Back in 2012, the employees working at Adobe Systems Incorporated’s new office campus in Lehi, Utah, spent the opening-day celebration taking snapshots with their smartphones and posting them to Instagram for a friendly workplace competition. In one, an employee dominates a massive climbing wall. Another, an aerial, shows shadows crossing the sunlit atrium. There’s a close-up of a gorgeous mural painted by California street artist El Mac, a picture of a gleaming chrome baby grand piano, and an action shot of people playing pick-up basketball on an NBA-style court, with Utah’s mountains on full display through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows beyond.
These glimpses of an exciting future have become the daily reality for Adobe employees at Lehi. And the idea that originated there—of both working and playing hard, without leaving the office to do either—is spreading across Adobe’s offices worldwide.
280,000 sq. ft.
Sam Nunes, Bryan Shiles, Brian Milman, John McGill, Raul Garduño, Moses Vaughan, Jason Halaby, Pauline Souza
DUNN Associates with Holmes Culley
Colvin Engineering Associates
Ensign Engineering and Landscape
Wallace Roberts and Todd
Adobe’s workplace-design shift began in 2011, starting with the design of the Lehi campus and the retrofitting of a few floors at the tech firm’s San Jose, California, headquarters. Jonathan Francom, Adobe’s senior director of global workplace solutions, and his team were the first at the company to imagine and implement the idea of an exciting, engaging space—the kind workers are eager to commute to every day. Francom is now extending the concept, in tailored iterations, to Adobe’s other offices around the world, from Australia to India to England to various locations throughout the United States.
Francom’s route to Adobe was simple. After turns in real estate at Intel and Wachovia, he came across the start-up Omniture, whose “rough-and-tumble” atmosphere turned out to be far more of an inspiration than those of the more-established corporations. “It was just an insanely exciting place to work,” he says. “It was fun.” Adobe acquired Omniture in 2009, and Francom came along for the ride. He has since taken responsibility for all the company’s corporate real estate, facilities, and security, both in America and abroad.
His plan has been to create a competitive advantage for Adobe by moving it away from the traditional office plans of the 1990s—think cubicles, closed doors, and beige—and toward spaces that reflect its culture of Cs: creativity, collaboration, and community. Nowhere is that more evident than at Lehi.
“People ask, ‘How do people even work here? It looks like a resort.’ I love that question—because working hard and playing hard aren’t mutually exclusive.”
—Jonathan Francom, Senior Director of Global Workplace Solutions
The campus consists of 280,000 square feet of space, located on nearly 40 acres of dry plains west of Utah’s twin peaks and just south of Salt Lake City. The building made an architectural splash in 2012 for its modern, glassed-in design; raw, elegant materials; commissioned graffiti art; and employee perks, including billiards, table tennis, a music room, and a PC-gamer haven. Crayon-colored walls and carpets enliven the open interior workstations, block quotes stand out boldly on the walls, graffiti art diffuses any lingering corporate vibes, and nods to local culture (from local food in the cafeteria to a graffitied area zip code) give employees a deeper sense of place.
Francom’s work has been inspired by other forward-thinking workplaces—not only from the usual suspects in technology but from any company that values an immersive office experience. He recalls touring Nike’s corporate headquarters outside Portland, Oregon, where meetings can take place midhike or in one of five campus restaurants.
He also keeps track of the latest research, which increasingly shows that employees are looking for more amenities and flexibility in the workplace. The corresponding design philosophies lead to spaces and amenities that can sound a little like something straight out of an elementary school student’s dreams: Grow up, go to work, but while you’re at it, play a little basketball with your friends. Challenge your coworkers to a Smash Brothers tournament. Have fun. It would have sounded like shirking responsibility just a decade ago, but today fun is a truly crucial component of work culture and design.
It’s Google that is perhaps best known for approaching office design as a way of enhancing employees’ satisfaction and thus their productivity and longevity. At its headquarters, the corporation created colorful interoffice regions named after local neighborhoods, and it incorporated game rooms, workout centers, amazing food, and regular social events. Soon, others—particularly in the tech sector—started catching on, and open workspaces are now becoming the norm, encouraging a breakdown of old office hierarchies and fostering conversation and collaboration between employees.
Particularly in demanding, collaborative, creative professions, the more spaces for accidental ideas to spark, the better. Then, add to that the recent idea of “leaning in,” a buzz phrase from the book Lean In by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, which advocates an assertive, ambitious attitude toward work, particularly for women. These ideas have created employees who invest more time and energy than the typical nine-to-fiver—who bring much more of their lives, from meals to socializing to exercise, into the workplace. To thrive, such employees need the modern, open, divertive offices.
“Talented employees we’re attracting don’t just want a job,” Francom says. “They want to be part of an experience.” That experience is difficult to shape, though. Every supervisor in every field, from a small-town high school teacher to a CEO, could tell a cautionary tale of trying and failing to encourage, change, or incentivize the behaviors and motivations of people through words. So, perhaps the secret is in the structure. As Alain de Botton wrote in The Architecture of Happiness, “We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves.”
Adobe doesn’t use a secret scientific formula for its office-space design. “I’m not one for absolute standards in the workplace,” Francom says. “Standards sometimes cause people to stop thinking or challenging the status quo.” Instead, the company simply works to stay within a few “guardrails.”
First, Adobe’s team has a strong preference for simplicity and raw materials. You won’t find a marble Doric column anywhere around the Utah campus; the entire palette comprises concrete, steel, wood, and glass. “One of the values at Adobe is ‘genuine,’” Francom says. “So genuineness in the materiality of the space is key. It feels like an industrial, raw type of environment, creating an energy that inspires employees.”
Transparency, another aspect of being genuine, is also important to the company. It’s implemented quite literally at Lehi, where one employee described his surroundings as “miles upon miles of glass.” Even the very few closed offices in the predominantly open plan—available for employees during occasional focused moments of introversion—are walled in clear glass. “We’re not hiding anywhere,” Francom says. “So even in the office, you’re a part of the team.”
To emphasize this further, the Adobe team created points of connection in unexpected places so that employees might run into each other. Other areas have been designed more invitingly to specifically encourage socialization, including living room-esque lounge spaces on each floor, break rooms with soft and colorful furniture arranged in circles, and a real fireplace near the main entrance, ringed in rainbow-colored carpeting.
Another of Adobe’s “guardrails” is its commitment to sustainability. At Lehi, reclaimed wood from railcars is used in the main staircase heading to the atrium, and there’s more built into the north entrance of the building, providing an immediate visual impact. More subtly, the tech company has figured out ways to reduce the strain its computer system puts on energy use and the environment. “Servers produce a lot of heat,” Francom says, explaining that most building designs focus on creating an exhaust system to simply dispel the heat. Adobe, though, uses a heat-recapture system that recovers and radiates the warmth through the floor of Lehi’s large atrium space. “In the winter, our atrium is literally heated by our server rooms,” Francom says. “It’s really a fun thing and allows people to see that we’re driving sustainability in unique and cool new ways.”
Adobe’s Utah campus has its own Facebook page. Posts include company news, members of the company in the news, nominations for the Adobe Founders’ Awards (a peer-nominated program that honors outstanding coworkers), and architectural tidbits about the new building. There are about 1,000 “likes” on the page.
“It’s a space people want to be a part of,” Francom says. “People ask, ‘How do people even work here? It looks like a resort.’ I love that question—because working hard and playing hard aren’t mutually exclusive.”