Open office: A Cook with a kitchen — plus tons of collaborative space — in a new HQ

Turn on virtually any home design show, and one is likely hear someone talk about the kitchen as the heart of the house.

It's only fitting that a local company — Cook Systems — has taken a similar approach with its new office space.

Cook Systems Inc., an IT training and staffing firm, moved into its new offices at 6000 Poplar Ave., Triad Centre, earlier this year.

“One of the things we really wanted was community space, so we have several different types of meeting spaces,” said CEO and principal Brad Weeks. “We focal-pointed the entire office around the kitchen so we can host events of 60, 70, 80 people pretty easily.”

The company had been in its previous space at Poplar Avenue and Kirby Parkway’s Atrium II for 20 years and felt it no longer fit who they were. It had a mid-1990s vibe, and they wanted something that felt more collaborative and energetic.

And, most of the other tenants around them in Atrium II were doctor's or dentist’s offices.

“We provide technical talent for companies all over Memphis and the Mid-South,” Weeks said. “The space felt more like a medical facility than that.”

As tenants of Highwoods Properties, they asked broker John Mercer to begin showing them options. They landed on space formerly occupied by Wunderlich Securities but vacated when the firm — now B. Riley Wealth Management — moved Downtown.

Working with The Crump Firm Inc. Architects and Mackenzie Conway, an interior designer with the group, Cook designed a space with individual 8x10-foot offices but also plenty of shared space. They wanted to make sure that people could collaborate, but — despite the name of this ongoing feature from MBJ — they also knew they didn’t want an open office.

In addition to the individual offices and the kitchen, there is a formal conference room, a training room, a tech room, small seating and meeting areas, and what might be described as a phone booth.  

“If somebody needs a space to be alone, they need it,” Weeks said. “But, the idea of the space is it pretty much pulls you out into the open. It’d be really odd for somebody here to sit in their office all day long, just because it wouldn’t make sense the way [the office] is set up. … I’m a big believer if you create a space, people react to it.”

The Memphis office has about 18 to 20 employees, with five staffers in Nashville and about 130 in the field.

According to Cook COO Brent Nair, the company plans to be in this new space for the next 30 years.

“It’s been a process for us,” Nair said. “When we first moved in, we wanted to keep the space a fairly blank canvas.”

As they’ve been in the office, they’ve begun to decorate it and make it more them: adding plants, art, rugs, and additional furniture.

As a company, they’ve always done group potlucks. But, since moving into the new space — which includes a double oven — they’ve also begun a weekly tradition where, every Monday, someone from the office cooks everyone breakfast or, in one instance, brings in a bunch of little cereal boxes.

“We’re a community that likes our food,” Nair said. “The kitchen is the heart of our office.”

Cook Systems’ office, by the numbers:

  • Square footage: 6,700

  • Employees in the space: 20

  • Length of current lease: 5 years

  • Point of pride: Kitchen area and Memphis-centric art

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