ​practicing​ ​journalism.

Staff are preparing for their move-in this fall, while the new space is being renovated. In the current building, “it​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​you’re​ ​walking​ ​into​ ​the​ ​1940s​ ​when​ ​you​ ​walk​ ​in here,”​ ​Tomlin​ ​said.​ ​Although​ ​the​ ​inscription​ ​on​ ​the​ ​building​ ​still reflected​ ​the​ ​important​ ​work​ going on​ ​inside — “Build the news upon the rock of truth and righteousness” — ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​the building​ ​did​ ​not.

Dallas Morning News reporters (clockwise from bottom left) Cary Aspinwall, Sarah Mervosh, Sue Ambrose and Terri Langford work in the current newsroom in conventional, but dated, cubicle spaces. (Photo by Irwin Thompson)

But a news organization need not move to innovate its space. For many, it makes sense to stay put and brighten the space, but also rearrange furniture and reorganize teams to reflect new ways of working. For the staff of Treasure​ ​Coast​ ​News, the building and location near downtown Stuart, Florida, were fine. They chose to refresh their newsroom design as they shifted to digital-first publishing.

Each of the media organizations interviewed for this study had its own, right-sized approach to renovating its newsroom — from small, DIY efforts that started with a can of fresh paint to elaborate architectural solutions that re-envisioned the newsroom from the ground up. Although the solutions varied in scope, several themes emerged as newsroom leaders detailed their shared quest to reboot physical space for digital practice.

First​ ​thing,​ ​you​ ​need​ ​a​ ​goal. What​ ​are​ ​you​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​achieve?

Top reasons to renovate or move a newsroom

Make​ ​room​ ​to​ ​grow

“We​ ​had​ ​a​ ​vision​ ​of​ ​having​ ​our​ ​newsroom​ ​on​ ​one​ ​floor,” Washington​ ​Post​ ​Deputy​ Managing​ ​Editor​ ​Tracy​ ​Grant​ ​said of​ Editor​ ​Marty​ ​Baron’s​ ​goal​ ​to​ ​unify​ ​the​ ​newsroom.​ ​

But​ ​no building​ ​in​ ​Washington,​ ​D.C.​, ​offered​ ​a​ ​footprint​ ​large enough​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Post’s​ ​robust,​ ​​growing​​ ​staff​ ​to​ ​reside​ ​on​ ​one floor.​ ​They​ ​saw​ ​an​ ​opportunity​ ​at​ ​1​ ​Franklin​ ​Square, nicknamed​ ​the​ ​“Batman​ ​building”​ ​because​ ​of​ ​its​ ​two towers​ ​like​ ​Batman’s​ ​ears.

The Washington Post’s new home at 1 Franklin Square is only three blocks from its previous location. A key factor in choosing this location was that it’s within walking distance of the White House. The two-floor newsroom spans 400 feet on the top two floors between the east and west towers. (Photo by Matt McClain for The Washington Post)

“We​ ​blew​ ​through​​ ​​the​ ​walls​ ​to​ ​connect​ ​the​ ​east​ ​and​ ​west towers,”​ ​said​ ​Grant,​ ​which coalesced​ ​111,000​ ​square​ ​feet​ ​of​ ​real estate​ ​across​ ​the seventh and eighth floors​ ​into​ ​a​ ​newsroom​ ​that​ ​spans three​ ​quarters​ ​of​ ​a​ ​block.​

A​ ​centralized,​ ​two-story-tall​ editing ​“hub”​ ​is​ ​the​ ​nerve​ ​center​ ​of the​ ​newsroom.​ ​Open​ ​and​ ​vibrant,​ it’s an​ ​elegant​ ​design concession​ ​to​ ​the​ ​division​ ​of​ ​labor​ ​across​ ​two​ ​floors, offering easy passage​ ​and clear views from one floor to another. Moving the​ ​editing​ ​hub to​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​the​ ​newsroom​ connects teams and activities from across the organization and emphasizes ​the Post’s silo-busting and digital focus.

A news organization as large as The Washington Post can’t fit its entire editorial staff on one floor. To make it easier for staff to move between the two floors of the newsroom, architects incorporated stairs into the central design. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

In contrast to the Post, ​Quartz​ ​was a startup within an older company, Atlantic Media. It had​ ​rapidly​ ​outgrown​ ​its​ ​open-floor newsroom​ ​and​ ​was​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​move​ ​to​ ​its​ ​third​ ​location​ ​in New​ ​York​ ​City​ ​in​ ​as​ ​many​ ​years.​ ​Its​ ​staff​ ​had​ ​grown​ ​from 36 in 2014 to 151 and counting. While some employees are in remote locations as part of a global team, the space needed for the staff in New York had tripled.

​Zach​ ​Seward, executive​ ​editor​ and senior​ ​vice president​ ​of​ ​product​, sought​ ​a​ ​space​ ​that​ would ​accommodate​ his ​growing​ ​team and maintain​ ​its open​ ​layout.​ ​He​ ​settled on​ ​the​ ​fourth​ ​floor​ ​of​ ​675​ ​Avenue​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Americas​ ​in​ ​the Flatiron​ ​District.

Seward​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​his​ ​team​ ​on​ ​one​ ​floor​ ​—​ ​for​ ​now. “I​ ​rue​ ​the​ ​day​ ​when​ ​we​ ​will​ ​have​ ​to​ ​be​ ​on​ ​more​ ​than​ one,” he​ ​said.

Reduce footprint after consolidation

At The Virginian-Pilot the need was contraction, not growth.

In 2016, “we​ ​closed​ ​our​ ​bureaus​ ​and​ ​decided​ ​to​ ​be​ ​one​ ​happy family,”​ ​said​ ​Rachel​ ​Jones,​ ​news​ ​operations​ ​team leader​ ​for​ ​The Virginian-Pilot​ ​in​ Norfolk.​ Jones​ ​reorganized​ ​the​ ​newsroom​ with ​a​ ​digital-first​ ​focus. Some​ ​administrative​ ​positions​ ​were​ ​cut​ ​to make room​ ​for digital​ ​hires.​ ​

“We​ ​knew​ ​we​ ​had​ ​to​ ​change​ ​our​ ​way​ ​of thinking,​ ​our​ ​way​ ​of​ ​selling,​ ​how​ ​we​ ​handle​ ​everything​ ​we do​ ​as​ ​a​ ​company,”​ ​Jones​ ​said. That included revamping the newsroom.

“We​ ​were​ ​going​ ​to​ ​build​ ​new​ ​offices,​” she said. “We​ ​couldn’t​ ​afford​ ​it.” ​Instead,​ ​she used​ ​imagination,​ ​creative​ ​layouts,​ ​new​ ​furniture​ ​and​ ​some bright​ colors​ ​to​ ​consolidate​ ​and​ ​inspire​ ​the newsroom.

We’re​ ​going​ ​from​ ​an​ ​organization​ ​that​ ​had​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​offices​ ​to​ ​one that​ ​has​ ​three​ ​offices.

Staff​ dropped​ ​from​ ​300​ ​to​ ​100 when the company eliminated its bureaus.​ ​Even​ ​so, Jones​ ​said,​ ​part of the​ ​challenge​ ​became,​ ​“how​ ​are​ ​we going​ ​to​ ​put​ ​all​ ​of​ ​these​ ​folks​ ​in​ ​one​ ​place?”

The​ ​Dallas​ ​Morning​ ​News​ ​is​ ​condensing​ ​its​ ​400,000 square-foot​ ​operation​ ​into​ ​a​ ​more​ ​efficient​ ​layout​ ​of 100,000​ ​square​ ​feet​ ​that​ ​favors​ ​multipurpose,​ ​communal space​ ​over​ ​private offices. The newsroom is now spread ​across​ ​three floors​. The new one in another historic building will be on two floors, with an ​open​ ​layout​ ​and​ ​a​ ​mezzanine​.

“We’re​ ​going​ ​from​ ​an​ ​organization​ ​that​ ​had​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​offices​ ​to​ ​one that​ ​has​ ​three​ ​offices,”​ Tomlin ​said.​

Without the need for so much square footage devoted to printing presses, ​a cable​ ​news​ ​network​ ​and​ ​all those​ ​offices, the new space will feature a more efficient digital newsroom​ ​with​ ​an​ ​integrated​ ​TV​ ​studio, one​ ​“built with​ ​intention​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​crammed​ ​into​ ​a​ ​corner.”

Bring​ ​in​ ​natural​ ​light

It’s ​no​ ​surprise​ ​that​ ​a​ ​window​ ​view​ ​improves employee​ ​satisfaction. But ​​research​​ by architectural firm RDG​ ​Planning​ & ​Design notes that even​ ​employees​ ​who​ ​did not have their own​ ​window​s felt ​higher​ job ​satisfaction​ ​and​ ​perceived they were ​closer​ ​to​ ​windows​ when natural light diffused throughout the space.

As The Kansas City Star rethinks their newsroom design, “we​ ​want​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​no​ ​one​ ​‘owns’​ ​the​ ​windows,”​ ​said Greg​ ​Branson,​ ​an assistant​ ​managing​ ​editor​ ​who​ ​leads​ ​presentation​ ​and​ ​innovation.

The​ ​Washington​ ​Post​ ​put​ ​a​ ​premium​ ​on​ ​natural​ ​light​ ​and​ ​found​ ​it​ ​to​ ​be​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​satisfying features​ ​of​ ​its​ ​new​ ​location.​ ​The​ ​open​ ​layout​ ​and​ ​banks​ ​of windows​ ​allow​ ​sunlight​ ​to​ ​filter​ ​through​ ​glass-walled walkways​ ​into​ ​the​ ​newsroom’s​ ​central​ ​hub.

“Most​ ​people​ ​were​ ​gobsmacked​ ​by​ ​how​ ​light​ ​and​ ​bright everything​ ​was,”​ ​Grant​ ​said.

The Washington Post’s old newsroom had little light and was a labyrinth of desks that inhibited collaboration. Washington​ ​Post​ ​Deputy​ Managing​ Editor​ ​Tracy​ ​Grant​ said the new space was designed to facilitate quick communication and collaboration during breaking news — and to “get rid of anything that got in the way of good journalism.” (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Spanning two stories, the central editing hub is the nerve center of The Washington Post. Designed for visibility and accessibility, the bright, open space capitalizes on natural light and enables clear views into the hub from glass-walled walkways on the upper floor. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Boost morale

Some news outlets saw that their employees, weighed down by rounds of buyouts, needed a different type of light.

“We’re​ ​a​ ​company​ ​in​ ​a​ ​financially​ ​distressed​ ​industry trying​ ​to​ ​find​ ​some​ ​oxygen,”​ ​said​ ​Shribman​ ​of​ ​the Pittsburgh​ ​Post-Gazette. For him, more light in a new, open space conveyed optimism and a way to face the future.

