Earlier this year, Adobe executives made two bold moves. Leaders at the design software firm not only promised no more job cuts in 2023, but they also opened a new office for 3,000 employees in San Jose, California. “We’re actually committed to continuing to grow here,” Adobe’s Chief People Officer Gloria Chen told Bloomberg Television at the time. “We are committed to not having company-wide layoffs.” The pronouncements came amid a topsy-turvy office market and worsening economic conditions that have seen companies across the spectrum shrink office footprints and institute layoffs. The company itself laid off 100 employees from its sales division in late 2022. But in the early months of this year, at a time when a lot of companies were getting serious about in-person and laying down harsher consequences for not coming back to the workplace, Adobe leaned into their flexible, hybrid work model. These were confident moves in today’s office landscape, but ones Adobe believes will work out the best for them. A big source of that confidence lies in the design of the company’s new office environment.
Adobe began planning the construction of the new tower, its fourth at the headquarters campus, in 2019. The 18-story, 1.25 million-square-foot office building is another addition to the company’s corporate headquarters in downtown San Jose. Designed by Gensler, the Founders Tower, named as an homage to the two men who co-founded Adobe in 1982, Charles Geschke and John Warnock, is what company leaders describe as a workplace representing the future of office space. “Founders Tower is a physical manifestation of what we believe the future of the workplace will be—sustainably built and run, optimized for hybrid, designed for community, adaptable, and resilient to change,” Chen wrote about the new building.
Like most new offices these days, Adobe designed its new building to be a place where its people will come together to work, build connections, and foster community, Chen went on to say. The office has a lot of distinctive features, the first of which is its more than 400 “environments,” which include things like neighborhoods for individual teams, focus rooms, collaboration zones, drop-in desks, adventure rooms, and community gathering grounds. Founders Tower also has a big food component. “We also view food as an enabler of community and connections,” Chen said. The building has a sprawling cafe and multicultural food hall at the center of the community gathering space, dining rooms for events and larger teams, and a ground-level coffee shop that is also open to the public. Interestingly, though the design plans for the new tower were completed before the pandemic, unlike a lot of owners and developers that were forced to go back to the drawing board after the pandemic hit, only one space was changed after the pandemic. “It was fascinating to see how they are always up to date and testing out different solutions with furniture and IT,” Engels said.
The office tower is also an important step for the company in continuing its commitment to San Jose and the city’s future growth. Adobe was the first major tech company to invest in real estate in downtown San Jose when it moved to the city in 1994. “They have such a dedication to San Jose,” said Natalie Engels, a principal and Global Work Sector leader at Gensler, who was also the design lead for Founders Tower. Engels described how leaders open up Adobe’s parking lot to attendees of San Jose Sharks NHL hockey games that take place at an arena a few blocks away. “That was part of the conversation,” she said. “We’re not just going to get people coming from the train in Downtown San Jose. They’re going to get people who are walking, in transit, and visitors and employees, Sharks fans or anyone who goes to that pavilion.” The building’s lobby doubles as an “experience center” that tells the story of the company through visuals and text and is open to the public.
More than five years after the idea for the tower first began, Adobe’s new office space is nearly complete. Its unique color-changing interior thread, what the company calls the “strand,” can be seen from the outside as well, due to the glass facade of the building that allows the community to get a peek into the workspaces inside. Engels, who happens to work across the street from Founders Tower at Gensler’s San Jose office, said when she’s having a stressful day she sometimes takes a walk through the building’s ground-floor digital experience. “I’ve seen visitors just go in there during the day, just to take a moment,” she said.
The design of the tower has its foundation in sustainability and well-being, areas that are important to the company and its goal of reducing its overall carbon emissions. Founders Tower is all-electric, and what the company says is the first all-electric building of its scale in Silicon Valley. The property is powered entirely by renewable solar power and wind energy, and within its food operations is a 50,000-square-foot space featuring induction cooking technology, making it the largest all-electric commercial kitchen in North America.
In seeking to create a healthy environment for workers, Gensler looked at how employees at the company worked. They considered team dynamics, how space could be made flexible, and how they could showcase innovation and create an inclusive environment. “They really look at themselves as highly creative, and they are,” Engels said. This is, after all, the company that created Photoshop and so many other tools that are used on a daily basis by creatives all over the world. Building an office that provides the right kinds of spaces to help workers be productive but that also promotes health and wellness has become increasingly important in today’s office landscape. In fact, better air quality and access to natural light were the most important wellness features an office could have, and together were the biggest influencers of worker performance, happiness, and well-being, according to a recent Harvard Business Review survey.
With a focus on their people and the digital presence they create through the company’s software, Gensler created a variety of colorful spaces that interacted seamlessly and that also lent to spontaneous collaboration and interaction. Colors even have designations at the tower: orange represents social areas like hubs and all-hands meeting rooms; green represents collaboration rooms and is meant to evoke collaboration and inclusivity; and blue represents a refresh, and designates areas for focus and respite.
Having properties of biophilia in the spaces was important to the design of the office, which has abundant natural light and views. A big factor in the decision-making around how the spaces were designed came from Adobe leaders wanting to best understand and support its employees and how they work, particularly engineers, which are a big part of the company’s workforce. “They want to understand how to create spaces that reduce cognitive load on engineers—they’ve always thought of them as mental athletes,” Engels said. “How do they step back and take a break? How do you create space for them?” One of the options for taking a breather is the building’s deep focus library, where phones are required to be off or on silent.
Adobe’s innovative and thoughtful design of its latest office building is in line with what a lot of big companies are doing these days when creating their new workplaces. Like Adobe’s new tower, Hines’ new headquarters carved out space for co-workers to socialize, features that reflected the company’s past and present values, and even space to display artifacts from the company’s history. For others, like Marriott’s new global headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, and Under Armour’s headquarters in Baltimore, their HQ spaces are serving not only as a place to work but also as one that is essentially a billboard for the brand.
After the experience of the pandemic, companies seem to be getting more in tune with workers’ needs and closer to finding the right mix of amenities, spaces, and experiences to bring workers back to the office more days of the week. Adobe’s new office building has tapped into a growing trend of making lobby space more open and inviting to the public, with even its interior workspaces more transparent to the outside world. Adobe and Gensler believe the Founders Tower project is a prime example of what the future of work will look like, and given how the building’s design included some of the biggest themes in office right now—flexibility, sustainability, biophilia, and brand identity, plus the important connections to the public and surrounding community—that prediction may just turn out to be a reality.