Can Amazon’s new futuristic headquarters in Virginia persuade employees to like offices again?

For tech giants such as Google or Facebook, over-the-top offices filled with anything from climbing walls to hammocks are not just a way to demonstrate how laid-back and forward-thinking they are. These giant campuses feel more like compact, convenient neighborhoods than office buildings. Grocery stores, kindergartens, and sometimes even employee apartments are just around the corner. So why would you ever leave? 

However, the pandemic came with disruptions. Today, many employees don’t see the appeal of changing into office attire and going back to work. Amazon is planning to persuade them it’s worth it and is investing a massive amount of $2.5billion on HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia. The vision is bold: the building should be more welcoming than the employees’ own homes. 

Amazon’s green plans in the Virginia headquarters

The company will develop 2.8 million square feet of new office space distributed across three 22-story buildings. “We’ve designed a workspace for our employees that will prioritize areas for collaboration, natural light, and constant interaction with nature. The design promotes well-being and physical exercise, agency (the ability for employees to choose when, how, and where to work), and a strong connection with the local community,” says John Schoettler, vice president of global real estate and facilities. “We believe that campuses should be neighborhoods that bring people together and not isolated, employee-only spaces that ignore their surroundings,” he adds. 

As a result, nature is one of the key elements determining the Amazon headquarters in Virginia. Schoettler hopes that the symbiosis of architectural and ecological elements will “inspire those who work here and serve as an inviting place for neighbors to gather, relax, dine, and shop.” Sustainability is another pillar, as Amazon has pledged to be net-zero carbon by 2040 and take a firm stance in the fight against climate change. 

Amazon H2Q Spiral building Virginia, USA
Image © Amazon H2Q

A futuristic paradise

Just as Amazon’s Seattle location, Virginia headquarters will include a visually stunning, futuristic-looking element. “The Helix” will essentially become a tourist attraction. It is shaped like a double helix and will be filled with gardens, trees, and green, walkable paths that will take employees and visitors through an outdoor spiral all the way up. 

And, of course, the Arlington HQ will essentially be another neighborhood designed to motivate the employees to stay. “Retail pavilions and restaurants will be conveniently located throughout the site. Our plans also include room for a childcare center, a dog run, and a food truck area with plentiful outdoor seating. And we will create a dedicated 20,000-square-foot community space that can support educational initiatives,” Schoettler explains. On top of that, all motor vehicles are going underground to prioritize the comfort of pedestrians. “We’ve worked on this project for two years intending to bring nature and creativity—so often intertwined—to Arlington,” Schoettler sums up. 

On top of that, the area should become the country’s first “smart city at scale”. Business Insider reports that AT&T will build a robust 5G network from the ground up within a four-mile zone. That would enable testing 5G at its best, and empower the development of self-driving cars, smart homes, and widespread use of robotics.

All of the planned innovation is not tied to Amazon’s office space. On the contrary: the area developer fully acknowledges that the future of work is hybrid. “The shifts to more hybrid and virtual work will require better connectivity, better redundancy, and higher speeds,” says Matt Kelly, chief executive officer of JBG Smith for Business Insider. “Those won’t all have to take place in somebody’s office. It can be someone’s apartment,” he added.

Work and life, intertwined

Isn’t it counterintuitive to spend a fortune on a workspace in the covid era when employees are home? On second thought, an impressive office can become a perk to attract talent. A place designed for meetings, discussions, brainstorming, and learning, not necessarily to sit at one’s desk. And perhaps that’s the best possible iteration of the office. 

When Facebook planned their megalomaniac campus before the pandemic, they wanted to create a small neighborhood that employees barely leave. CNBC asked Jeff Davidson, work-life balance expert and author of Simpler Living, what happens if work and life become one. According to him, it’s imperative to separate the various activities we do throughout the day. “If we don’t have somewhere for our tension from work to escape, then it builds up. And that’s where the detachment comes in,” he explained. 

Fast forward to today, and even Facebook has embraced the shift to remote work. Their staff can permanently work from home. However, the company acknowledged that it’s not for everyone. ​​”We have people juggling caregiving responsibilities, we have people living in small apartments with roommates, those people desperately want to get back into offices, and we’re working really hard to do that, as soon as it’s safe to open our offices,” Brynn Harrington, vice president of Facebook’s HR team, said to BBC. And that’s the future of workplaces loved by the employees: no one-size-fits-all solutions. 

Cover Image: © 2021, Inc

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