All​ ​editors​ ​interviewed​ ​for​ ​this​ ​study​ ​expressed​ ​concern​ ​for employee​ ​morale.​ ​They​ ​recognize​ ​the​ ​toll​ ​that​ ​economic uncertainty​ ​and​ ​continuing ​technological​ ​change​ ​have​ ​taken on​ ​​employees.​ ​(This​ ​concern​ ​reflects​ ​the​ ​sort​ ​of empathy​ ​evangelized​ ​by​ proponents of human-centered design​,​ ​discussed​ ​in​ ​“Engaging​ ​staff:​ ​User experience​ ​studies​ ​are​ ​not​ ​just​ ​for​ ​audience​ ​behavior.”)

​Michael​ ​Hughes is ​senior​ ​manager​ ​of media​ ​design​ ​and​ ​production​ ​for​ ​Calkins​ ​Digital​ ​Solutions, which​ ​publishes​ ​the​ ​Bucks​ ​County​ ​Courier​ ​Times, Burlington​ ​County​ ​Times​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Intelligencer​ ​in Pennsylvania and was recently purchased by Gatehouse Media. For​ ​the​ ​company’s​ ​recent​ ​remodel at the Courier Times’ building,​ Hughes studied​ which paint​ ​schemes​ ​would ​create​ ​a welcoming​ ​environment.

Michael​ ​Hughes, ​senior​ ​manager​ ​of media​ ​design​ ​and​ ​production​ ​for​ ​Calkins​ ​Digital​ ​Solutions, renovated the newsroom of the Bucks County Courier Times in stages. This photo, taken while the renovation was underway, shows the color scheme, which transitions from shades of blue to green. (Photo courtesy of Jacki Gray and Michael Hughes)

“If​ ​I’m​ ​going​ ​to​ ​do​ ​things​ ​that​ ​affect​ ​people’s​ ​lives,​ ​I wanted​ ​to​ ​be​ ​sure​ ​I​ ​was​ ​doing​ ​the​ ​right​ ​thing,”​ ​Hughes​ ​said. He​ ​chose​ ​shades​ ​of​ ​blue​ ​and​ ​green​ ​for​ ​the company’s production​ ​and​ ​newsroom​ ​spaces.​ ​The company ​also​ ​devoted​ ​a​ ​25-foot​ ​wall​ ​to​ ​an​ ​inspirational​ ​message.

The inspirational wall decal and carefully selected wall colors help make the space welcoming and comfortable for staff. Wall decals like this are relatively inexpensive, easy to install and can be found on Etsy from a variety of vendors. (Photos courtesy of Jacki Gray and Michael Hughes)

Clean house

“​The​ ​Life-Changing​ ​Magic​ ​of​ ​Tidying​ ​Up​,”​ ​by​ ​Marie Kondo,​ ​perhaps​ ​best​ ​represents​ ​the​ ​current​ ​cult​ ​of minimalism​ ​sweeping​ ​homes​ ​—​ ​and​ ​offices​ ​— around​ ​the globe. At​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ ​this philosophy ​is​ ​an​ ​almost​ ​spiritual​ ​letting-go​ ​of​ ​the​ ​past.

“The​ ​space​ ​in​ ​which​ ​we​ ​live​ ​should​ ​be​ ​for​ ​the​ ​person​ ​we are​ ​becoming​ ​now,​ ​not​ ​for​ ​the​ ​person​ ​we​ ​were​ ​in​ ​the​ ​past,” writes​ ​Kondo.

Substitute​ ​“newsroom”​ ​for​ ​“person,”​ ​and​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a mandate:​ ​Tidy​ ​up​ ​to​ ​make​ ​way​ ​for​ ​future​ ways of doing journalism.

“What​ ​an​ ​amazing​ ​metaphor​ ​for​ ​moving​ ​from​ ​print​ ​to digital,”​ ​said Jones, who guided The Virginian-Pilot through that transition.​ ​“Every​ ​single​ ​print​ ​record​ ​for​ ​which there​ ​was​ ​a​ ​digital​ ​copy​ ​was​ ​shredded.” In a budget-conscious quest for clean lines and minimalism, Jones​ ​decided at the outset, “We’re​ ​going​ ​to​ ​paint,​ ​and​ ​we’re going​ ​to​ ​declutter.”

Rachel​ ​Jones,​ ​news​ ​operations​ ​leader​ ​for​ ​The Virginian-Pilot​, aimed for a minimalist look when she oversaw its newsroom renovation. She chose a crisp, white color for portions of the new space. Something as simple as photographs throughout, mounted in black frames with gallery-style white matting, help create a unified look. (Photo by The’ N. pham)

Before the renovation, ​the​ ​editor’s​ ​office​ ​was​ ​walled​ ​in​ ​by​ ​cabinets.​ ​They ​were​ ​the​ ​first​ ​thing​ ​that​ ​had​ ​to​ ​go.

The Virginian-Pilot’s old photo department was marked by dated furniture, extra file cabinets and remnants of the old color scheme. This area was converted to a storage room as the photo team moved closer to the rest of the staff. (Photo by The’ N. pham)

“But​ ​it’s​ ​hard,”​ ​she​ ​conceded.​ ​“People​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​part with​ ​their​ ​stuff.”​ ​At​ ​first,​ ​Jones​ ​said,​ she​ ​started​ ​with​ ​an email​ ​about​ ​decluttering,​ ​but​ ​she soon​ ​realized​ ​she​ had ​to be ​more​ ​assertive.

“I​ ​brought​ ​in​ ​huge​ ​Dumpsters​,” she said, “​and​ ​people​ ​realized,​ ​‘Oh, they’re​ ​serious.’”​ ​She​ ​set​ ​deadlines​ ​and​ told ​the staff ​everything​ that wasn’t ​sorted​ ​by​ ​a​ ​certain​ ​date would​ ​go​ ​into​ ​the​ ​bins.

Each employee​ ​at​ ​The​ ​Washington​ ​Post​ ​was​ ​given​ ​two​ ​orange crates.​ ​What​ ​didn’t​ ​fit​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​shredded,​ ​thrown​ ​away​ ​or taken​ ​home​ ​by​ ​moving​ ​day.

Staff at The Washington Post were guided through a year of decluttering. Posters were updated weekly to count down to moving day, suggesting “three things you can do this week” to prepare. “As the numbers got smaller, the urgency got higher,” said the Post’s Tracy Grant. People had to decide what to scan, shred, throw away or take home. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

As​ ​a​ ​concession​ ​to​ ​the​ ​distress​ ​of​ ​letting​ ​go,​ ​The Virginian-Pilot​ ​allotted​ ​one​ ​storage​ ​room​ ​with​ ​a​ ​limited number​ ​of​ ​cabinets​ ​where​ ​people​ ​could​ ​store​ ​items​ ​they just​ ​couldn’t​ ​bring​ ​themselves​ ​to​ ​discard.

“Not​ ​one​ ​person​ ​has​ ​gone​ ​back​ ​and​ ​looked​ ​at​ ​their​ ​stuff​ ​in the​ ​storage​ ​room,”​ ​Jones​ ​said​ ​with​ ​a​ ​laugh.

The final, clutter-free resting place for The Virginian-Pilot’s few remaining print files. (Photo by The’ N. pham)

Promote collaboration

At the Center for Investigative Reporting, “the​ ​model​ ​for​ ​our​ ​journalism​ ​is​ ​based​ ​on collaboration,”​ ​said​ Christa Scharfenberg,​ ​managing​ ​director​ ​and​ ​head​ ​of​ ​studio​.​​ ​“Half​ ​of​ ​our​ ​content is​ ​created​ ​by​ ​us;​ ​the​ ​other​ ​half​ ​is​ ​from​ ​newsrooms across​ ​the​ ​country,​ ​so​ ​communal​ ​space​ ​is​ ​key​ ​to​ ​getting the​ ​job​ ​done.”

The nonprofit’s ​new​ ​location,​ ​a repurposed​ ​pipe​ ​factory,​ ​has​ ​an​ ​open​ ​newsroom​ ​the​ ​size​ ​of a​ ​football​ ​field.​ ​That’s​ ​a​ ​stark​ ​contrast​ ​to​ ​its​ ​prior​ ​home​ ​in downtown​ ​Berkeley,​ ​where​ ​staff​ ​was​ ​scattered​ ​across​ ​three floors​ ​and​ ​“squirreled​ ​away​ ​in​ ​a​ ​little​ ​room​ ​in​ ​the basement.”

The​ ​new​ ​space​ ​better​ ​supports​ the organization’s ​collegial culture.​ ​“We​ ​have​ ​a​ ​communal​ ​kitchen​ ​space​ ​in​ ​the​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​our newsroom​; we​ ​call​ ​it​ ​Cozy​ ​Town,”​ ​​Scharfenberg ​said. ​Cozy​ ​Town​ serves as an all-purpose space to hang out, work in teams, and to for informal ​food and coffee clubs to meet.​ ​

Architects suggest these sorts of communal spaces can bring together people who don’t work on the same team, creating new connections and sparking informal collaborations.

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s communal space, nicknamed “Cozy Town,” is used for social gatherings, food clubs, working lunches and breakout meetings. (Photo by Rachel de Leon)

Another simple feature encouraging collaboration is that the newsroom​ radiates around​ ​the​ ​hangout​ ​space​ and ​is​ ​organized into sections instead of long rows. Scharfenberg said this layout enables people to have quick conversations with other teams nearby.

That’s a benefit of the Post’s decision to organize its newsroom around the editing hub.

“In​ ​the​ ​old​ ​building,​ ​going​ ​to​ ​the​ ​hub​ was​ ​a​ ​tortuous process.​ ​Now​ ​moving​ ​between​ ​[floors] seven​ ​and​ ​eight​ ​is seamless,”​ ​Grant​ ​said.​ ​“Everyone​ ​has​ ​equal​ ​access … you​ ​can​ ​yell​ ​down​ ​to​ ​the​ ​hub.”

At​ ​Treasure​ ​Coast​ ​News,​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​change​ ​three​ ​years​ ​ago created​ ​communal​ ​space​ ​at​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ ​the​ ​newsroom​ ​and signaled​ ​the​ ​organization’s​ ​goal​ ​to​ ​collaborate.​ ​Editorial meetings​ ​once​ ​held​ ​in​ ​a​ ​conference​ ​room​ ​now​ ​occur​ ​at​ ​a large​ ​table​ ​in​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​the​ ​open​ ​newsroom.

