When Mark Rios founded LA-based Rios Associates in 1985, he had a vision to imagine, design, and build complete environments. This vision helped the firm quickly develop an international reputation as a multi-disciplinary design firm. In 2020, Rios Associates, was renamed RIOS to reflect the collaboration across all of its disciplines. With this rename, also came an office redesign led by one of RIOS’ creative directors, Andy Lantz.
Lanz was given the task to redesign RIOS HQ in the midst of COVID. Instead of resisting, Lantz took the opportunity to “revolutionize and forever change what work is.” By creating a hot-desking office space, employees are no longer tied down to one particular desk, and with Heartwork’s Building Block Lockers to stow personal items away, employees have a new found freedom and flexibility to their work routine. Read more about how RIOS designed a healthier, more collaborative workspace that has become the hub for this new way of working.
Your design brief for the HQ redesign had the explicit intent to create a "lab" and free up as much as possible within the space to maximize room for collaboration and creativity. Given that your expansion took place in the midst of COVID, how did the pandemic inform your design process and solution for a new hybrid environment post-COVID?
For us, defining a confident path forward during COVID was important. So much of what was coming as a response to the situation a few years ago within our industry was overly focused at avoiding what the situation was offering all of us – a way to revolutionize and forever change what work is. We focused on listening to our teams and understanding how to curate a response that was for us and by us. What resulted was an approach that avoided a promise to return to the normalcy of pre-pandemic life but fostering a return to work that forever was made different by the changes we were seeing in the world.
Within our office we invested in making our space healthier through the introduction of overhead fans and operable exteriors for natural ventilation, and the introduction of UV for all of our roof top equipment. We solved problems around connecting our teams in office and at home through technology that focused on making all hybrid forms of collaboration equitable and engaging. We leaned in heavily to embrace a flexible work arrangement both in the physical space of our office with reservable seating and within our operations with a redefined return to work policy that only requires at minimum two days in office for all of our local staff.
RIOS sees design as the connector between people and place. And you refer to your team as a "collective" vs. a firm or agency. How did these values come through in the redesign of your own HQ?
Our return to work in the midst of the ongoing pandemic was all about finding ways to celebrate being together again. So much of what we do relies on strong, equitable collaboration. Because of that, we set up the redesign of our office and our return to work policy to empower our staff to come together in significant ways. Most importantly, we focused on how to spark joy in people’s return to work. The past few years have been trying on all of us, and the idea of coming back to the workplace required us to invest in making that experience as joyful as possible. Our culture here at RIOS is fundamentally optimistic, and with that we have found great celebration and success in our embrace of hybrid working and embracing change in and of itself as our new normal.
A year later... what feedback and learnings on the redesign have you received from the team?
So far the feedback has been very celebratory around our overall approach to embracing a work from home model of hybrid in office working. As we continue in getting accustomed to navigating a pandemic world, we are finding that with the slow ease of restrictions put forth by the County of Los Angeles and CalOsha that our primary request is to increase our capacity and open up more desks. The integration of the locker system has been a huge success in really allowing our teams to work with better agility by dismissing the need for a permanent desk and celebrating the excitement of everyday being different. The lockers are fundamental to that freedom by giving everyone a place and space for storing a minimal number of personal affects. For our culture the transition to flex seating came with its own challenges but after doing it for over a year it has allowed our office to remain more organized and clean, while being more participatory for the organizational needs that grow from a fast growing and fast moving design firm.
How has your own experience informed how you think about the "frontier of workplace design" for your clients looking ahead?
As you know, we pride ourselves in understanding that our best design project is designing ourselves. We look past trends and focus in on conversation, communication and goal setting with each and every one of our staff to find unique expression made possible from a thriving culture in the office. We treat our office as a laboratory to test new ideas that inspire our clients to reframe the work they are doing. If there is something to learn from the past few years in navigating a changing world it is that for everything you do you should being doing it from and for your own workplace culture. In all of our work with our clients, we work to build collaborations that put focus on celebrating the uniqueness of each one’s culture, vibe and overall aspirations.