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The corner office, that symbol of corporate kingliness, now belongs to … everyone. Two Irvine-based companies, one an international brand established in 1920, the other a startup not quite 2 years old, are setting a new standard for courting and retaining employees. Offering not just creature comforts but also opportunities for interaction among team members regardless of rank, AutoGravity and Mazda are urging employees to grab their laptops, hang out and draw inspiration from, among other things, some prime real estate: the once-coveted corner “office” that boasts the best views around. Inventive workspaces that reflect a company’s brand and culture can promote teamwork, innovation and loyalty.


The promising young “fintech” firm AutoGravity helps consumers to locate, purchase and finance vehicles from a smartphone. Its gleaming new offices in Sand Canyon Business Center scream 21st century with a logoed galaxy ceiling twinkling above second-story walkways, a loft-like floor plan flooded with natural light, and fully functional outdoor work spaces. The cool, modern look speaks to AutoGravity’s business philosophy of being open, transparent and innovative.

Slicing through the core of the space is the office’s most dramatic feature: a quarter-cut, solid walnut slide that offers employees an express route from the second floor to ground level.

“We are not your traditional company, so we didn’t want a traditional corporate environment,” said Chief Operating Officer Nick Stellman. “The results spark creativity and boost morale.”

They also act as a techie attractant.

“We’re competing for the best tech employees,” noted Stellman, as he pointed out nap pods, a game room, espresso machines, kitchens stocked with sandwiches, fruit, cereal and snacks, and an outdoor area sporting sleek furniture for drilling down or kicking back.

Sweetening the deal is AutoGravity’s unlimited discretionary paid time off of up to five weeks at a time.

Employees get from point A to point B on wide, polished concrete floors by bicycle, skate­board or hoverboard. They brainstorm on “idea walls” and on whiteboard­veneer desktops. It goes without saying that Wi-Fi is omnipresent.

Indoor and outdoor dining and work areas are designed to facilitate face-to-face interaction and to preserve the start-up culture. “AutoGravity’s open office environment promotes collaboration and fosters innovation,” said Stellman. “The executive team encourages all employees to ask questions, offer comments and propose ideas. Many chats with leadership take place over a game of ping-pong or lunch at the picnic table.”

Steve Case, executive vice president of Irvine Company Office Properties, has watched as companies reexamine their workplaces, and has responded in kind. “We worked with AutoGravity to design and build one of the most creative and inspiring workspaces in Orange County,” he said. “We understood their need for flexibility to address their dynamic growth. The result is a space that reflects their culture and is a tremendous asset in their efforts to hire the best and brightest talent.”


Exhilaration, joy and a sense of wellbeing are nurtured at Mazda North American Operations, where the company’s Japanese aesthetic permeates its serene new headquarters at 200 Spectrum Center Drive. The motor company has long had an Orange County presence, residing in the same Irvine Spectrum building since 1987. When Mazda proposed certain tenant improvements, officials expected that the landlord would respond with professionalism and make the requested modifications.

Instead, The Irvine Company approached Mazda and suggested a larger redesign and a lock, stock and barrel move to a brand new building. Having parted ways with Ford Motor Co. in 2008, it made sense for Mazda to start fresh. Incorporating cutting-edge custom materials, creative lighting and an elegant color palette, an internal team led by Mazda’s automotive designers laid out a space that would epitomize both the brand and the simple artistry of the company’s Japanese origins.

With input from more than 350 employees, Mazda North America’s five floors of streamlined offices, along with the lifestyle the space makes possible, express the company’s sophisticated style. Design and workflow decisions were crowd-sourced affairs. Mazdans tested 10 chairs before making the final choice. Tech Day allowed staffers to select the company laptop: a Lenovo with all the bells and whistles. Survey after survey elicited exactly what workers wanted, the theory being that upending the workplace experience actually creates a more human experience.

The concept of ordered complexity – the idea that a thing, or even a feeling, can appear orderly and perfectly straightforward but all the while contain deeply complex elements – pervades Mazda’s office design concept. Floor-to-ceiling windows are portals to the community and connectors to the environment and the people the company serves.

Employees begin each day by deciding where they would like to work. They can settle in virtually anywhere: on sleek, contemporary sofas or chairs, at pneumatic standing or seated desks, or along a communal workbench. Those in need of alone time head for one of the bright corner window areas, where midcentury-inspired chairs, ottomans and lamps offer refined comfort.

Laptops and badge­ based GPS, combined with a cloud system connected to smartphone­ enabled, noise-canceling, Bluetooth-compatible headphones, maximize focus and give employees virtually unlimited room to roam. Workers congregate at any number of community hubs, many within view of television tuned to news programs.

Interestingly, food in work areas is one of the few no-no’s at Mazda: One must find an interactive spot come lunchtime. Cafe Three Waves, whose full-­time barista produces deliciously aromatic espresso drinks and employs a cold­brew technique imported from Kyoto, the CEO’s hometown, is strategically located and designed to spark group conversation.

Employees schedule their workdays around the core hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and can work up to three days a week from home. Those who want to get in a workout and avoid rush-hour traffic can take advantage of spin and yoga classes offered mornings and evenings at Kinetic, the 17,000-sguare-foot fitness and wellness center in the building.

Mazda considers these lifestyle amenities to be a worthwhile investment in its work force.  Employees have embraced the changes; a spokeswoman noted that many have stepped up their fashion game to match the new offices. And it appears to be paying off in loyalty: Each month, an average of 18 employees celebrates 10 or more years with the company.

Can rethinking the modern-day workplace engender continuing ingenuity and long-term loyalty in today’s workers? Can giant slides, free food, yoga classes, autonomous work hours, and other goodies positively impact employee satisfaction and the bottom line? The jury is still out, but for these two companies, all signs point to yes.

Originally published Fall 2017, Pelican Hill Magazine

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