“No​ ​walls,”​ ​said​ ​Adam​ ​Neal,​ ​managing​ ​editor​ ​of Treasure​ ​Coast​ ​News and its website, TCPalm.​ ​“Now​ ​we​ ​hold​ ​all of​ ​our​ ​meetings​ ​right​ ​at​ ​that​ ​table,​ ​and​ ​if​ ​a​ ​reporter​ ​hears​ ​us talking​ ​about​ ​a​ ​story,​ ​they​ ​speak​ ​up​ ​and​ ​join​ ​in.”

Moving editorial meetings out of a conference room and into the center of Treasure Coast News’ newsroom invites staff involvement when planning stories. “When we talk about a story in the middle of the newsroom, instead of a direct supervisor with a reporter, now you have a group of five to six people who can give feedback,” said Managing Editor Adam Neal. Staff have an open invitation to attend any meeting in this space. (Photo by Leah Voss)

Foster a culture of innovation

At​ ​Quartz,​ one of ​the​ ​goals​ ​was​ ​to​ ​represent​ ​the​ ​news organization’s​ ​culture​ of experimentation ​in​ ​a​ ​physical​ ​space​ ​—​ ​to​ ​create something​ ​“quartzy.”​ ​The newsroom’s ​display of ​this​ ​is​ ​more​ ​lo-fi than​ ​high​-​tech.​ ​Rather​ ​than​ ​wallpapering​ ​the​ newsroom ​with flashing​ ​screens,​ ​Quartz conveys​ ​its​ ​brand​ ​of innovation​ ​through​ ​human-centered​ ​space.

Modest​ ​wooden​ ​structures​ ​delineate​ ​creative​ ​spaces​ ​such​ ​as the​ ​workshop,​ ​which feels like a playroom​ for grownups and ​features​ ​a ​mix​ ​of​ maker ​tools​ ​and​ ​toys.​ ​A secret​ ​love​ ​of​ ​print​ ​manifests​ ​in​ ​a​ ​library​ ​featuring actual​ ​books.​ ​These​ ​areas​ ​express,​ ​without​ ​irony,​ ​the authentic​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​playful​ ​experimentation​ ​driving​ ​this young,​ ​digitally​ ​native​ ​publication.

Resident tinkerer, coding coach and bot builder Sam Williams spends time in the Workshop, a space that reflects Quartz’s unique culture. Williams’ side projects — such as a sensor that indicates when the office dishwasher is done or the coffee bot that alerts staff via Slack when a fresh cup of coffee is ready — help Quartz explore applications for new technologies. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

To balance between solo and collaborative workspaces, every organization in this survey adopted its own version of “huddle” spaces. In the Center for Investigative Reporting’s sprawling newsroom, they took the form of closet-sized rooms.

At the Post, dozens of huddle spaces, designed for two to four people, are scattered throughout the newsroom. They’re decorated with historic newspaper ​headlines.​

The Washington Post’s new space incorporates a number of small “huddle spaces” designed for impromptu collaboration. Less formal than a conference room, each huddle area has a unique aesthetic and creative furnishings to inspire innovative thinking. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Elements of the Post’s history were artfully incorporated into the new decor. In 1935, publisher Eugene​ ​Myers​ ​put forth seven guiding principles​ ​for​ ​the​ ​conduct​ ​of​ ​journalism​ at the Post. Now the first thing you see when you step off the elevator on the seventh floor is this assemblage of metal type, evocative of a bygone era. “We​ ​had​ ​a​ ​discussion​ ​about​ ​updating​ ​the​ ​language,​ ​but​ ​decided to​ ​keep​ ​it​ ​as​ ​originally​ ​uttered,”​ ​said​ ​the Post’s Tracy Grant. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

​“There​ ​was​ ​a deliberate​ ​attempt​ ​to​ ​say,​ ​‘Here​ ​is​ ​everything​ ​we​ ​are​ ​and will​ ​be​ ​in​ ​the​ ​next​ ​century,​ ​and​ ​here​ ​is​ ​everything​ ​we​ ​were before,’” Grant said.

Diverse design elements celebrate The Washington Post’s history and achievements, such as this elegant display of its Pulitzer Prizes. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Chapter 3

How to design workspaces that spur collaboration

News media can thank Silicon Valley for the collaboration mindset that imbues newsroom redesigns. Modern workplaces celebrate problem-solving teamwork, from the adoption of open floor plans to the use of open-source software.

But when it comes to inspiring more collaboration, architects remind us there can be too much of a good thing.

One of the challenges for companies as they seek to encourage collaboration is how to balance “me” vs. “we” space in the workplace, said Tom Price, principal architect at Strada Architecture in Pittsburgh. His​ ​firm has​ ​created​ ​innovation​ ​spaces​ ​for​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​companies, including​ ​Google’s​ ​Pittsburgh​ ​office. Although increasing collaboration has become a ubiquitous goal among forward-thinking companies, he said companies have to be careful not to be overly invasive in encouraging it.

Although increasing collaboration has become a ubiquitous goal among forward-thinking companies …  companies have to be careful not to be overly invasive in encouraging it.

If a renovated workspace is dominated by too much common space, employees often feel like there’s too much “us time”, ​when​ “​people​ ​get together​ ​either​ ​physically​ ​or​ ​virtually​ ​to​ ​brainstorm,​ ​but​ ​never seem​ ​to​ ​arrive​ ​at​ ​anything​ ​original​ ​or​ ​refreshing,” Price said.​ ​Oppressive​ ​“us time” sessions,​ ​he​ ​said,​ ​leave​ ​people​ ​“disinterested,​ ​less​ ​connected, and​ ​wondering​ ​if​ ​they​ ​actually​ ​contributed​ ​anything​ ​of​ ​value​ ​to the​ ​event.”

While different organizations use a variety of design solutions to encourage collaboration, the emphasis on increased collaboration reflects a new way of working for all — the shift from a linear mode of production for legacy platforms to a more dynamic, digital one. As Price acknowledged, this doesn’t exclude solo work; it embraces new ways of interacting in the workspace.

Quartz’s newsroom is streamlined and open. At the periphery are alternative, creative spaces where small groups can meet or individuals can shift for a change of scenery. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

Three types of spaces that balance ‘me’ and ‘we’ time

Companies should create workspaces​ ​that support​ ​a​ diverse range of ​working styles​ ​throughout the day, Price said. While​ he ​emphasized ​there​ is ​no​ ​one-size-fits-all​ ​floor​plan, he suggested​ ​three​ ​types of areas within workspaces​ ​that​ naturally increase collaboration,​ ​balance​ ​“we”​ ​vs.​ “​me”​ ​time,​ ​and​ ​support innovation:

Collision — These are strategically located communal spaces where people can get food and drinks and socialize when they run into one another. “These types of spaces help people navigate their day by allowing them to relax, recharge, and connect when convenient to their schedule,” Price said. “These creative gathering places should also create an experience that is distinct from the rest of the workplace.”

At the Center for Investigative Reporting, a casual, open area with a high table enables quick conferences on work in progress. (Photo by Rachel de Leon)

Mixed​-use —​ Mixed-use,​ ​mixed-scale,​ ​and mixed-personality​ ​rooms​ ​and ​furniture​ ​clusters allow users to approach their work creatively. ​Spaces​ ​with their own personality, such​ ​as workshop-like​ “maker” spaces or home-style living ​rooms,​ ​“​inspire​ ​nontraditional​ ​modes​ ​of meeting,​ ​sharing,​ ​breaking​ ​and​ ​testing,” Price said. “​​​These​ ​flexible spaces​ ​also​ ​empower​ ​users​ ​to​ ​modify​ ​the​ ​space​ ​to meet​ ​their​ ​immediate​ ​needs.”

In addition to providing alternative spaces for solo and collaborative work at Quartz, these breakaway spaces set off from the open newsroom honor staff passions. The Library, shown here, celebrates their love of books and print. This analog room also exemplifies Quartz’s “lo-fi” approach to design, with a simple, neutral palette and natural materials. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

Huddle —​ Although collision spaces are typically the largest drivers of collaboration culture, “they rarely provide the distraction-free focus space critical for thinking through problems and innovating,” Price said. Small huddle spaces with a mix of screens, whiteboards and flexible seating options not only support small-group brainstorming sessions, but also easily adapt to solo “me time” types of work.

Compact meeting rooms, such as this “huddle” space at The Washington Post, provide a place for brainstorming, small group meetings or solo work in an environment that is less formal than a conference room. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Make design decisions that reflect your priorities and values

Creating​ ​a more​ ​collaborative​ ​newsroom ​is less​ ​about​ ​tearing​ ​down​ ​walls​ ​and​ ​more​ ​about​ ​tearing​ ​down silos,​ ​said​ ​Tracy​ ​Grant​ ​of​ ​The​ ​Washington​ ​Post. In considering how to design the Post’s new home in 2015,​ ​leaders decided the new building had to make it easier to collaborate.

The​ ​practices of a modern, digital newsroom​ ​“require​ ​face-to-face​ ​conversation,”​ Grant said.​ ​“You​ ​have​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it​ ​easy​ ​for​ ​that​ ​to​ ​happen.” ​If employees have to walk up a floor to talk to someone, they’re ​less likely​ ​to​ ​collaborate — “unless you’re a Fitbit wearer.”

She ​worked​ ​to​ ​ensure​ coworkers on the same team would be ​in​ ​“chair-rolling”​ ​distance,​ ​or​ ​at​ ​the​ ​most, around the corner ​from​ one an​other.

Grant ​said​ ​she​ ​pondered ​ideas​ ​for​ ​new​ ​floor​ ​plans​ ​for​ ​more​ ​than a​ ​year.​ ​“At​ ​first​ ​I​ ​thought,​ ​‘I’m​ ​just​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​wild​ ​and​ ​crazy and​ ​mix​ ​everything​ ​up,’​ ​but​ ​then​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​having​ ​national security​ ​pods​ ​sit​ ​next​ ​to​ ​foreign​ ​relations​ ​staff​ ​made​ ​sense.”

“In​ ​some​ ​ways,​ ​the​ ​configuration​ ​isn’t​ ​hugely​ ​different,”​ ​Grant said,​ ​but​ ​now​ ​the Post​ ​has ​teams ​they​ ​didn’t​ ​have.​ ​​​“The social​ ​media​ ​team​ ​has​ ​proximity​ ​to​ ​the ​hub,” the central editing area,​ “​so​ ​if​ ​there’s breaking​ ​news,​ ​there’s​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​easy​ ​communication​ ​and collaboration​ ​around​ ​that.”

