1001 SE Water Ave. #261, Portland, OR 97214

DESIGN+BUILD Interview With Wieden+Kennedy Karen Portman

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We had the pleasure to sit down with Karen Portman, head of Office Services and Facilities at Wieden+Kennedy, to discuss her views on workspace design, how the pandemic changed the way they work, and how other forces will impact their office moving forward. Wieden+Kennedy is an international and full-service marketing agency that has offices all over the world.

What is your role at Wieden+Kennedy?

Karen: I’m the head of facilities. I look after the building, the interior, our retail spaces, and the operational teams that keep the building going. So, all functions that support the office open are under my umbrella.

Where does your role fall at the intersection of leadership, HR, and operations?

Karen: I’m part of the leadership team, and I partner with HR. Facilities need to partner with HR as the environment is so close to the people.

Does Wieden+Kennedy have a workspace philosophy?

Karen: I think the most important thing for us is an environment that fosters collaboration and creativity, as that’s at the crux of everything that we do here at W+K. So, great space for our teams to come up with the best ideas for our clients.

Does Wieden+Kennedy need a physical workspace, and if so, why?

Karen: For collaboration, predominantly. Also, for the opportunity for serendipitous meetings that you have with people that spark ideas. It’s vital to the culture of our agency. It allows us to mentor the younger generation coming up into advertising; they should be exposed to those who’ve got more experience. We collaborate across departments, pinning up paper and talking through ideas; it’s tactile. That experience is much better in person.

We’ve also got exceptional facilities and perks in our office – people can meet and socialize outside work, a deck, gym, basketball court, and a 300-seater Atrium where we have a robust schedule of events.

If you had to make a financial case for physical workspace, what would your point be?

Karen: As much as we’ve all been able to work remotely, I don’t think anybody’s thriving from that environment. People need to interact with other employees for the best experience and understand how a company works and its culture.

What does the ideal workspace look like for Wieden+Kennedy? Was your previous layout working for you, and do you see it changing as we advance?

Karen: It was working for us before. We have generous space. We have physically separated people and removed some desks to achieve six-foot distancing. People will go back to sitting the way they were eventually should the recommendations from the CDC, Oregon, and Multnomah County allow.

We have changed the layout on one floor to allow for our first phase [of returning]. We are allowing fully vaccinated people only back in the office currently with regular reviews. We hope to increase numbers gradually. After this initial phase of hot-desking, I can see us returning to the seating plan somewhat how it was.

How were you before?

Karen: Everybody had space, and I think people like that. People who have been at W+K for a long time have kind of made their area a second home. So, we want to give people back their spaces.

We will upgrade our technology in meeting rooms to bring in those folks still working at home via Zoom and Bluescape.

How has Wieden+Kennedy been able to keep employees engaged while people have been working remotely?

Karen: We’re a very communicative agency, internally – there are a lot of all agency emails! We have an all-agency meeting every week that has helped us stay connected to the latest agency news and work. We have a party every April to celebrate our Wieden+Kennedy founders’ day. This year the agency mailed out physical gifts for everyone in place of the party. In addition, all our fitness classes have gone online.

We’ve tried to do lots of things to keep our teams engaged, and many of those ideas come from the employees. Culturally, it’s a great place to work; it has been challenging to keep the culture going without the perks of the office and the separation of our people.

What is your strategy for reopening?

Karen: We want to be as safe as possible and do it slow and steady. The health and safety of our employees are paramount. So along with the CDC’s latest guidelines for fully vaccinated people, which we know the governor has agreed to follow, we decided to do a phase one with fully vaccinated staff- up to 100. We’re using an app called Envoy for ‘touchless’ access, which has been good. You sign in, complete a health screening form, and it will allocate you a desk.

We’ll start with our 100 fully vaccinated staff and follow the latest State/CDC recommendations are for what we do next. We always like to be one notch up on the standard health and safety level. We’re always put the welfare of our employees first.