Increasingly, more companies are looking for efficient and creative ways to use their office space. Smart office space design can mean leaner energy use and more efficient workflow. Alternative workspace arrangements involve moving beyond the standard square foot per associate calculation, integrating spatial, behavioral and technical factors in workspace design and space allocation. The trend has emphasized the importance of collaboration and communication in the workplace. Just how to achieve that harmonious balance varies according to the business and its specific work methods. Offices have transformed from simply a place-to-work to a place-to-innovate, fostering idea sharing and (hopefully) happier employees. The concept of a one size fits all office space is obsolete and inefficient, which is why businesses are taking more interest in office design strategies and the benefits they can bring to a company.
Open Office Space
Initially taking root in the 1990’s, open office designs have made a resurgence, especially in the high tech industries. Open offices employ non-hierarchical design strategies that focus on collaboration and communication rather than company rank. With traditional work space allocation ranking according to title, companies are beginning to consider “time spent at work” as a more efficient way to allocate workspace. Terms like “cross-pollination” and “incubation” are championed in the open office strategy, where mobility, flexibility and visibility are often valued over privacy and a personal workspace.
Before breaking down the office walls, consider the environments in which this design works best. Jobs that require many hours of intense focus or deep analyzing (lawyers, researchers, analysts) could be disrupted by the proximity to coworkers. Research from the University of California at Irvine shows that employees who experience frequent interruption rates have a 9% higher rate of exhaustion, not to mention a skyrocketing number of errors. However, jobs in management, consulting, or customer service may value communication over privacy. The open exchange of ideas and data can drive ideas and prevent interdepartmental confusion. Office spaces can often employ both strategies with a few of the following techniques.
Teleworking (also flexiplace or telecommuting) is a business strategy that allows employees to work remotely. In many businesses, some employees are often on the road, and therefore spend less time in a designated office space. This is especially true for those in management positions. Teleworking is ideal for working in a satellite office, from a client’s space, while traveling or at home. In a flexible office space, teleworking can free up coveted space, leading to the next design concept.
Hoteling is the concept of allocating shared work spaces to specific employees at certain times of the week. For example, if a company has an associate to work space ration of 2:1, hoteling allows associates to reserve private but non assigned work spaces for the days the employee is in the office. Hoteling can be a useful way to maximize space and flexibility. However, for associates who spend the majority of their time in the office, a flexible work space may not be as productive as a personalized private work environment.
Activity Based Design
Rather than opting for either open or closed office space designs, some companies are designing their offices to match the types and frequencies of activities. For example, if a typical employee’s morning involves coming to work, checking and responding to emails, making phone calls, attending meetings, and then buying lunch, a business might design spaces for each of these activities. Things like private enclaves, shared desk spaces, open tables, conference spaces, cafes and research centers are just a few examples. As associates move about their daily activities, they can choose which space to inhabit for their work activity. Trends like Hot Desking stem from activity based design, allowing multiple workers to use a single physical work station or surface during different times in the work day. For companies who have moved to the cloud, personal computers can be carried to each workstation as needed. For associates who prefer to have personally assigned space, activity based design elements can still be integrated throughout the office for more productive working.
The most fitting design elements depend on your company’s work and the needs of employees. Before committing to an office design, it is worth considering the primary office factors that your employees report as most important.
As you consider the best design options for your office space, remember that combining design elements based on your company’s most frequent needs is an option. One size office space does not fit all, and neither do all design concepts. If you are unsure of which design options might be applied best to your office space, consider integrating design concepts slowly to see how new features are used and with what frequency. Maintaining an attitude of design adaptability and openness to employee feedback can allow you to develop the most efficient office space for your business, even if it takes time.