At​ ​first​ ​I​ ​thought,​ ​‘I’m​ ​just​ ​going​ ​to​ ​be​ ​wild​ ​and​ ​crazy and​ ​mix​ ​everything​ ​up,’​ ​but​ ​then​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​having​ ​national security​ ​pods​ ​sit​ ​next​ ​to​ ​foreign​ ​relations​ ​staff​ ​made​ ​sense.

Sumita​ ​Arora,​ ​a​ ​principal​ ​at​ ​the​ ​architectural​ ​firm​ ​Gensler,​ ​said creating​ ​strategic​ ​“adjacencies”​ ​in​ ​the​ workplace ​is​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to​ ​express an​ ​organization’s​ ​priorities.​ ​Arora​ ​leads​ ​Gensler’s​ ​“​Media Practice​ ​Area​,”​ ​which​ ​specializes​ ​in​ ​architecture,​ ​workplace strategy​ ​and​ ​design​ ​for​ ​media​ ​companies​ ​around​ ​the​ ​world. Its past clients include​ ​the​ ​Post​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Dallas​ ​Morning​ ​News.

The Post, Grant said, has had “enormous​ ​success​ ​with​ ​embedding​ ​engineers​ ​in sections,​ ​and​ ​making​ ​sure​ ​that​ ​graphic,​ ​photo,​ ​video​ ​and​ ​product teams​ ​are​ ​sitting​ ​closely​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other​ ​so​ ​conversations​ ​can happen​ ​organically.​”

​Brian​ ​Boyer of Spirited Media said “the​ ​principle​ ​that​ ​leads​ ​all​ ​of​ ​this​ ​is​ ​about​ ​increasing communication​ ​–​ ​about​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​team​ ​that​ ​talks​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other.” Boyer is vice president of product and people at the company, which runs Billy Penn in Philadelphia, The Incline in Pittsburgh and Denverite.​ ​

When​ ​Boyer​ headed​ ​the​ ​Visuals​ ​team​ ​at​ ​NPR,​ ​he​ ​led​ ​a​ ​grassroots​ ​efforts​ ​to transform​ ​his​ ​team’s​ ​workspace​ ​— and​ ​its​ ​culture.

Change​ ​number​ ​one​ ​was​ ​initiation​ ​of​ ​a​ ​daily​ ​“​scrum​,”​ ​​ ​which​ ​is​ ​part​ ​of the​ ​“agile” software development ethos​ ​he practiced​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Chicago​ ​Tribune​.​ Boyer​ ​required​ ​his​ ​team​ ​to​ ​be on​ ​site​ ​by​ ​10​ ​a.m.​ ​every​ ​day​ ​for​ ​the​ ​scrum​ ​—​ ​essentially​ ​a fast-paced​ ​briefing​ ​where​ ​the​ ​team​ ​stands​ ​in​ ​a​ ​circle​ ​for​ ​the duration​ ​of​ ​the​ ​meeting.

What’s key is that the​ ​scrum​ ​was​ ​held​ ​not​ ​in​ ​a​ conference​ ​room,​ ​but in​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​NPR’s​ newsroom. That showed the rest of the staff that Boyer’s team was committed to open communication.

When​ ​you​ ​make​ ​things​ ​visible,​ ​Boyer​ ​said, ​you​ ​prioritize​ them.​ ​“There​ ​shouldn’t​ ​be​ ​any​ ​secret​ ​projects,”​ he said.​ ​“Everyone should​ ​know​ ​what​ ​everyone​ ​is​ ​doing​.​”​

But​ ​that​ ​doesn’t mean​ ​you​ ​need​ ​an​ ​expensive​ ​remodeling​ ​effort. “Ours​ ​is​ ​essentially​ ​a​ ​craft​ ​project,”​ he ​said​ ​of​ ​his​ ​teams’ spaces at NPR and Spirited Media.

They​ ​have​ used ​whiteboards,​ ​markers​ ​and​ ​sticky notes,​ ​or​ ​a​ ​cork​ ​board​ ​with​ ​​yarn​ ​and​ ​index​ ​cards,​ ​to​ ​map​ ​out​ ​projects​​ ​for​ ​everyone​ ​to​ ​see.​ ​He​ ​refers​ ​to​ ​these​ ​visible​ ​indexes in​ ​team​ ​areas​ ​as​ ​“information​ ​radiators”​ ​that​ ​are​ ​like​​ ​television screens​ ​flashing​ ​at​​ ​a​ ​convenience​ ​store checkout: ​“You don’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​look,​ ​but​ ​you​ ​happen​ ​to​ ​look.”​ ​

“If​ ​you​ ​have​ ​it​ ​in​ ​the​ ​space,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​physical.​ ​Instead​ ​of​ ​having​ ​a plan​ ​in​ ​a​ ​manager’s​ ​head,​ ​the​ ​plan​ ​is​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wall,”​ ​Boyer​ ​said. This creates accountability, but it also fosters ​empathy​ ​and an understanding​ of everyone’s role on the team.

What does your seating layout say about your leadership structure?

Open workspaces with creative furnishings may seem like little more than an aesthetic nod to trendy tech culture. But they’re physical​ ​manifestations​ ​of​ ​another​ ​trend: the flat organizational charts that characterize many of the world’s most innovative companies.

Research by MIT Sloan Management Review suggests​ flatter hierarchies are essential for obtaining​ ​true​ ​digital​ ​expertise and instilling innovation and risk-taking among employees.​

According to this research, companies that are early in the process of transitioning to digital workflows are​ ​characterized​ ​by​ ​“a​ ​low​ ​appetite​ ​for​ ​risk,​ ​a​ ​hierarchical leadership​ ​structure,​ ​and​ ​work​ ​performed​ ​in​ ​silos.” Organizations​ ​that​ ​have embraced​ ​a​ ​digital​ ​future, on the other hand,​ ​have​ ​flatter​ ​leadership structures,​ ​value​ ​experimentation,​ ​and​ ​foster collaboration.​ ​This​ ​model​ ​of​ ​distributed​ ​leadership​ ​is​ ​prevalent in​ ​the​ ​technology​ ​industry​,​ the​ ​​primary​ ​influencer​ of the news business.

Even furniture can signal a more egalitarian culture. In the Post’s newsroom, each desk has a file​ ​cabinet​ ​with​ ​a​ cushion​ ​on​ ​top,​ ​which can​ ​be​ ​pulled​ ​out​ to ​sit​ ​on​ ​like​ ​an​ ​ottoman.​ ​“Now,​ ​instead​ ​of hovering​ ​over​ ​your​ ​shoulder,​ ​an​ ​editor​ ​is​ ​sitting shoulder-to-shoulder​ ​with​ ​you,”​ ​Grant​ ​said.​ ​“It’s​ ​symbolic​ ​​and practical.”

Similarly,​ ​Boyer​ ​cautioned,​ ​if​ ​you’re​ ​designing​ ​for collaboration,​ ​never​ ​use​ ​L-shaped​ ​desks.

“An​ ​L-shaped​ ​desk​ ​means​ ​someone​ ​is​ ​in​ ​the​ ​back​ ​seat,”​ he ​said Boyer.​ ​“If​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​straight​ ​desk,​ ​you​ ​are​ ​peers.”

Open-ended spaces inspire innovation

When the online news outlet Quartz relocated to accommodate its growing team, Senior Vice President of Product and Executive Editor Zach Seward wanted​ ​to​ ​create​ ​more​ ​opportunities​ ​for​ ​staff​ ​to​ ​collaborate​ ​away from​ ​their​ ​desks. Quartz kept its open floor plan where everyone​ ​sits​ ​together​ ​with​ ​the​ ​same-sized​ ​desks​, but it combined that ​with​ ​mixed-use​ ​areas​ where employees​ ​can​ move​ ​from​ ​space​ ​to​ ​space.

“Obviously​ ​we​ ​needed​ ​desks​ ​and​ ​conference​ ​rooms,​ ​but​ ​we wanted​ ​to​ ​allow​ ​for​ ​other​ ​spaces” to​ ​encourage​ ​different​ ​ways​ ​of interacting,​ ​Seward​ ​said.​ ​“We​ ​call​ ​them​ ​Quartzy​ ​spaces.”​ ​

The new​ ​location​ ​has​ ​several​ ​casual, ​creative​​ ​spaces where​ ​people​ ​can work​ ​and​ ​socialize​, ​such​ ​as​ ​the Town​ ​Hall,​ ​the​ ​Library​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Workshop​.​ ​Seward​ ​said​ ​they were meant to spur ​meetings​ ​and​ gatherings. But​ ​he​ ​also​ ​noticed​ ​an​ ​increase​ ​in​ ​informal solo work​ ​away​ ​from​ ​desks, which​ ​meant​ ​people​ were sitting next​ ​to coworkers​ ​they​ ​might​ ​not​ ​have​ ​otherwise​ ​encountered.

One of the structures adjacent to Quartz’s open office area is a café-style nook, designed as a change-of-pace work area. It’s suitable for working alone or in a small group. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

A corner of the “Town Hall” features a stage-like structure with storage below. This corner begs to be climbed — as much a play structure as a platform — and encourages creative ways of working. The rest of the Town Hall is used for whole-staff meetings, to eat lunch, and to host events. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

Adam​ ​Alter,​ ​in​ ​​”How​ ​to​ ​Build​ ​a​ ​Collaborative​ ​Office​ ​Space​ ​Like Pixar​ ​and​ ​Google​,”​ writes that ​these​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​purpose-free spaces “encourage workers​ ​to​ ​do​ ​their​ ​thinking​ ​in​ ​the​ ​presence​ ​of​ ​other​ ​people, rather​ ​than​ ​alone.”​

These​ ​are​ ​precisely​ ​the​ ​behavioral​ ​transformations that architects​ aim for​ ​when​ ​they​ ​design​ ​communal​ ​spaces.​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​enabling​ ​impromptu interactions​ ​that​ ​can​ ​change​ ​the​ ​dynamic​ between​ ​workers,​ they ​serve​ ​as​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​blank​ ​slate,​ ​a​ subtle invitation​ ​to​ ​create​ ​something​ ​new​ ​and​ ​different.​ ​In​ ​other​ ​words, to​ ​innovate.

Grant​ ​said​ ​she​ ​was​ ​initially​ ​skeptical​ ​that​ ​this​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​informal gathering​ ​space​ would ​promote​ ​behavioral​ ​change. ​But​ ​in​ ​the new Washington Post newsroom, she said she often sees people migrate to a​ ​relaxed​ area ​dubbed​ ​the​ ​”airport​ ​lounge”​ for a change of scenery during the day or to hand off work between shifts.

