Even ExxonMobil is doing away with the "god pod"
For decades, the top brass at ExxonMobil have occupied a sprawling executive suite filled with fine art, private chefs, and other c-suite perks—set far from where the rank and file work. This summer, the executives will be moving into more modest offices.
With the closing of their deific Dallas campus, nicknamed the God Pod some years ago, Exxon’s executives will be saying a lot of farewells: Goodbye to the Anigre wood paneling and staircases from Africa. Goodbye to the gleaming French floors, with limestone lifted from the likes of Lyon. Goodbye to the Madagascarian columns, the slate quarried in Wales, the hundreds of secluded acres and secure facilities. Goodbye to what one real estate developer tells the Dallas Business Journal is “the best corporate campus that no one’s ever seen.”
On one hand, the change is billed as an effort to slim and streamline costs: Exxon first announced the move in 2022 as part of a plan to save up to $6 billion in expenses.
But the move by ExxonMobil signals more than just a scaling-down for one company, or an attempt at signaling a more egalitarian corporate culture. It points to a larger trend of redesigning the corner office to incorporate and emphasize collaborative, dynamic, and democratized spaces.
Behind the gates of the ExxonMobil “god pod”
The oil giant’s executive estate was established in the mid-1990s when Exxon relocated its c-suite from Manhattan to more spacious digs in Las Colinas, an upscale commercial development in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas.
The “god pod” nickname referred to both the executives and their plum offices. Housing gilded paintings and gleaming sculptures from ExxonMobil’s corporate collection, the 20,000-square-foot executive wing also boasted a private chef to prepare meals for top brass and their guests, while the African staircases and French limestone were imported to project the company’s global reach.
Executive offices in the age of return to work
With the closing of the Dallas-area campus and its executive wing, perhaps it’s the end of obscenely extravagant offices for Exxon’s higher-ups. (The new ones in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, still look plenty nice.) But in the eyes of workspace designers and developers, the move also signifies a wider shift in office norms, particularly as companies beckon employees back to in-person work.
Workspaces themselves can function as an incentive for workers to return to the office, whether for fully in-person or hybrid schedules. But the perks of the old office aren’t necessarily what’s in demand now; employees haven’t missed kombucha taps or corporate gyms as much as they’ve missed seeing each other.
“We know organizations need to rebuild the social [dynamics] that were lost while everyone worked from home,” writes Cherie Johnson, global design director at Steelcase, in the office furniture maker’s recent report about the future of the hybrid office. “Traditional leadership spaces don’t offer the transparency and accessibility people want today.”
Instead, executives who want to bring their teams together in person are rethinking their spaces to emphasize ways to connect and collaborate.
“Every headquarter needs to have the ability to connect employees to company culture, and that goes for executives just as much as it goes for every other employee,” says Natalie Engels, design principal at architecture firm Gensler. “Executives, just like everyone else, want to be with their peers and their teams.”
So even c-suite spaces are being retooled for teamwork. “It does seem like the corner office is gone [as a sense of] status or hierarchy,” says Engels. That’s not to say that executive offices are being demolished, she adds, but their uses are shifting.
For example, Engels offers one design she’s seeing take hold: Leaders who work closely together will have offices linked by a shared collaborative room where they can collaborate side-by-side or bring in their teams together. Other companies are creating co-working spaces that hold all of the c-suite in one room. And more are thinking about how executive corners can be remixed and reused when their usual tenants are traveling. Instead of sitting dark, they’re outfitted with furniture that turns them into team conference rooms.
Exxon’s executives, for their part, have realized that the days of a separate perch on Mount Olympus are done. Their wing at the company’s new headquarters, people in touch with the plans tell the Wall Street Journal, will be surrounded by transparent glass and open spaces—all geared towards collaboration.
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