National Design Firm Reimagines the Office for Hybrid, Post-Pandemic Work

National design firm Cooper Carry recently unveiled its renovated 50,000- square-foot Downtown Atlanta headquarters as a model for hybrid, post-pandemic workspace. Beginning the project amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooper Carry transformed its own office into an incubator to learn firsthand about the changes in office space requirements. The firm is now using its Atlanta office as a model for other companies looking to reimagine their post-pandemic workspace.

A March 2022 Gallup poll found that about 53% of remote-capable employees expect a hybrid arrangement, while 24% expect to work exclusively remotely. Cooper Carry is seeing this research playout in real life, with an unprecedented number of corporate clients looking for guidance on how to design a hybrid work environment and touring the design firm’s new office space for inspiration.

Key strategies at Cooper Carry’s office include: A large investment in modular furniture and mobile technology (e.g. laptops for every employee); a free address work policy that untethered people from their workstations; and space planning for 60% occupancy of the firms headcount on any given day, which freed up individual workspace for more group collaboration spaces to be developed. Despite removing a large portion of the traditional built-in workstations, the renovation resulted in 30% more seats throughout the space. Post-renovation, many of the existing desks are usually empty as employees favor the new height adjustable workstations, couches, shared worktables and other collaborative spaces. Even the CEO’s office is up for grabs, as he embraced the free address policy and made his space available for anyone’s use while he’s not using it.

“One of the biggest questions that arose during the pandemic surrounded the future of work and what would happen to the traditional office,” said Kyle Reis, CEO of Cooper Carry. “Our firm jumped at the opportunity to answer that question through the holistic reimagination of our Atlanta office space. While working remotely offers flexibility and opportunities for more focused heads-down work, we purposefully redesigned our office space to foster team collaboration, provide many options for different working environments, improve connectivity for hybrid meetings through technological investments, and to reimagine a new kind of company culture. After nine months in our refreshed space, we’ve seen people utilize these varied environments and adapt to a new way of working.  We now have best practices for companies looking to maximize their own hybrid workspace.”

Promoting Hyper Collaboration, Connectivity and Flexibility

Before diving into the renovation, the design team, led by Cooper Carry’s Principal of Interiors Brian Parker, and Associate Principal Gwen Kovar, worked with the firm’s leadership to determine what the hybrid workplace would look like at Cooper Carry. But they didn’t stop there. They also engaged the entire firm through surveys and town hall meetings to gather insights and desires from the company as a whole.  Ultimately with this data and decision-making, the firm landed on an agile, flexible, free address policy that encourages employees to come to the office three days a week. In fact, they branded the redesign project as “agileATL” to reinforce the mission and vision for the renovation.

From the minute employees and guests step out of the elevator and into Cooper Carry’s reception area, they’re greeted with a striking and memorable entrance that’s iconic to the firm. Utilizing bright yellow branded color yarn as a commissioned art piece to juxtapose against the dark black surfaces of the space, the Cooper Carry team brought new light, brand identity, and a renewed interest to the entryway. The yarn art not only draws more light and color to the reception desk, but also acts as a metaphor for the entire renovation by reinforcing the firm’s tagline of “the center of connective architecture.”

Dual gathering and break areas, known as “Town Centers,” were transformed into spaces that enhance collaboration and conversation between coworkers. In the upper Town Center, the team fostered a less restrictive environment by opening a hole in the back wall to create a bar-like setting, allowing employees in the two adjacent spaces to easily communicate with employees on either side. Outdated furnishings were replaced with more comfortable seating like plush booths and brighter lighting fixtures, drawing employees away from their desks and into the space at all hours of the day, effectively turning a space used for only portions of the day into a fully usable workspace all day long.