At The Washington Post, this casual seating area situated outside a conference room near the central editing hub has been dubbed the “airport lounge.” People use it to chat while waiting for a meeting, to continue conversations as they exit story conferences and to hand off work between shifts. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Newsrooms​ ​don’t​ ​need​ ​an​ ​expensive​ ​architect​ ​to​ ​transform​ ​a corner​ ​of​ ​the​ ​newsroom​ ​into​ ​an effective communal​ ​space.​ ​Jones​ ​at​ ​The Virginian-Pilot​ ​refreshed​ ​a​ ​drab​ ​lobby​​ into​ ​something special ​with​ ​DIY​ ​flair,​ ​finding​ ​creative​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​save​ ​money.

“This​ ​was​ ​a​ ​very​ ​antiquated,​ ​typical​ ​lobby​ ​with​ ​plaques​ ​and trophies,”​ ​Jones ​said​.​ ​“We​ ​needed​ ​to​ ​make​ ​people​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​there was​ ​an​ ​area​ ​they​ ​could​ ​veg​ ​out,​ ​take​ ​a​ ​call,​ ​or​ ​have​ ​fun.”​ ​So​ ​they took​ ​over​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​lobby,​ ​removed​ ​the​ ​dusty​ ​awards,​ ​added​ ​two 15-foot​-long ​butcher​ ​block​ ​​tables​ ​with​ ​bar​ ​stools,​ ​and​ ​turned​ ​a nearby closet​ ​into​ ​a​ ​coffee​ ​bar.

Before the Virginian-Pilot’s renovation, this was a dark lobby with a trophy case. Now it’s an open-ended space with natural light — a new place to work outside the newsroom. Plans for this space include installing a large-screen television. (Photo by The’ N. pham)

This multi-purpose lounge serves as a breakaway workspace, a place to take a coffee break and a place to socialize. “Everyone​ ​volunteered​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​in​ ​games,” she said. And​ ​while​ ​it​ ​isn’t​ ​quite​ ​Google,​ ​​legendary​ ​for​ ​its​ ​free​ ​food​,​ ​Jones​ ​said,​ ​“We​ ​put​ ​out​ ​candy,​ ​pretzels​ ​and​ ​peanuts every day,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​have​ ​lots​ ​of​ ​pizza​ ​lunches.”

Where’s my office?

More​ ​than​ ​one​ ​editor​ ​interviewed​ ​for​ ​this​ ​study​ ​said​ ​that​ ​at​ ​some point​ ​during​ ​the​ ​renovation​,​ ​an​ ​anxious​ ​employee​ ​sent them​ ​​a column called​ ​“Google​ ​got​ ​it​ ​wrong.​ ​The​ ​open-office​ ​trend​ ​is destroying​ ​the​ ​workplace.”​ ​In​ ​it,​ ​Lindsey​ ​Kaufman​ ​discusses​ ​the trauma​ ​of​ ​moving​ ​from​ ​an​ ​office​ ​at​ ​her​ ​Tribeca​ ​ad​ ​agency​ ​to​ ​a seat​ ​at​ ​an​ ​open​ ​table. She​ ​likened​ ​it​ ​to​ ​having​ ​her​ ​clothes​ ​ripped​ ​off in​ ​public.

A​ ​response​ ​to​ ​that​ ​piece,​ ​“​Google​ ​Didn’t​ ​Get​ ​it​ ​Wrong,” counters​ ​that​ ​Kaufman​ ​missed​ ​the​ ​point​ by ​focusing​ ​on​ ​the ​lack​ ​of​ ​privacy​ ​in​ ​an​ ​open​ workplace​. ​Kay Sargent ​asserts​ ​that when​ ​the​ ​execution​ ​of​ ​an​ ​open​ ​office​ ​plan​ ​aligns​ ​with​ ​a company’s​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​culture,​ ​employees​ ​collaborate​ ​and innovate​ ​more.​ ​As architect Tom Price noted in his caution to balance “me” and “we” spaces, it’s​​​ ​important​ to ​create flexible ​layouts​ ​with ​different​ ​kinds​ ​of​ ​spaces.

In​ ​their​ ​research​ ​on​ ​emerging​ ​work styles,​ ​architects​ ​at​ ​Gensler asked​ ​​if ​individual​ ​work​ ​can survive​ ​in​ ​the​ ​collaborative workspace​. That’s certainly an issue in newsrooms. Sometimes a videographer needs a quiet place to work through a difficult edit. Some interviews are too sensitive to conduct on the phone in front of coworkers. Other times, an editor wants to be able to turn to someone for help on a headline.

When​ ​the​ ​execution​ ​of​ ​an​ ​open​ ​office​ ​plan​ ​aligns​ ​with​ ​a company’s​ ​goals​ ​and​ ​culture,​ ​employees​ ​collaborate​ ​and innovate​ ​more.

Gensler ​looked​ ​at​ the balance​ between ​focused​ and​ ​collaborative​ ​work​ ​options​ ​among​ ​software​ ​developers​ ​in​ ​a major​ ​technology​ ​company.​ ​An​ ​important​ ​takeaway​ ​is​ ​their recommendation​ ​to​ ​“empower​ ​employees​ ​to​ ​match​ ​process​ ​to place”​ ​by​ ​providing​ ​spaces​ ​and​ ​policies​ ​that​ ​support​ ​both styles.​ “Employees​ ​know​ ​intuitively​ ​when​ ​they​ ​are​ ​open to​ ​interaction​ ​or​ ​distraction​ ​and​ ​when​ ​they’re​ ​not,” they wrote. “Let​ ​them communicate​ ​among​ ​themselves​ ​and​ ​make​ ​their​ ​own​ ​plan.”

Gensler​ ​said​ newsroom managers shouldn’t try to ​transplant​ ​​Silicon Valley​ ​workplace​ ​design​s,​ ​but​ ​rather​ create innovative spaces that are authentic​ ​to​ ​newsrooms.

“The​ ​image​ ​of​ ​the​ ​lively,​ ​sometimes​ ​hectic​ ​newsroom​ ​may sound​ ​off-putting,​ ​but​ ​there’s​ ​actually​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ ​learned from​ ​this,”​ wrote​ ​Johnathan​ ​Sandler,​ ​global​ ​lead​ ​for​ ​media practice​ ​at​ ​Gensler,​ ​in​ ​“​Five​ ​Newsroom​ ​Design​ ​Concepts​ ​Every Office​ ​Should​ ​Steal​.”​ ​The​ “craziness​ ​of​ ​a​ ​newsroom” reflects​ ​the​ ​energy​ ​of​ ​people​ ​“working​ ​together​ ​to​ ​make split-second​ ​decisions.”

A​ ​well-designed​ ​newsroom​ ​has​ ​a​ ​radial system​ ​that​ ​establishes​ ​an​ ​overall​ ​community, he wrote,​ ​but​ it’s​ ​“organized like​ ​layers​ ​in​ ​an​ ​onion,”​ ​where​ ​the​ ​outer​ ​rings​ are ​calmer and​ ​quieter.

“We​ ​went​ ​through​ ​a​ ​period​ ​where​ ​newsrooms​ ​were​ ​loud​ ​spaces, then​ ​they​ ​got​ ​quiet​ ​like​ ​insurance​ ​offices,”​ ​said​ ​Greg​ ​Branson, an assistant​ ​managing​ ​editor​ ​at​ ​The​ ​Kansas​ ​City​ ​Star.​ ​“Now​ ​you have​ ​people​ ​doing​ ​video​ ​and​ ​standups​ ​in​ ​the​ ​newsroom,” bringing​ ​energy​ ​back​ ​into​ ​the​ ​space.

Robyn Tomlin, managing editor at The Dallas Morning News, described how their new open newsroom will reinforce digital workflows. “Before, our offices were separate. I couldn’t see into the newsroom; I’d have to walk down a hallway to engage,” she said. That didn’t facilitate the kind of communication they wanted.

​Michael​ ​Hughes is ​senior​ ​manager​ ​of​ ​media​ ​design​ ​and production​ ​for​ ​The​ ​Bucks​ ​County​ ​Courier​ ​Times,​ ​Burlington County​ ​Times​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Intelligencer​ ​in​ ​Pennsylvania. In 2017, as walls and partitions came down during renovation, the company moved managing editors into the newsroom to sit with their teams. Some managers may want​ ​their​ ​walls​ ​and​ ​doors​ ​back, but he said ​an open space​ ​reinforces​ ​his​ ​accessible​ ​management​ ​style.

“I’m​ ​in​ ​the​ ​open,​ ​working​ ​side​-by​-​side​ ​with​ ​everyone,”​ ​he​ ​said. It ​helps​ ​him​​ ​gauge​ ​morale​ ​and​ ​address​ ​problems when​ ​they’re​ ​still​ ​small.

“I’ve​ ​worked​ ​in​ ​both​ ​scenarios,”​ ​he​ ​said.​ ​“I​ ​welcome​ ​getting interrupted.”

Digital​ ​managing​ ​editor​ ​Jacki​ ​Gray​ ​helped​ ​address​ ​the​ ​privacy problem​ ​with​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​space​ ​hack. When managers moved to sit with their teams, she was able to take ​over​ ​one of their old offices. It now serves as a ​private​ work area and a conference​ ​room, outfitted with repurposed furniture and a large ​monitor with​ ​Apple​ ​TV​ ​to make it easy to do presentations from a laptop.

“This​ ​space​ ​is​ ​very​ ​popular,”​ ​she​ ​said. Some people will squat there for hours. “Or​ ​the​ ​video​ ​team​ ​will​ ​want​ ​to​ ​step away​ ​and​ ​look​ ​at​ ​content​ ​together​ ​on​ ​a​ ​monitor.”

When managing editors at The​ ​Bucks​ ​County​ ​Courier​ ​Times moved into the newsroom, one of their offices was converted to a conference room. It has become a popular spot for meetings, collaborative editing and private calls. (Photo courtesy of Jacki Gray and Michael Hughes)

Chapter 4

​User​ ​experience​ ​studies are​ ​not​ ​just​ ​for​ ​audience​s

This​ ​ironic​ ​image​ is a classic​ ​reference​ ​in​ ​UI/UX design​ ​—​ ​the​ ​practice​ ​of​ ​designing​ ​for​ ​optimal​ ​digital user​ ​interfaces (UI) and​ ​user​ ​experiences (UX).​ ​Newsrooms​ ​have​ ​adopted​ ​these ​practices​ ​to​ better understand​ ​their​ ​audience’s​ digital ​behavior. Many of those principles can inform​ how physical ​spaces are​ ​designed​ in technology-driven workspaces.​

User​ ​experience​ ​design​ ​is​ ​fundamentally practical​ ​in​ ​nature, ​focusing ​less​ ​on​ ​vision​ ​and more​ ​on​ ​problem​-​solving.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ ​first​ ​steps​​ ​before initiating​ ​a​ ​major​ ​remodeling​ ​effort​ ​is​ ​to​ ​identify​ ​the​ ​problems you’re​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​solve.​ ​

While​ ​managers​ ​and​ ​architects​ ​may​ ​have their​ ​own​ ​ideas​ ​about​ ​what​ ​needs​ to be fixed​,​ ​all good​ ​design​ ​begins​ ​with​ understanding​ ​the​ ​user. Human-centered​ ​design​​ ​is​ ​a​ ​useful​ ​framework​ ​that​ ​prioritizes user​ ​needs​ ​as​ ​the​ ​basis​ ​for​ ​any​ ​design​ ​process and ​expresses​ ​​empathy​ for​ ​the​ ​people​ ​you’re​ ​designing​ ​for.

