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Return-to-Office Series: A Conversation With Uber

This week, our team sat down with Isabel Thompson, Uber’s Sr. Manager of Global Workplace Design and Experience. We spoke with Isabel about the company’s approach to the design of its global offices and how the organization’s office programming has been impacted by the pandemic.

A Global Perspective

As a global company, Uber approaches its office design with a global perspective, an effort which involves creating continuity of brand and experience between offices, while also considering each location’s unique user-base and local culture. “I like to think of it as an 80/20 rule, where 80% of a design is created using our design standards and 20% is unique and allows for regional flair… The 20% enables the design teams that we partner with to… cater to the different populations that use each of our offices,” shared Isabel.

Providing designers with some freedom also enables them to infuse Uber’s workplaces with creative design elements that reflect the local art and culture of the cities in which they’re located. “Architect teams are able to thread our overall global approach and look and feel, with localized design. In our Mexico City office, for example, we incorporated specific artisan tiles because they reflect the richness of the local craftsmanship, while in New York, the materiality centers around glass and steel. My goal is to prevent every office from being a cookie cutter. You should be able to go into an office in San Francisco and say, ‘wow this feels like Uber, but pays tribute to the Bay Area, honoring Uber’s dedication to the cities it serves.’” To ensure that local culture is authentically reflected in Uber’s workplaces, the company often partners with architect teams that are local to the cities in which it’s building. It’s nice to see that as a global company, Uber welcomes global design influence.

The Impact of COVID

COVID, of course, has impacted the way that Uber thinks about its space and Isabel believes that the offices of the future will be different in many ways to the ones that we left behind at the start of the pandemic. Uber employees have expressed a desire for in-person collaboration and social connection, and the workplace team has made a great effort to make this happen. “Throughout the design phases, I commonly request the placement of things like break rooms or collaboration hubs, outside or directly adjacent to our elevator banks or main corridors, to facilitate dynamic interactions between colleagues,” shared Isabel. It’s funny to think that what we often believe to be spontaneous interactions, aren’t so spontaneous after all. In the case of Uber, they’re carefully crafted by Isabel and her team.

In recent months, Uber’s design team has also experimented with the style of its informal gathering spaces, in hopes of increasing the usage of these areas, “We’re creating more collaboration areas that are not just your typical couch or lounge areas, which historically, would remain empty. These types of spaces would typically be sprinkled here and there throughout a floorplan but would just sit empty, or maybe one person would sit on a couch and then no one else would feel that they could join. Now, we’re more purposeful… We’re removing couches and incorporating single-seated lounge chairs in clusters in hopes that people will leverage those more. We’re also making sure that there’s more power everywhere so that employees can truly work from anywhere.”

In speaking with Isabel, it became clear that her team is dedicated to people-centered design and committed to celebrating Uber’s global reach. Whether your company is small, or large, and whether it operates internationally or not, we could all take a page from Uber’s book. Workplaces are used by employees, and so, should be designed for them.

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