Stepping off from the Town Center on the firms upper of their two floors, and leading into a newly created area known as “The Hub,” the firm implemented a kinetic design system that boasts at least half a dozen working styles that vary in furniture, lighting conditions, open versus enclosed layouts, acoustics and technology enhancements. The new modular system can be easily reconfigured depending on the needs of the user. The firm’s use of smart storage and redistribution of unnecessary functions no longer in high demand made way for the new modular system. The Hub serves as a living laboratory for the “agile” workspace concept, and will continue to change and adapt over time.

Moving past The Hub, Cooper Carry created loose “neighborhoods” for each of the firm’s design studios and business units, featuring unique and specific elements based on each studio’s needs. Each studio director selected their preferred model based on five layout options. All layouts feature some iteration of collaborative working space, huddle and conference rooms, high-top tables and traditional workstations. As a way to connect the neighborhoods, the design team turned the desks to face East-West, allowing for seamless movement and crossover between staff and studios; further enhancing the connectivity and collaboration opportunities for everyone.

“The free address model allows us to untether employees from the traditional workstation and couch surf throughout the office,” said Brian Parker, Principal of the Interior Design studio. “Whether an employee has a favorite armchair or changes seats every few hours, the design promotes interactivity between studios and encourages teams to learn and build off one another by stepping outside the confines of their own spaces and venturing into new ones.”

Setting the Stage for a Hybrid Workplace 

The free address model also freed up square footage by taking out the sea of stationary desks and incorporating a wide variety of meeting, collaboration and flexible seating arrangements in their place. Right in the studio where they are all needed on a moment’s notice.

The design team also equipped each huddle space with a tech-enabled platform that is product agnostic and conducive for various web conferencing programs, allowing peace of mind for employees to take calls and video meetings in various rooms around the office. Cooper Carry also provided each employee with new laptops, further allowing them to untether from their desks and move seamlessly throughout the office.

“By removing the majority of our assigned desks, we were able to build in more opportunities for tech-enabled collaborative spaces and nooks,” said Gwen Kovar, Associate Principal in the Interiors Studio. “We did it in a way that if every single employee came into the office on the same day, we would still have a place for them – it might just be in a shared space, rather than at an individual desk.”

Enhancing Company Culture Through Design

The renovation incorporates insights from each and every employee at the firm. Holding charrettes, in-depth conversations and issuing digital surveys about ways to improve the workplace, the design team listened to the desires of all of its employees.

As one example, each “neighborhood” is home to smaller meeting areas, known as “war rooms.” Original hand sketches from Jerry Cooper are planned for installation along all the glass doors and walls as a way to identify the space, enhance privacy and create a cultural connection to the founder of the firm. By designating various collaborative spaces for conference-style meetings, the new approach steps away from the traditional hierarchical conference room and encourages all employees, titles aside, to come together and collaborate in a more welcoming setting.

As part of the renovation, Cooper Carry also asked their employees to brainstorm various themes that emulate the culture of the firm. Using these responses, the firm created a quarterly initiative where employees nominate their coworkers for one of six qualities – collaboration, innovation, communication, sustainability, passion, and trust. The design team then created a wall, located adjacent to the large conference room where client meetings often take place, with displays of each winner for the quarter. The initiative helps to motivate employees while also giving clients a deeper understanding of the company’s values.

ABOUT Cooper Carry

Cooper Carry provides architecture, planning, landscape architecture, interior design, experiential graphic design, branding and sustainability consulting services. Founded in 1960, the firm specializes in the design of education, government, hospitality, mixed-use, office, residential, restaurants, retail, senior living, science + technology, and transit projects. The firm has designed projects in 45 states and globally in the Caribbean, Middle East, Asia, Africa and Central America. Cooper Carry approaches its work as a collaborative ecosystem. Its multiple studios and services come together daily to provide each project the depth of knowledge needed to meet and exceed objectives. Cooper Carry’s leaders are advocates and authorities for their specialties, empowered by decades of expertise to make decisions that prioritize placemaking, civic space, and the greater good of communities, tenants, residents and visitors. For more information, visit Cooper Carry’s website at and follow the design firm on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.