Listening to the user

Not​ ​every​ ​newsroom​ ​interviewed​ ​for​ ​this​ ​report​ ​used​ ​a design​ ​agency​ ​to​ survey staff​ ​and stakeholders,​ ​nor​ ​did​ ​they​ ​necessarily​ ​use​ ​formal​ ​​“UX,” “human-centered,”​ ​or​ ​“design​ ​thinking”​​ ​methodology. But user​ ​needs​ ​were​ ​at​ ​the​ ​forefront​ ​of​ ​their decision​making, and each​ ​​gauged​ these ​needs​ ​in​ their own ​ways.

​​“We’re​ ​a​ ​newspaper,” said David​ ​Shribman​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Pittsburgh​ ​Post​-Gazette,​ ​revealing​ his ​no-nonsense​ ​approach​.​ ​“This​ ​was​ ​not​ ​a​ ​graduate​ ​school exercise​ ​in​ ​relationship​ ​between​ ​light​ ​and​ ​words​ ​typed​ ​per minute.​ ​We​ ​didn’t​ ​engage​ ​social​ ​scientists​ ​to​ ​determine​ ​ratios​ ​of empty​ ​space​ ​to​ ​creative​ ​thought.”

However, empathy​ ​for​ ​his​ ​colleagues​ ​was​ ​at​ ​the​ ​root​ ​of​ ​the​ company’s ​relocation​ ​and remodel, in which they opened up their new newsroom to allow for clean sight lines and plenty of light. ​“We​ ​just​ ​wanted​ ​a​ ​new​ ​place​ ​where our​ ​employees​ ​could​ ​be​ ​productive​ ​and​ ​happy,” he said.

The company couldn’t afford an expensive, involved planning process.​ He​ ​listened​ ​to ​his ​newsroom staff​ ​and​ ​worked closely with Adrian Norris, creative director at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, who​ ​had​ travelled​ extensively​ ​researching​ newsroom design​.

“We​ ​ordered​ ​a​ ​chicken​ ​dinner,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​mapped​ ​it​ ​out​ ​on​ ​a​ ​piece of​ ​paper,”​ ​Shribman​ ​said​.​ ​“And​ ​it​ ​works spectacularly.”

At Treasure Coast News, Managing Editor Adam Neal said a grassroots approach seeded a shift to digital, which was spurred by Gannett’s purchase of the company in 2016. He thought the staff would be apprehensive after the purchase, so he wanted to make sure they were behind any changes to the newsroom.

“Corporate said, ‘Here are some tools,’” Neal said, but beyond that, the redesign was led by a committee of non-managers. That created a sense of ownership among the primary users of the space. “It didn’t feel like another corporate or management initiative,” he said. ​

We​ ​used market​ ​research,​ ​we​ ​used​ ​stats,​ ​analytics,​ ​we​ ​did​ ​newsroom surveys,​ ​all​ ​of​ ​that …​ but​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​substitution​ ​for sitting​ ​down​ ​with​ ​someone​ ​over​ ​coffee​ ​for​ ​an​ ​hour.

In​ ​addition​ to seeking input from staff,​ ​the committee and managers​ ​listened​ ​closely​ ​to​ ​their​ ​audience.

“Talking​ ​to​ ​our​ ​readers​ ​was​ ​essential,”​ ​Neal said.​ ​“We​ ​used market​ ​research,​ ​we​ ​used​ ​stats,​ ​analytics,​ ​we​ ​did​ ​newsroom surveys,​ ​all​ ​of​ ​that …​ but​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​substitution​ ​for sitting​ ​down​ ​with​ ​someone​ ​over​ ​coffee​ ​for​ ​an​ ​hour.”​

The ​committee​ ​of​ ​reporters​ ​and​ ​photographers ​spent​ ​about​ ​six​ ​months​ ​cultivating​ ​ideas​ ​and​ ​listening to​ ​readers. But they​ ​still​ ​had​ ​jobs ​to​ ​do.​ ​To​ ​​stay​ ​on​ ​track, the​ ​committee​ devote​d ​an​ ​occasional​ ​full​ ​day​ ​to plan​ ​as​ ​a​ ​team.​ It’s​ ​always​ ​a challenge​ ​to​ ​step​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​daily​ ​workflow,​ ​Neal​ ​said,​ but it was necessary​ ​to​ focus on the redesign.

The​ ​Center​ ​for​ ​Investigative​ ​Reporting​ ​created​ ​a​ ​whole-staff committee​ ​to​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​what​ ​they​ ​wanted​ ​out​ ​of​ ​their​ ​2016 relocation​ ​and​ ​remodel.​ ​Unfortunately​ ​the​ top​ ​item​ ​on their​ ​wish​ ​list​ ​—​ ​being​ ​close​ ​to​ ​public​ ​transportation​ ​— wasn’t ​possible.​ ​Due to expensive​ ​real​ ​estate​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Bay​ ​area, they​ ​​ended​ ​up sacrificing​ ​that​ ​for​ ​a​ ​“collaboration​-​inspiring” space​ ​they​ ​could​ ​afford, said ​​managing​ ​director​ ​Christa​ ​Scharfenberg.

“It​ ​is​ a ​little​ ​off​ ​the​ ​beaten​ ​path,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​was​ ​really​ ​cool​ ​[and] within​ ​our budget,”​ ​​Scharfenberg​ said ​of the​ former ​pipe​ ​factory​ ​in​ ​Emeryville, a few miles southwest of ​their​ ​previous​ ​location​ ​in​ ​downtown​ ​Berkeley. This​ ​bright​, ​dramatic​ ​space​ ​offered a blank canvas ​for​ creating ​the​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​cool​ ​space​ ​they​ ​wanted.

One of the center’s ​board​ ​members​ ​connected​ ​them​ ​with​ ​Ken​ ​Fulk, ​who recently​ ​made​ ​Elle​ ​Decor’s​ ​2017​ ​​“A-list”​​ ​issue.

“He​ ​donated​ ​his​ ​company’s​ ​time​ ​to​ ​create​ ​the​ ​design​ ​and​ ​layout for​ ​free,”​ ​Scharfenberg said. They were “very​ ​respectful of​ ​our​ ​limited​ ​resources.” She​ ​said ​newsrooms should cull​ ​their​​ ​communities​ ​for​ ​creative​ ​talent​ ​to​ ​aid​ ​in the​ir redesigns.

When the Center for Investigative Reporting moved into a former factory, the designer incorporated several lounge areas with “home-like” furnishings. These seating areas soften the industrial setting and provide alternative places to work throughout the day. (Photo by Rachel de Leon)

Don’t just listen to your users — observe them

For​ ​Zach Seward​ ​and​ his ​crew,​ ​nurturing​ ​culture​ ​is​ ​at​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ ​Quartz’s success. So​ paying attention to ​user​ ​behavior​ ​—​ ​staff​ ​needs, personality​ ​quirks,​ ​personal​ ​interests​ ​and​ ​styles​ ​of experimentation​ ​—​ ​was​ ​essential​ ​to​ ​making​ ​their​ new space work. Impressed​ ​by​ ​what​ Desai​ ​Chia Architecture​ had​ ​done​ ​for​ ​the​ ​tech​ ​incubator ​​Betaworks​​, Seward selected ​the firm to lead Quartz’s ​2016​ ​relocation​ ​and​ ​remodel.

Desai​ ​Chia​ ​started​ ​by​ surveying, observing and listening to ​staff​ ​over​ ​several​ ​days. The firm​ ​picked​ ​up​ ​a​ ​few​ ​themes​ and​​ ​recognized beloved​ ​elements​ they​ should​ ​retain from the old space.​ ​The staff​ ​​documented​ ​this​ ​process​​ ​in​ ​a​ ​series​ ​of​ ​articles​ ​that​ ​share much​ ​of​ ​their​ ​​thinking,​ ​from​ ​​architectural layouts​​ ​to​ ​​musings​ ​on​ ​culture​.

“We​ ​heard​ ​that​ ​there​ ​were​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​coffee​ ​buffs,​ ​but​ ​that​ ​in​ ​the old​ ​office​ ​coffee​ ​was​ ​terrible,​ ​so​ ​they​ ​broke​ ​away​ ​and​ ​started making​ ​better​ ​coffee​ ​on​ ​their​ ​own,”​ ​Seward​ ​said. The informal coffee club, complete with its own channel on Slack,​ ​​took​ ​to​ ​making​ ​specialty​ ​coffee​ ​in​ ​Chemex​ ​brewers​, sometimes with ​beans​ ​from​ coworkers’ ​travels.

So Desai​ ​Chia​ ​was​ ​careful​ ​to​ incorporate ​​a​ ​coffee-themed​ ​space​ ​in​ ​the new​ ​location.

Quartz’s “Cafe” space celebrates a staff passion for coffee, and the Chemex brewing method in particular. (Photo by Mark Craemer)

​​“We​ ​also​ ​heard​ ​about​ ​a​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​tinkering,”​ ​Seward ​said​. “Some​ ​staff​ ​had​ ​hacked​ ​the​ ​office​ ​in​ the ​previous​ ​space,​ ​added sensors​ ​to​ ​the​ ​dishwasher.”​ ​The​ ​new​ ​location​ has a workshop​ ​for​ ​staff​ ​to​ ​tinker​ ​away.​

Three steps to learn what your staff needs and wants in their workplace

Real estate company JLL describes three issues to address when surveying employees prior to a relocation or remodel. Whether formally or informally, each newsroom in this study conducted some version of these analyses.

