Rethinking Springfield: The future of work
Posted By Sapp Design – Apr 28 | 2022
The last two years of quarantine and social distancing have caused us to reimagine what “work” looks like. Because of COVID, employees adapted to working from home and other non-traditional spaces, and the trend is here to stay. Companies such as Forbes and CBRE are publishing articles stating that the future of the office is remote work and it will continue to gain momentum even after the pandemic is over. A recent study, published by Gartner Inc., shows 82% of company leaders intend to permit remote work at least some of the time.[i] In addition, 47% of companies intend to allow employees to work remotely full time.[ii] After working from home, employees are craving autonomy over their environment. Employees want to have a more collaborative experience in their office, whether that be more flexible furniture, small-group conference rooms, or just a space that is different from the typical desk. In addition, employees are craving a connection to the environment through views, trails, and outdoor activities that would bring new life into the average office environment. These typical office environments are no longer enough, and employers need to adapt to meet this trend.
Companies such as Walmart have imagined a new work environment in Bentonville, AR on their home campus. The campus not only includes office space but also provides fitness centers, restaurants, coffee shops, and daycare for its employees.[iii] A unique feature, based on location, is that it uses bike and pedestrian trails to invite the public onto the campus and direct them to nearby adjacencies like Crystal Bridges. This design begins to make “work” less of a grind, and more of an ideal experience for employees and the community. However, that’s just a single corporation. A more compelling and rising movement in addressing the growing pains of a changing workforce can be observed through the success of a company like WeWork. “Billed as something of an in-person social media network in 2010, the premise was simple: It was a place where startup employees and freelancers could find community, but more than that, it was a place where work and life just became one and the same.” [iv] The workplace environment provides office space for entrepreneurs through a membership-based fee structure.[v] As members, they now have an office space, separate from their home, with all the tools that they need to make each small business successful.
But what is the next evolutionary step in this newly emerging workforce model? Sapp Design Architects asked the question, “what if the coworking model became a destination workplace?” and, “What does this mean for Springfield, Missouri?” Sapp Design looked at the Springfield Region Major Employers as of Summer 2019 to understand the magnitude of the change within this region of Missouri. Looking at just the top 18 employers in the region, there are approximately 61,287 people.[vi] Based on the statistic mentioned earlier of 47% of employees working remotely full-time, that would equate to approximately 28,800 people now working in a nontraditional office setting. Imagine if even half of these employees will seek a workplace outside of the house. 37% of employers are actively willing to hire from anywhere in the world.[vii] Alongside the Great resignation lies a relocation trend as well. Imagine if just a small percentage of employees selected Springfield as their new ideal home base.
Sapp Design poses the question: What does this change look like in our community? Where would you accommodate a workforce this large in Springfield?
The answer? The James River Power Plant at Lake Springfield. As an icon of Springfield and the massive scale of the building act as a landmark for the region. The James River Power Plant has historically been associated with the innovation of Springfield, and now that it is being decommissioned, the plant needs to serve a new purpose. From large-scale open spaces built with durable materials, the existing building has ample room for flexible work environments and maker spaces in order to meet the trend of the Future of Work. But, what makes this place truly special is its connection to the lake and the surrounding park. No other office environment in Springfield could offer this same experience. With its already established access to nature and the Greenway trails, this site could provide it all; like kayak courses, boardwalks, bike trails, and an outdoor amphitheater. The James River Power Plant could not only serve as a destination workplace but as a recreation hub. This is an ideal environment for both entrepreneurs and established businesses looking to attract new employees while cutting down overhead through a workplace membership similar to WeWork’s model.
The idea of renovating a decommissioned power plant is prevalent across the United States. If places like St. Louis can renovate a power plant to become a place to educate and provide a unique indoor rock climbing experience, then a destination workplace is not a far stretch in comparison. Companies like Climb So Ill have managed to use an icon like the smokestacks, to provide a new and modern recreational approach that is unique to its region. Other projects, like The Bailey Power Plant in Salem, Massachusetts, bring new energy into their community by providing spaces to interact, socialize, and recreate through new retail and entertainment spaces.
The ideas that Sapp Design Architects has begun to imagine are not new to Springfield. During Forward SGF meetings, Springfieldians have already expressed desires to connect the Greenway Trails, and have more green spaces incorporated into the city. Lake Springfield is an area that could provide all of this to the Springfield region and beyond. The Future of Work is already here, and what better place than the James River Power Plant at Lake Springfield.