Whether it’s a conference room tucked away in a corner or an entire building dedicated to learning, training space is essential in today’s corporate America. Although present economic conditions don’t necessarily allow companies to dedicate as much room and capital to these spaces as they would like, “that doesn’t mean [training] has come to a stop,” explains Bob Bunda, AIA, principal, Chicago-based OWP/P Architects. In fact, Nancy Cartledge, associate principal, Atlanta-based TVS Interiors, says she’s seeing the demand for space increase. “We’re working with clients in new facilities, and requests for additional training spaces seem to be growing.”
“We can’t overestimate the fact that training is becoming more important and it’s being done at a greater frequency than ever before,” says Norman Nance, vice president of technology and business markets, Green Bay, WI-based KI. “I don’t think this is a fad; rather, it’s a trend that will remain.”
In larger corporations that boast locations worldwide, training spaces may provide employees their only opportunity to form the sense of image and identity that their company represents. While some employees may never even visit company headquarters, it’s likely they’ll visit training spaces. “This may be the only time they all really come together and get a view of what their organization is about,” explains Chris Coldoff, IIDA, senior associate, OWP/P Architects. In other situations, the training area may be the first space new employees encounter upon being hired. Either way, it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity to drive home corporate culture through space design and layout.
Flexibility is mentioned repeatedly in reference to corporate training trends; not only in terms of adaptable layouts that can accommodate different-sized groups and various types of training, but in terms of space that can be used for functions other than corporate learning. “Anything that allows the rooms and spaces to be multi-functional is going to help, especially in today’s economy,” says Coldoff. “Being able to find multiple uses for space within a corporate office environment becomes increasingly important.” And as Bunda emphasizes, space that has been allocated for training becomes an important corporate asset when it can accommodate more than that one specific use.
“Training has evolved in the corporate world from what we call ‘butts in seats,’ where you’re sitting in a classroom and typing,” Bunda explains. “Sitting in a large classroom and being talked to as an adult doesn’t go nearly as far as the opportunity for conversation and talking about life experience. Informal breakout areas are something we feel is essential as part of that experience.” Turning a training facility’s cafeteria into a place for impromptu meetings via network plug-ins and appropriate A/V equipment is a good case in point.
Equipping centers for the future, though tough, is a smart idea. “One of the challenges of designing a training center that’s state-of-the-art is keeping up with technology and building the infrastructure to handle technology that maybe hasn’t even been invented yet,” Coldoff says. TVS’ Cartledge agrees, stating that many recent projects include planning for wireless networks.
Raised or low-profile flooring for easy access to power and data cables; movable, operable walls with acoustical properties for group discussions; and lighting systems capable of dimming and pre-set lighting scenes are other popular requests that make facilities more adaptable to training.
Foldability, configurability, flexibility, movability, convertability: How ever you want to articulate it, the equipment furnishing today’s corporate training spaces needs to be mobile. “Training today is unlike the training of yesteryear where there was one training room set up in a classroom-style, which would be used on occasion to train employees. There’s so much more training going on today, with many more employees involved on a regular basis, so furnishing requirements for these environments also have changed,” explains KI’s Nance.
Lightweight furnishings that can fold, nest, and slide easily save space, time, and effort. “People were getting injured trying to move [chairs] and pick them off the top of the stack. Folding/nesting chairs have been well-received in training rooms and environments where they need to be mobile and compact [with] ergonomic and flex capabilities,” says Nance. Nesting and stacking options allow owners to take advantage of horizontal and vertical space in closets and corners. “I’ve been in many facilities where a training room is set up in a particular way. There may be seven extra tables, for example, which are pushed to the back of the room or haphazardly stacked on top of each other,” he describes. The ability to quickly collapse, move, and store furniture allows the training space to remain uncluttered, especially when tables and chairs can be maneuvered by one person.
Addressing power and data via furniture is also a prominent theme. Whether it’s desk-height power and data (plug-ins at worksurface height rather than on the floor, ceiling, or wall) or modular systems that incorporate power and data capabilities, “it’s critical,” emphasizes Nance.
As with the physical training space, furniture that can serve dual purposes can be a real lifesaver. Manufacturers are now offering tables and worksurfaces that store laptops flush with the table top when not in use. After typing is finished, the user simply closes the laptop and pushes it down. It recedes into a storage tray until it’s needed again, creating an open, flat surface for other work. A similar solution is available for desktop computers – workstations that house monitors in a semi-recessed design are available, providing the user with a flat worksurface and a direct line of sight to the front of the room.
As demand for training space increases, TVS’ Cartledge offers the following advice: “It’s expensive to go off-site and rent hotel facilities for all your training activities. Companies don’t realize how much it’s costing them. It kind of gets hidden in annual operating budgets. The formula to reduce the overall real estate portfolio cost vs. the real need and real cost of training really has to be carefully evaluated.”
Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial coordinator at Buildings magazine.