Make Your Own Office

DigitasLBi’s Chicago office fosters employee creativity and collaboration with an “idea factory” concept inspired by the city’s industrial roots

Walking into DigitasLBi’s Chicago office, a visitor might be greeted by an explosion of energy and sound—staff members zipping by on scooters, music playing from the office interior, and a riot of color from a light display pulsing behind reclaimed factory windows. Brittney Deaver, the agency’s associate director of human resources, says the activity is a reflection of the company’s ethos.

“As a full-service agency, we want to be creative across everything we do,” she says. “Culture is more than an add-on—it’s key to making us successful. Our space reflects and projects that culture of creativity and energy.”

DigitasLBi, a global marketing and technology agency, takes up four floors comprising 84,000 square feet in the 180 North LaSalle building, located in the Chicago Loop. The recently opened space is designed with both form and function in mind. The office has a modern industrial feel, which provides both a nod to Chicago’s roots as a hive of industry and a metaphor for the agency as a warehouse of innovation. “The space is raw, with high ceilings and exposed ductwork,” Deaver says. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer natural light, while high ceilings and exposed ductwork create an unconventional office aesthetic.

“We used materials throughout the office from defunct factories in the city,” Deaver says, adding that repurposed assembly lines and reclaimed wood and shipping palettes from local sources now serve as bars, doors, tables, and walls throughout the Chicago office. The agency also named conference rooms after notable Chicagoans. Anyone in the office not only knows where they are, but also that this is a unique space.

That fact isn’t lost on Drew Bishop, a LEED Green Associate with milliCare, which partnered with DigitasLBi on the creation of its Chicago office.

“Working with DigitasLBi has allowed us to experience the true workplace of the future,” he says. “Being a part of keeping that environment looking great is a point of pride for our business and we look forward to being a knowledgeable resource for many years to come.”

The real function of the Chicago office is to enhance collaboration and creativity. That means the space and the furniture within it can be changed according to the needs of the staff that day. The workstations are mobile so employees can pick up and move, even while they are working. Staff members also have the option to work at desks that can raise and lower for standing or sitting—whichever helps productivity. There are walls on which staff can write, walls that can be moved, and furniture that easily can be ferried from room to room. Some conference rooms are left open for spontaneous needs. “We’re flexible,” Deaver says. “We’re open. We’re real time.”

The office also is designed with different rooms that fit the function of specific teams.

“Some teams live in a specific room for weeks depending on what they are working on and they make it their own,” Deaver says, then recalls seeing an oriental rug an employee brought in spread out under desks in one room. That type of customization is encouraged. DigitasLBi wants the staff to embrace the space and make it their own.

To that end, the company’s social strategy team often can be found in one of the multiple BrandLive rooms, which function as the agency’s social media bullpen. These spaces are filled with flat-screen TVs and technology to create content and track social media activities. The tech teams sit in a low-light, quiet space so developers can concentrate on coding with minimal distraction and eye strain. “Our goal is remove every barrier at any corner that would inhibit creativity, collaboration and innovation,” Deaver says.

Removing barriers to creativity also means removing stresses caused by work. Sensitive to the needs of employees who find themselves overworked or overstressed, DigitasLBi provides decompression spaces where workers can unplug and unwind. For example, the Chicago office houses a “Zen” room where no electronics are allowed.

Massage chairs, pillows, and white noise populate the space, so that an overworked employee can replenish their creative juices. For DigitasLBi employees who need a more social break, the kitchen area provides healthy snacks, and a place to network and even play with other employees. “Connecting to the kitchen, we have shuffleboard, a foosball table, an X-box and Wii. We also put PlayStations on every floor with big TVs so people can play some games if they want to,” Deaver says, emphasizing that play is an important part of the creative process.

Amidst all this energy and noise, there are quiet spaces throughout the agency where staff can have some private time. “We understand we have to strike a good balance,” Deaver knows. “It’s not just about throwing everyone in a place with no walls and leaving them to figure out how to get work done.” There are private huddle rooms and small phone booths on each floor so staff can make personal calls or have time alone.

“We love that the Chicago office is a space that our employees feel excited and energized walking into,” Deaver says. “If we can provide any opportunities for collaboration, innovation, risk, trust and disruption, we will succeed and so, in turn, will our clients.”

Unique Office Finishes

  • Reclaimed assembly line from a defunct factory creates the company’s bar
  • Floor-to-ceiling mural looks down the Chicago “L” tracks
  • Wooden pallets from factories and reclaimed windows add to the “warehouse of innovation” theme
  • Custom graffiti art provides nods to Chicago’s urban vitality
  • Exposed ductwork along with unfinished ceilings and floors creates an airy, creative space to spur collaboration
(Photo: Padgett & Company)
(Photo: Padgett & Company)