Office spaces and culture are accustomed to change. From material to digital, cubicle to open-floor, the most consistent factor across workplaces is their changeability. One constant, however, is the importance placed on what, and how, companies communicate. With websites and webinars, press releases and podcasts and videos, it’s likely every company you interact with both utilizes these channels and blends the boundaries between them. Content development and delivery allows companies to connect with their audiences, show themselves as thought leaders, and above all, demonstrate their value.
In the last 50 years, the context and kinds of content we deliver has changed dramatically. The proliferation of platforms and subsequent swell of material means that audiences are increasingly more discerning. Companies have to work harder to create quality media that will cut through the noise. So, as with almost everything office design-related, we’re seeing yet another shift: a renewed desire for a space with the capabilities to produce and deliver rich, detailed, quality content — the studio.
Arup’s acousticians and audiovisual consultants are helping create the platforms that deliver this next-level content. For financial services company Northern Trust, Arup was called in to actually improve upon a previous studio renovation and expansion that had yielded no appreciable improvement. With Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, we collaborated on a podcast studio and video production suite in their headquarters building, creating custom-fabricated tactile interfaces for accessible control of audiovisual systems. For Rooftop Media, a subsidiary of Amazon and Audible, Arup provided guidance for their existing podcast studio to eliminate disturbances, including those from the noisy air-conditioning system.
Global professional services company Accenture has established a network of studios to create internal content used as a primary channel of communication with their global workforce. When Accenture Productions recognized the need for a high-performance studio space, they came to Arup to support the design and development of their flagship studio within their existing Chicago headquarters. Arup’s Chicago office acoustic, audiovisual, and theatre consulting lead Ryan Biziorek and Accenture’s Jason Warnke, Managing Director – Internal IT, discussed the benefits of quality content, the future of fit-outs, and why they’re both interested in taking studios to the next level.
Why is it important to have a high-performing studio space in-house? What are you producing?
Ryan: First and foremost, with present-day access to technology and the internet, digital video media is a key part of a communications strategy for employees, clients, and potential customers. Thus, companies like Accenture need a space to streamline content production in-house.
Second, many of our clients have found that the quality of their digital video productions is limited by the quality of the space they have to produce them. A high-performance space can allow for a high-quality production, even with entry-level equipment. For some of our clients, building a high-quality space is an approach to allow them to grow into their space over two to five years — a “build it and they will come” strategy to some extent.
Jason: Right — Accenture developed Accenture Productions, a fully equipped, in-house production facility and team, so that we can communicate with a workforce of 459,000 employees around the world.
Now our leaders and employees can connect through live global broadcasts from the CEO, industry analyst briefings, project group meetings, and a range of other events and recordings. Dispersed presenters and participants can effectively, creatively, and easily communicate with each other, and more broadly, to clients and key stakeholder groups outside Accenture.
Basically, having an in-house studio space became a necessity to meet rapidly growing demand and to offer our staff a spectrum of professional services and capabilities.
Can you explain the rationale behind investing in quality content?
Jason: We’ve been shifting our investment from videoconferencing, peer-to-peer infrastructure to a broadcast network of content sources for more than a decade. In our view, broadcast, video, and social platforms are the new voice of and for our people, they’re persuasive, immersive, and motivational in ways that words on a page or e-mail cannot match. Our employees work virtually, and they demand choices in how they work and create, and how they consume and share content. And that includes internal communications.
Beyond internal communications, our company drives digital transformations for our clients, so we have to walk the walk. We expect to have nothing less than full-spectrum, next-generation production services for our entire digital workforce. The cornerstone of Accenture Productions and the development of global content is Studio34 in Chicago. This exactingly professional studio space provides a high-quality, television-like experience, and that’s where Arup came in.
What does studio design entail? What are the exemplar capabilities a studio can offer?
Jason: Our approach to broadcast design is fairly unique. We began by taking existing technology — all of Accenture’s video endpoints globally — and turning them into remote broadcasting studios supported by three control centers in Chicago, Prague, and Delhi. The studio design itself entailed installing a full suite of production elements that enhance any live or recorded video production, with seamless end-to-end production in a very cost-effective way.
Studio34 consists of the same equipment used in major network news operations, thus is equipped to produce a variety of live and recorded video content including one-on-one interviews and news releases. It has a green screen with real-time motion and static background compositing, LED lighting, a teleprompter, and multiple robotic professional cameras, all electronically controlled. A mini-control center performs the camera operations, teleprompter capabilities, and integrates presenters from other pop-in studios.
Co-located with Studio34 is a production complex that includes master control, audio control, an editing suite, and another 400ft2 studio. This set-up enables the Accenture Productions team to broadcast directly through the standard Accenture webcast platform and seamlessly incorporate television elements such as graphics, green screen technology, and titling.
Ryan: Accenture is really the Rolls Royce of these types of spaces that I’ve worked on. As Jason described, their collection of studios is truly networked.
Studio design is much different than many other building types as the technical nature of the space and its program really drives the architecture and supporting systems. It is designed from the inside out. This approach doesn’t diminish the role of any member of the design team — it elevates them all as every area requires detailed design considerations to achieve the high-performance criteria for acoustics, lighting, HVAC, etc.
Accenture made a significant investment not only in the technology for these spaces but also in the design because they understand the value good design will bring to the quality of the space and the production. I’m also starting to see other clients looking to invest in a similar level of quality as the studio becomes a feature of the workplace.
What are the challenges involved in inserting a studio into a working office space?
Jason: In the beginning, securing space that would suit our 22 studios across the globe was our biggest challenge. Office space is at a premium, so whether it was a new office build or a retrofit to an existing floor, it took quite a bit to convince our leaders that we should allocate valuable space in our offices for a studio. As our broadcast capability began to grow, our leaders started to see our studios as integral to our communication and social enterprise strategy.
Another challenge was managing the operations of a global network of remotely-controlled studios and running them in a way that minimizes the time and impact for the office and presenter. We don’t have a skilled production crew available at every studio location and needed a way to reduce the set-up and expertise required from local team members. To address this, we simplified the room set-up by installing remote-controlled lighting and cameras, and acoustically treating some of our rooms/studios so that we could rely on shotgun microphones rather than lapel mics.
Ryan: Given the specialist nature of these spaces, there are a number of uncommon requirements that an architect, owner, and contractor aren’t necessarily aware of in a space designed for a typical office fit-out.
We brought a level of rigor and design excellence to acoustically evaluate the space, put forward key considerations that relate to the selection of the studio location and design, and also folded in the operational considerations.
For Accenture spaces, we took into consideration the noise and vibration from elevator machine rooms, vehicle traffic in parking structures, train noise ingress, operational hours for HVAC support, adjacent space operations including adjacent tenants and their activity, and the studio’s flexibility requirements. I think leveling with Accenture about all the design factors, risks, and opportunities early and throughout the design process resulted in a high level of trust.
Where do you see the future of the studio in corporate spaces heading?
Ryan: Well these projects have shown that the studio isn’t dead for two reasons — a high-performance space is still needed for high-quality content. And as we’ve discussed, quality content is key. Second, people want to come into a creative space for inspiration — whether it’s corporate content or artistic, these spaces offer an opportunity for inspiration. Our design collaborations have put equal weight towards the experience to invoke excitement and creativity, as well as the technical capabilities.
Jason: Exactly, creativity is key. This project not only took production to a new level, but also took creativity to a new level, one that keeps today’s audience engaged. And we want to continue that. With the shift in consumer preferences toward online streaming, people’s expectations are changing when it comes to how they consume content. We must expect and adapt to that type of demand in the workplace and continue to inspire our clients and staff with leading-edge content.