A person working on a laptop.

All Squared Away

Notwithstanding its 90 years in business, 22squared is an advertising agency that likes to emphasize its “start-up mentality.” A recent rebranding, which bestowed the agency’s new conversation-starter name, also introduced a new business model — one that embodies a belief that word of mouth has the greatest marketing influence.

Yet, their existing office simply didn’t speak for the more open and social agency that 22squared had become. The ten-year-old space not only showed wear and tear, it represented an outmoded way of operating. 22squared hired Gensler to address the disconnect, and to help plan and design a new workplace that fosters cross-disciplinary knowledge sharing and positions the agency to serve its clients’ integrated advertising aims.


A person walking in a hallway.

The Power of Personal Networks

22squared’s rebranding followed the arrival of senior leadership, who introduced a new approach to the agency, one focused on the power of friendship, and the idea that esprit de corps among employees can drive business. Even the agency’s new name, 22squared, speaks to the profitability of inspired employees and a culture that values personal connections. Twenty-two squared equals 484, the number of people that leadership believes an individual can affect through his or her friendship network.

Creative thinking thrives at 22squared, and an open, free-flow of ideas and information is vital to friendship, culture and business. So when leadership envisioned its future workplace, it was always viewed as more than an aesthetic endeavor. The big idea was to have Gensler guide a renovation-in-place to help power the agency’s brand, energize employees and boost connections among them. Silos between different groups of employees had grown quite literal; staffers were encasing themselves behind 6-foot-tall mobile screens that were part of the original systems furniture. New thinking about what it meant to be open and collaborative was in order.

A room with a couch and chairs.

The Workplace Performance Index®

Getting into the headspace of design thinking can happen in a variety of ways, most often in visioning sessions with key stakeholders during project start-up. Some companies, 22squared among them, want more voices and research to inform this pre-design phase and use Gensler’s Workplace Performance Index® (WPI) to evaluate the effectiveness of their work settings.

Proprietary to Gensler and one of the firm’s most important design tools, the WPI is a two-part, web-enabled survey of employees that unearths critical information about the existing workplace and how employees rate that space. In the case of 22squared, leadership was particularly interested in learning how its young staff, largely millennials, prefers to work.

Once a designated percentage of employees take the WPI survey, Gensler consultants analyze the responses and compare the data to industry benchmarks and top-performing companies in the same or a comparable field.

People in a building.

Research-driven Design

While a final WPI score (an amalgam of multiple factors, much like a credit rating) is generated for the company and used for comparison, the ultimate goal of the WPI is three-fold and sequential:

  • To provide clients an honest, real-time assessment of their current workplace, which
  • Informs the design process of the new space, addressing critical issues and ensuring maximum productivity, so the project as a whole can
  • Deliver measurable results

The first part of the WPI survey typically is administered concurrent to an initial audit of the space and asks employees approximately 75 questions that are meant to elicit quick, unstudied responses. Part two of the survey revisits employees post-occupancy and reveals how well the new space performs for them. Gensler has more than 80,000 individual survey responses in its WPI database, providing clients who use the tool a wealth of comparative research data.

A building with a glass front.

Hip to be Squared

From the beginning, 22squared’s leadership stressed that its renovated space should inspire employees and break down silos. What it sought to understand better — and used the WPI to yield — were the particulars of collaboration: What exactly was the space lacking? What specifically was needed to support a cross-team esprit de corps?

The findings revealed: workstations and meeting areas could be improved to support more visual contact among employees; circulation paths, common areas and amenities could promote a richer sense of community; and furniture and work settings could be more flexible.

Gensler used the WPI findings along with results from the visioning sessions to inform the design process, which ultimately produced a more open, agile and social office. In place of walls between groups, areas around workstations open up to create “neighborhoods” for employee teams. Neighborhoods are organized around — and linked by — “walkways of streets and avenues” that make casual meetings between employees inevitable. Shared collaboration areas likewise join the small neighborhoods and serve as an acoustical buffer between groups of people.


A group of people sitting in a room with a large window.

Fostering a Culture of Creative Thinking

The firm’s chief administrative officer noted that client pitches that once took two or more weeks to prepare now get done in a few days, largely because people are more physically connected. Support staff, from accounting to human resources, says it better understands the creative process and feels connected now to that energy.

Up front in the elevator lobby, another side of that creative energy asserts itself visually. During visioning sessions, the firm identified the ironwood plant — whose strong root system makes it nearly indestructible — as a totem of its culture. The plant became part of the lobby space design language: The lights turn and descend like roots into the layers of wavy wood that line the walls, representing layers of earth.

The project is “a three-dimensional representation” of the 22squared culture, says Gensler Design Director Richard Macri, and a “particular point of view” on how work can get done in a business climate brimming with possibilities.

A group of people sitting at a table in a room with glass walls.

Social and Sustainable

Although sociability permeates the design, the WPI revealed a need for privacy and focus space. Each floor plate is separated into two distinct areas: workstation space and meeting/collaboration space — the latter being open and transparent, with a range of alternative workspace possibilities.  Collaborative spaces include a “playground-like” space with grandstand seating, family room-style casual space with adult beanbag chairs, and more formal living room. The quiet, focus spaces include glass-walled interior offices and phone rooms, as well as informal meeting and work rooms that can be adapted to heads-down work.

Sustainability is another critical piece of the design. Management strongly believed that a green office promotes the well-being of both the environment and its friendship business model — and could be parlayed into a significant recruitment tool. The LEED® Gold-certified office incorporates such sustainable materials as reclaimed flooring from a Civil War-era munitions factory and redesigned and repurposed existing furniture.



Karen Grace and Monica Schaffer (Gensler Media Relations)
Richard Macri (Gensler Atlanta)

Michael Moran Photography

Monica Schaffer