Barception: Why your reception desk is getting bigger in 2016

In a world where the office is an expression of brand, everywhere is front-of-house

What we consider the “front-of-house” in the workplace (as well as the location for public areas and what we find in them) is increasingly evolving in a communal way. Creative and TAMI (technology, advertising, media and information technology) companies along with start-ups have taken the lead in this transformation.

Creative agencies are leaders of the pack. Whatever flavor they might be, they tend to use their space to sell their services and recruit staff. Today, they continue evolving and redefining what is “on brand” as they reinvent themselves, their cultures and workforce. Every inch of space is considered “front-of-house,” even when designed economically. There’s no distinction for creative industries between where they work and where they meet clients. They never call a conference room a “conference room.” It’s an experience room. They want their creative vibe to fill the entire space, so it oozes with whatever quality they choose to communicate to their staff and their clients. Call it their brand. Call it their vibe.

The idea that the front of house is everywhere is catching on, even in more traditional workplace cultures.

What’s driving this change?

  1. A continuing trend toward more dynamic and open styles of working
  2. Increasing importance of making great first impressions in communal space
  3. Emergence of setting types as key design elements for brand expression 



WeWork Wonder Bread lounge, Washington, D.C.

What does it mean for the workplace?

It’s about arrival.
This reception area sets the stage for an arrival experience. It must make a great first impression, and fulfill a variety of functions.

Today, it’s where we meet clients and guests. It can be a spot where visitors can grab coffee, recharge a device, check email or take a call before meeting. It’s an alternative to working at a desk. It can transform as needed during the workday. It can be the café, the event space, a bar, or a space for hosting training events or gatherings. The receptionist can double as a barista, bartender or concierge. As a result, the reception desk is becoming multipurpose and it’s getting larger.


Hook & Loop, New York

Hook & Loop, New York


These large front-of-house spaces express a lot about company identity. First, they can feature a shape, form or commissioned environmental representations, or murals or material that relate to what the organization does, what they are. That materiality is reflective of the attitude and sensibility they identify with and aspire to.

Secondly, whether you’re walking into a lounge space or an area with open bench seating and desks, the workplace itself, the environment, expresses what happens there. The brand is found in the setting.

In a creative studio, the setting says ‘We ideate, collaboratively, comfortably and casually.’ In the creative industries, it’s taken for granted that ideas just don’t happen anywhere—they need spaces that spark the imagination.

Hospitality, particularly the home, is the guiding light for style in these front-of-house areas where the mood is casual, flexible and open.

Gyro NYC

Gyro NYC

What’s there?
Lounge seating is a must in these public areas. With activity based planning strategies, it’s necessary to increase the amount and variety of seating available. This often means locating large sectional sofas and club chairs in such spaces to anchor them so they function well as work lounges. The front-of-house areas set the tone for casual behavior and attitude, but also allow for work to take place.

Meeting clients
In creative industries, clients venture into the studio with creatives, they’re not held off to rooms in the front of the office or a conference room. Reception isn’t the only place that must look and feel great. Upgrading the spaces throughout can present a challenge for designers and budget, but if we’re smart and innovative, we can make it work. Very few companies want their clients or staff to feel like they’re in second class space. It’s all front-of-house.

Recruiting and retention
Creative industries were among the first to see the entire office space as a recruiting tool, one in which all spaces must look and feel the part. In cities such as New York, creative, tech, advertising and start-ups compete for the youngest, savviest, technology-fluent talent. Creative firms need all of their spaces need to reflect their particular vibe. Design and this front-of-house thinking is closely connected with hiring the best.

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    Really enjoyed this piece! The idea of a reception desk being so much more not only makes sense, it creates so much more opportunity to socialize that space!!

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