Interior design students explore post-covid workspaces with tech CEO

MoxiWorks logo in a rendering of the kitchen area designed by interior design students.

In early 2020, MoxiWorks, a real estate software company, was getting ready to move from its old start-up office to a “Class A” office building in Downtown Seattle. Uber, the ridesharing company, had been the previous tenant. The space was already configured reasonably well, so they just made a few tweaks before moving in. Then the world changed.

“Unfortunately, from a timing standpoint, we occupied it on March 1 of 2020, which, if you do the math, 10 days later, on March 10th, I sent the entire company home due to the pandemic,” said York Baur, CEO of MoxiWorks. “So, we’ve never truly occupied that space.”

Since then, the company has been fully remote. While many other tech companies have ordered their workers back to the office, MoxiWorks has embraced working from home. 

MoxiWorks CEO York Baur
MoxiWorks CEO York Baur

“The project we wanted help with was ideas on how to make the space more attractive in a hybrid world,” Baur said. “We still do want to get people together. We believe that the bonds that in-person interactions create and the creativity it engenders for certain critical types of work is important, but it doesn’t have to be routine.”

When Baur and his company were trying to figure out what they would do with the office, Holly Sowles reached out to him about her students working on a project with MoxiWorks. Sowles is an interior design professor at Fresno State and is currently the Art, Design and Art History department chair. She used to live in Seattle and knows Baur. After some discussion, they decided to have students work on the design as a class project. While interior design students are not licensed and bonded, the exercise would give MoxiWorks ideas to move forward with when they hire a design firm. The project allowed students to work on a real problem in an actual building and present their designs to the CEO and top company executives.

“It was a very welcome request because it came at a time when we were already starting to think about this anyway,” said Baur. “We were very interested in having the help of people that were experienced in interior design. But quite frankly, having the youthful energy and creativity that people at that phase of their careers have – because unlike a normal project that would be very rote, no one, no company large or small, has figured this out yet.”

Baur gave students two primary requirements for a new office design. The first was flexibility, as the employees’ needs might differ each time they visit the office. Second, he wanted the office space to be attractive, so it would encourage people to come to the office.

“We have to have people come in for cultural reasons,” Baur said. “We have to make it attractive, so at some level, people are encouraged to come in.”

The students were split into three groups and got to work.

“We were asked to…reimagine MoxiWorks’ current office space in a way that will encourage the return of remote workers,” said Ruby Delgato of Parlier, B.A. interior design 2022. “We presented a new floor plan layout and new areas such as more break-out spaces for collaboration, a small [virtual reality] room for friendly competitions in their free time, and a stage area with soft seating for any guest speakers or presentations.”

Fatima Menchaca Ascencio of Caruthers, B.A. interior design 2022, said she enjoyed the project’s creativity.

“In terms of design, it was great to have had freedom of creativity, to create a space that was workspace related, adaptable and fun for their employees.”

Students said they had several meetings and received feedback on their designs throughout the process. Ultimately, they presented their completed project to Baur and Chief People Officer Ring Nishioka.

“The MoxiWorks project was very special to many of the students since it was their first ever to work with a real client,” Menchaca said.

“The ideas those students came up with are really not tied to that space. They’re great ideas that could work anywhere,” said Baur. “We plan to take those ideas with us into whatever it is we choose to do next.”

Baur said he was impressed by the students’ non-traditional design elements facilitating work and collaboration.

“What resulted was not only great ideas but the quality of the presentations themselves and the way in which it was presented was really good across the three groups that presented,” Baur said.

After his employees exceeded their MoxiFund fundraising goals, CEO York Baur rappels off the 500-foot, 40-story tall building. After completing his daring feat, he said, “overcome your fears, and you will achieve greatness.” Baur said the Fresno State Interior Design students overcame their fears when they presented their ideas to him and his team. He now looks forward to seeing those students achieve greatness in their lives.

Through MoxiFund, a charitable giving fund operated by MoxiWorks and funded by employees, several interior design students received assistance to attend the Summer Las Vegas Market. The funding came through a crowdfunding effort to raise money for the student trip, and the MoxiFund was the largest single donor to that campaign.

“The students were helping us design a better and more productive workspace to do our work in,” said Baur. “So, we thought it was appropriate to help those students further their careers by supporting them on that trip.”

The Las Vegas Market is more than five million square feet with over 4,000 furniture vendors. The market attracts designers, architects, and others from around the world. While the wholesale market is open year-round, the “Summer Las Vegas Market” is a five-day event that brings industry professionals together for seminars, events, and networking opportunities. The annual ANDYZ interior design award ceremony is held during the summer market.

“The ANDYZ awards was my first favorite experience, seeing JinJin win Fresno State’s 3rd year in a row!” Delgato said. “The many showrooms had so many beautiful furniture and materials. It was great to see all the different types and to learn about certain materials from the salesmen.”

Baur has not quite started redesigning the MoxiWorks office. However, he is armed with many ideas to reimagine how hybrid work is done at the company. All the students involved in the project graduated in May and are now starting the next steps of their lives.

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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