Location​ ​survey​​: This is about whether​ ​to​ ​renovate​ ​your current​ ​space​ ​or​ move ​to​ ​a​ ​new​ ​one. The answer​ ​depends​ ​on​ ​multiple issues:​ ​financial,​ ​real​ ​estate​ and behavioral.​ ​Suggested topics to survey:

  • Favorite/least favorite features of the building

  • Nearby​ ​activities​ ​and​ ​amenities

  • Commuting habits

  • Parking​ ​needs​ ​and​ ​issues

  • Use​ ​of amenities near the site​,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​childcare,​ restaurants​ or ​walking​ ​trails​ ​

JLL​ ​recommends​ ​ranking​ ​responses​ ​and sorting​ them​ ​by​ ​age,​ ​length​ ​of​ employment​ ​and​ ​area​ ​of expertise.​ ​For​ ​example,​ ​a​ ​photographer​ ​will​ ​likely​ ​have different​ answers ​than​ ​someone​ ​in​ ​sales;​ ​you’ll​ ​want to​ ​keep​ ​these​ ​differences​ ​in​ ​mind​ ​as​ ​you​ review ​answers.

Workplace​ ​survey​​:​ ​This​ ​in-depth​ ​analysis​ ​​focuses​ ​on how​ ​staff​ ​use​ ​the​ ​existing​ ​space. How​ ​well​ does it ​support — or​ ​inhibit — the work that needs to be done and how employees want to do it? Focusing​ ​on​ ​the nuts​ ​and​ ​bolts​ ​of​ ​day-to-day​ ​work, these surveys help​ ​to​ ​establish which ​spaces​ ​need​ ​​flexibility,​ the ​ratio of open​ ​to​ ​closed​ ​spaces​,​ ​traffic​ ​flow​ problems​ ​and​ ​other​ issues.​

Many firms survey the entire staff and then interview representative members and key stakeholders. These​ ​surveys​ address a variety of factors that influence workspace design:

  • Practical needs: Questions like ​“What’s​ ​your​ ​average​ ​meeting​ ​size?” or ​“How​ ​much​ ​time​ ​do​ ​you​ ​spend​ ​working​ ​virtually​ ​with off-site​ ​team​ ​members?”​

  • Culture and sentiment: “Do​ ​you​ believe ​your​ ​workspace​ ​reflects​ ​your company’s​ ​mission?”​ and “Does​ ​your​ ​workspace​ ​inspire you?” ​

  • Work​ ​habits​ ​and workflows:​ ​“What​ ​do​ ​you​ ​use​ ​Space​ ​A​ ​for?” and​ ​​“How much​ ​time​ ​do​ ​you​ ​spend​ ​in​ ​Space​ ​B?”

“It was the newsroom of Woodward and Bernstein,” Washington​ ​Post​ ​Deputy​ Managing​ Editor​ ​Tracy​ ​Grant​ ​said. But the company hadn’t really done anything to celebrate the legacy of the Post in its old space. This sort of issue can come to light by surveying your employees. The new newsroom, Grant said, “honors the tradition of The Washington Post.” (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Baseline​ ​survey​​:​ ​This​ ​step​ ​is​ ​the​ ​most​ ​challenging because​ ​it​ ​is​ ​where​ ​you​ ​and​ your​ ​team​ ​do​ ​the​ ​hard​ ​work​ ​of figuring​ ​out​ ​what’s​ ​next​ ​and​ ​how​ ​to​ ​get​ ​there.​ ​This survey​ ​helps​ ​establish​ ​what​ ​you​ ​want​ ​the​ ​new​ ​space​ ​to achieve,​ such as spur more​ ​collaboration,​ ​support​ ​new​ ​workflows or offer more​ ​flexibility​.​​​ ​The results will determine​ ​how​ ​your​ ​objectives​ fit into​ ​the​ ​current workspace, effectively​ ​illuminating​ ​what needs​ ​to​ ​change.

Questions​ ​are designed to highlight existing​ ​gaps​ ​and​ ​uncover​ ​solutions, such as:

  • “What​ ​inhibits collaboration​ ​in​ ​your​ ​current​ ​workspace?”​ ​

  • ​“How​ ​are​ ​you adapting​ ​your​ ​workspace​ ​for​ ​changes​ ​in​ ​workflow?”

  • “List all the potential activities you imagine doing in Space A, B, or C…”

  • “For each activity, indicate the number of people that would typically participate, how often and for what duration.”

  • “Are there any tasks you need to perform that you can’t in the existing space?”

A bright paint scheme helped refresh the newsroom at the Virginian-Pilot and convey a fresh look for the newly digital newsroom. Updated, brightly-colored furniture in new seating areas provided new seating opportunities to meet and work away from desks. (Photo by The’ N. pham)

Chapter 5

Designing for new priorities and practices

News ​is​ ​hardly​ ​the​ ​only​ ​industry​ ​disrupted​ ​by​ ​​technology​ ​over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​decade. But ​you’d​ ​be hard-pressed​ ​to​ ​find​ ​a​ ​newsroom​ ​that​ ​doesn’t​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​it has​ ​borne the​ ​brunt​ ​of​ ​that​ disruption.​ ​As newsroom leaders have​ ​adapted ​their​ ​staff​ ​and workflows,​ ​they’ve​ ​realized​ ​traditional​ ​office spaces​ ​can’t keep​ ​pace​ ​with​ ​a​ ​business in constant​ ​flux.

While​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​one-size-fits-all​ ​solution​ for news organizations, ​or​ any guarantee they can create change-proof​ ​environments,​ experts say workspaces are more likely to weather change if they’re built around two guiding principles.

Design for mobility

Mobility​ ​is​ ​about​ ​creating fluid​ ​spaces​ ​where people can move about freely and change furniture, locations and activities as needed. Those changes could be made to adapt to an employee’s varied ​tasks​ ​within​ ​the course​ ​of​ ​a​ ​day. Or they could be precipitated by ​a​ fundamental shift ​in the​ ​industry​ ​itself.​

This approach ​requires design decisions aimed at creating ​flexible​ ​environments​ ​that​ ​won’t​ ​need to be overhauled in a​ ​few​ ​years.​ ​

One trend​ ​is​ ​unassigned​ ​seating, ​which​ ​at​ ​one​ ​extreme shifts​ ​employees​ ​from​ ​“ownable”​ ​workstations​ ​to open-season​ ​docking​ ​stations​. Employees​ move through​ Google’s ​​sprawling​ ​headquarters​, for example,​ ​as​ ​their​ ​mood and​ ​needs​ ​dictate​.

Mobility​ ​is​ ​about​ ​creating fluid​ ​spaces​ ​where people can move about freely and change furniture, locations and activities as needed.

For newsrooms, a​ ​hybrid​ ​model​ ​of​ ​unassigned​ ​seating​ ​may​ ​be​ ​more​ appropriate. This ​provides “me” spaces for certain types of work — or certain types of journalists — while​ ​providing “we” spaces for​ collaborative​ ​work. (For more on this, see “How to design workspaces that spur collaboration“). Providing​ ​a​ ​balance​ ​of structured​ ​and​ ​unstructured​ areas ​allows​ ​employees​ ​to​ ​move between​ ​different​ parts ​of​ ​the​ ​office​ ​as​ ​a change​ ​of​ ​scenery​ ​or​ ​to​ shift​ ​from​ ​solo​ ​to​ ​team​ work.

A newsroom designed with this​ ​balance​ ​can​ ​have small​, ​“ownable” spaces,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​a​ ​desk​ ​in​ ​an​ ​open​ ​area​ ​or​ ​a​ ​desktop​ ​station​ ​on​ ​a long​ ​table,​ along with comfortable,​ ​unassigned​ ​spaces​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ ​used​ ​in​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of ​ways.

In Gensler’s ​2016​ ​U.S.​ ​Workplace​ ​Survey,​ researchers found ​that “media​ ​organizations​ ​have​ ​a​ ​higher​ ​percentage​ ​of​ ​unassigned spaces​ ​than​ ​even​ ​the​ ​top​ ​innovative​ ​companies,”​ ​said​ ​Sumita Arora,​ ​a​ ​principal​ ​and​ ​co-leader​ ​of​ the architectural​ ​firm’s ​media arm​.​

Arora calls these open areas “third spaces.” They give employees ​a​ ​choice​ ​in​ where they work at different times of the day and encourage​ ​different​ ​types​ ​of​ ​collaboration.​ ​This kind of flexibility, she said, is ​a corollary​ ​of​ innovation.

Mixed-use, unassigned seating areas, such as this flank of comfortable window seating at Quartz (top) or the comfortable space at the Center for Investigative Reporting (bottom), offer employees a change of scenery and accommodate different working styles. (Top photo by Mark Craemer; bottom photo by Rachel de Leon)

There are surprisingly simple ways to offer this flexibility: Use ​furnishings​ on​ ​wheels,​ ​lightweight​ ​pieces​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ moved,​ ​or​ ​modular​ ​systems​ ​that​ ​can​ ​be​ ​reconfigured​ ​like​ ​Legos.

“Designing​ ​for​ ​the​ ​future​ ​has​ ​to​ ​last​ ​15 to 20​ ​years,”​ ​Arora ​said​. ​“It needs​ ​to​ ​be​ ​plug​ ​and​ ​play.”

Dozens of flexible, mixed-use spaces are sprinkled throughout The Washington Post’s new building. Each space has its own personality, color scheme and aesthetic. Furniture can be moved easily to suit solo or collaborative work. (Photo by Garrett Rowland)

Unassigned​ ​seating,​ ​mixed​-use​ ​spaces​ ​and​ ​​Lego-like furnishings​ can subtly​ ​instill​ ​a​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​innovation.​ When​ ​employees​ ​are​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​things​ ​that change​ ​in​ ​their​ ​environment,​ like a table on wheels, that’s​ ​a​ ​signal​ ​that​ ​change​ ​is constant and​ ​productive.​​ ​Flexible,​ ​mixed​-use​ ​spaces​ can influence behavior just like open-ended​ ​children’s​ ​toys​ ​invite​ ​imaginative​ ​play.​ ​Just as​ ​toys​ ​with​ ​predetermined​ ​uses​ ​inhibit​ ​inventiveness,​ ​having too​ ​many​ ​spaces​ ​that​ ​are​ ​designated​ ​for​ ​one​ ​activity​ ​(a lunchroom,​ ​a​ ​video​ ​studio,​ ​a​ ​conference​ ​room)​ diminishes​ ​the possibilities for how your employees work.

Design for agility

If​ ​”mobility”​ ​reflects​ ​​where​​ ​you​ ​work,​ “agility”​ ​is​ ​about​ ​​how​​ ​you work —​ ​a​ ​mindset​​ that influences culture and shapes ​newsroom​ ​practice​ ​and​ ​design.

​​Newsrooms​ ​are adopting design features that herald the shift​ ​from​ an assembly-line​ ​​model of production​ ​to​ a ​more​ ​interactive, nonlinear​ ​workflow. “The​ ​spaces​ ​we​ ​had​ ​were​ ​built​ ​for​ ​a​ ​linear​ ​production​ ​process, people​ ​doing​ ​their​ ​thing​ ​and​ ​passing​ ​it​ ​on​ ​to​ ​the​ ​next​ ​person,” The Dallas Morning News’ Robyn Tomlin said. ​“Things​ ​don’t​ ​happen​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same​ ​lines.”

​Arora ​refers​ ​to​ ​this​ ​as​ ​the “​live-streaming​ ​workplace​,”​ ​in​ ​which​ ​the​ ​focus​ ​is​ ​on​ ​fluid, continuous​ ​production​ ​and​ ​dissemination​ ​of​ ​digital​ ​content.

News organizations can encourage their employees to rethink how they do their work — even what work they should be doing — by creating incubator spaces. These areas reinforce the idea that newsrooms should be in a perpetual state of invention and iteration.

(Incubator) areas reinforce the idea that newsrooms should be in a perpetual state of invention and iteration.

At Quartz, the Workshop serves as a purposeful play zone, a place for imaginative product development. Sam Williams, director of the Workshop, has overseen formal and informal product incubation through hacks, sensors and bots. These experiments have turned into viable news products, such as a text-message interface for Quartz’s iPhone app.

Quartz’s incubator activity expanded with the launch of the Bot Studio, led by fellow tinkerer and noted sensor journalist John Keefe.

The Alpha Group, which provides product development and technology strategy for Advance Publications, has ​a similar incubator mindset. But the Alpha Group is purposely separate from Advance’s newsrooms. This alternative model allows companies to pursue experiments away from the day-to-day business.

“This​ ​is​ ​more​ ​of​ ​a​ ​heads-down​ ​process,”​ ​said​ ​David Cohn, senior director for the Alpha Group.​ ​“We​ ​work​ ​independently ​and​ ​are​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​be quick​ ​and​ ​build​ MVPs​ ​​[minimum​ ​viable​ ​products]​​,​ ​not worrying​ ​about​ ​existing​ ​audiences​ ​and​ ​legacy​ ​workflows.”

This​ ​autonomy​ ​gives​ ​them​ ​the​ ​freedom​ ​and flexibility ​to do curiosity-driven​ ​research​ ​that​ ​doesn’t​ ​always​ ​have an​ ​immediate​ ​application. “Once​ ​we come​ ​up​ ​with​ ​something​ ​we​ ​want​ ​to​ ​double-down​ ​on,​” Cohn said, “​we​ ​show it​ ​to​ ​the​ ​larger​ ​organization​ ​to​ ​get​ ​a​ ​greenlight.”

After the​ ​alpha​ ​phase​ ​is​ ​complete,​ ​Cohn’s​ ​team​ ​hands​ ​off​ ​the product​ ​to​ ​the​ ​larger​ ​media​ ​organization. ​“We​ ​don’t​ ​want​ ​to​ ​dictate,” he said. “We​ ​want​ ​them to​ ​feel​ ​empowered​ ​—​ ​​ ​they​ ​can​ take​ ​the​ ​product​ ​into​ ​directions we​ ​haven’t​ ​thought​ ​of,​ ​because​ ​they’re​ ​responding​ ​to​ ​users​ ​on the​ ​ground.”

Greater role for video shapes newsroom design

At ​many of​ ​the​ ​news outlets​ that participated in ​this​ study,​ agility means ​an elevated​ ​role​ ​for​ ​video, both in how teams are organized and in how their workspaces are laid out.

The way video is incorporated into the daily routine of modern news outlets blurs on-air and off-air space in the newsroom, Arora said. A reporter can go from filing a story for the website to discussing her findings on video, without having to leave her desk.

The Washington​ ​Post’s new newsroom ​has a​ ​“glassbox​ ​studio” ​with​ ​the​ ​central​ editing ​hub​ ​as​ ​a​ ​backdrop. Reporters can go on air from anywhere in the newsroom because the editing hub was designed with camera angles in mind.​

​“We​ ​wanted​ ​to create​ ​brand​ immersion,”​ ​Arora​ ​said​.

The “glassbox” studio in The Washington Post’s newsroom is just one of several high-tech spaces devoted to multimedia production. It reflects the Post’s high priority on video content.

New seating arrangements also show the importance of video at the Post. In the old building, videographers were siloed off in their own area. Now members of the video team are embedded in sections, similar to how the paper has integrated software developers and graphic designers.

In the newsroom of Treasure Coast News, ​an​ ​old​ ​clip​ ​file​ room​ ​in​ ​a​ ​back​ ​corner room was transformed​ ​into​ ​a​ ​video​ ​studio​.

At Treasure Coast News in Florida, a branded wall and a touchscreen display are part of a multi-purpose studio space for interviews, weather reports, live streaming and other video content. (Photo by Leah Voss)

“We’ve​ ​been​ ​doing​ ​a​ ​decent​ ​job​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​catch​ ​up​ ​with​ ​video,” Managing Editor Adam Neal said. But​ ​​the​ ​newsroom​ ​“needed​ ​to​ ​see​ ​a​ ​physical transformation​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​everyone​ ​knows​ ​how​ ​serious​ ​we​ ​are about​ ​video.”

He’s proud “​that​ ​we’re​ ​calling​ ​it​ ​a​ ​video studio​ ​—​ ​not​ ​a​ ​TV​ ​studio​ ​–​ ​even​ ​though​ ​we’re​ ​competing​ ​with TV. It’s​ ​a​ ​quick-hit​ ​video​ ​studio,”​ ​where ​​no​ ​one​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​be trained​ ​on​ an expensive production ​system.​ ​In​ ​fact​, ​one​ ​of​ ​their​ ​first​ ​interviews​ ​in the​ ​studio​ used​ ​Facebook​ ​Live.

How newsrooms are integrating analytics into their workspaces

Many of the new and remodeled newsrooms in this study​ incorporate screens focused on analytics.

By installing​ prominent ​​screens in the newsroom​,​ ​audience​ ​behavior​ ​becomes part​ ​of the​ work environment. These screens can display website analytics, audience engagement across social platforms and trending topics.

These insights are key to understanding audience behavior and monetizing digital content. “We​ ​focus​ ​all​ ​of​ ​our​ ​energy​ ​on​ ​the​ ​digital​ ​space,”​ Neal said, and these metrics show journalists how people are responding to their work.

But ​there are a couple notable exceptions. The digitally native Quartz took a more subtle approach to digital displays when it moved into a new space. Modestly-sized screens are as likely to display team-oriented content — such as high scores for a popular mobile game among the staff — as they are to show what’s trending on Twitter.

Brian​ ​Boyer,​ ​of​ ​Spirited​ ​Media,​ ​shrugs​ ​at​ ​the​ ​need​ ​to​ ​have analytics​ ​displayed​ ​prominently. He​ ​doesn’t​ ​believe​ ​the​ ​data​ ​is always​ ​useful​ ​or​ ​actionable.

At NPR, “we​ ​did​ ​a​ ​piece​ ​on​ ​the​ ​civil​ ​war​ ​in​ ​Yemen.​ It​ ​only​ ​had​ ​50,000​ ​hits.​ ​Not​ ​a​ ​viral​ ​hit​. ​… For​ ​the​ ​team​ ​that​ ​built​ ​that,​ ​when​ ​they​ ​see​ ​those numbers,​ ​and​ ​we’re​ ​used​ ​to​ ​getting​ ​half​ ​a​ ​million​ ​views​ ​when we​ ​work​ ​this​ ​hard​ ​–​ ​what​ ​do​ ​you​ ​want​ ​the​ ​team​ ​to​ ​feel​, ​that they​ ​[failed]?”

He​ ​said​ ​he’s​ ​careful​ ​to​ ​measure​ ​success​ ​in​ ​different​​ ​ways.​ ​For that​ ​particular​ story,​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​measuring​ ​page​ ​views, his team ​measured​ ​how​ ​many​ ​people​ finished ​it.​ ​“It​ ​was like​ ​70 percent,” he said. “Which​ ​is​ ​amazing!”​

If​ ​you’re​ ​going​ ​to​ ​put​ ​metrics​ ​on​ ​the​ ​wall,​ ​he​ ​cautioned,​ ​measure the​ ​things​ ​that​ ​matter​ ​the​ ​most​ ​to​ ​you. “Be​ ​thoughtful​ ​about​ ​what​ ​you​ ​celebrate,”​ ​he​ ​cautioned.​

In​ ​the​ ​physical​ ​space,​ ​“what​ ​you​ ​choose​ ​to​ ​celebrate​ ​impacts how​ ​your​ ​team​ ​feels​ ​and​ ​performs.”

Chapter 6


Recommended readings on workplace design

The architectural firm Gensler has created a division focused entirely on designing workspaces for media organizations. Its past clients include The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, The Guardian, The New York Times and others. The company has posted case studies and photo galleries of their solutions for a variety of news, media and entertainment companies.

Architectural and consulting firms frequently publish research and whitepapers on common issues in workplace design. Here are a few resources to help you make decisions on some of the issues addressed in this study.

“Me” vs. “we” space

Cultivating innovation

Design for change

Human-centered design

Designing for culture

Moving the Newsroom: Post-Industrial News Spaces and Places” offers an in-depth look at the industry’s first wave of newsroom redesign, featuring before-and-afters of the relocations of The Seattle Times, the Miami Herald, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and The Des Moines Register between 2011 and 2013.

Show and tell

Several of the newsrooms featured in this study gave their audiences behind-the-scenes looks at their renovations.

Reporters at The Washington Post took a playful approach in documenting their relocation.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette bid a fond farewell to its historic location in this heartfelt piece by Michael Fuoco. The paper also produced a video tour of the new space prior to move-in.

Quartz’s staff devoted a Medium page called The Office to their relocation, with employees candidly sharing their perspectives and problem-solving. The blog includes several floor plans that were being considered at the time and architectural renderings.

Quartz’ new space design was shared with staff in a series of floor plans, which evolved as changes were made in the design process. Virtual renderings helped staff envision the new space in rich detail.


Office Snapshots is a crowdsourced resource for browsing unique office spaces and floor plans, with images sorted by categories such as lighting, digital displays, meeting spaces and work areas. Sites like this can help you create what designers call a “mood board” — a collection of inspirational photos and color references to share with staff and architects. (Here’s Quartz’s mood board.)

Cool Office Interiors showcases creative spaces around the world, including offices of technology companies such as eBay, Google and Skype.

Pinterest is another way to find examples of office designs and inspiration for everything from graphic wall art to office furniture. It can help you build your mood board as you embark on the process.

Sample staff survey

Here’s a modified version of the survey that The Center for Investigative Reporting used before its relocation and remodel. Use it as a starting point for your own staff survey.