Benching systems, collaborative spaces, and glass walls remain hallmarks of the open layout, yet these highly flexible spaces are seeing a rise of new design elements. Stay on top of these trends to keep your open office competitive.
Amenities That Appeal to All Ages
One of the driving factors of open offices is rising real estate costs, with many companies buying or leasing a smaller space while increasing occupancy.
Some individuals may grumble about closer proximity to colleagues, but the expectation that they are chained to a single spot all day has been banished.
“Occupants are being given more areas to work outside of their workstation,” explains Marc Spector, a principal for architectural and design firm Spector Group. “The entire office space is now available to use by everyone.”
“Space utilization has really evolved in recent years and become more strategic,” adds Scott Spector, principal. “It’s integrated into the work culture and creating a better office than we’ve had before.”
Despite smaller desks, the office has become more comfortable for workers. Furniture has a residential feel, color schemes are energetic, and the overall atmosphere is casual. To keep employees engaged, design elements have been borrowed from college campuses, lofts, and coffee shops.
“Spaces are being designed around the concept of ‘take the space you need at the moment you need it to get the job done,’” says Carl Bergauer, director of furniture sales with Business Interiors by Staples. “I may start at a workstation, move to a quiet corner, hop into a collaborative space with coworkers, and head back to a desk – repeating some variation of this throughout my workday. Office interiors must accommodate the constant and rapid change in business processes that take place every day in corporate America.”
To keep pace with technology and generational habits, the open office continues to experiment with new configurations. Consider these four trends in your space:
- The Open Executive Office – Companies are moving toward a model of inclusiveness for all workers. Some have eliminated the private corner office in favor of seating managers amid their subordinates, while others are using glass walls to foster transparency. “We’ve also created several executive business gardens for senior leadership,” says Marc Spector. “These function as an open plan that is private yet collaborative for management.”
- The Floating Conference Room – Take advantage of how mobile video conference technology is – it no longer needs to be rooted to one room. “Some companies are creating small chat areas for just one or two people,” explains Scott Spector. “These spaces are much more personal and local to the user, as opposed to booking a large conference room for just one person.”
- The Café Corner – Food brings people together, and many offices are adding restaurant-like areas or a support kitchen adjacent to conference rooms. Capturing the atmosphere of a bistro or coffee shop, these hot spots are perfect for lunches, extended meetings, and company events. They also double as an enticing workspace for individuals or small groups. “The traditional office kitchen is just a pass through – people grab their coffee or lunch and leave,” notes Marc Spector. “A pantry or bistro, however, serves as a gathering space where people touch down.”
- The Benching Alternative – Systems furniture is a fine offering for many organizations, but there are other options to keep in mind. “We’re seeing supper-style tables that are 20- to 30-feet long, which create a cafeteria-like seating. These are ideal for teams working on specific projects,” says Scott Spector. “You can dedicate only 100 square feet per person with this arrangement.”
If your company is planning a renovation, make sure building management has a voice at the table – your department often has the best understanding of potential noise, visual, thermal comfort, and privacy issues.
“A great facility manager must be constantly observing occupancy habits,” says Bergauer. “Know how the space is used and what issues are killing productivity.”
Sound Off on Acoustics
No discussion of open offices is complete without addressing acoustics – it’s one of the most common complaints that FMs hear from occupants. When BUILDINGS readers were asked “What is one thing you would change about your current office layout?” 33% answered acoustics.
“Even with carpet, proper sound attenuation on the walls, and dropped ceilings, open offices still have sound transmission between workstations. It’s not just one voice that can be heard – it’s 30 to 40 people potentially talking at the same time,” explains Marc Spector. “You need to provide some white noise privacy for the whole group. Phone booths or small conference rooms can also cut down on chatter.”
Most workers can tolerate some level of background noise, says Alicia Larsen, an acoustic consultant with the firm Acentech – it’s when there’s not enough speech privacy that they become distracted.
A useful sound metric to keep in mind is the articulation index (AI). This calculation measures how distinctly speech intelligibility stands out from background noise. An AI of 0 would be total privacy and a 1 would be no privacy at all.
“For open offices, normal privacy corresponds to an AI of 0.20 or less, which means approximately 25% of words can be understood,” Larsen explains. “An AI of .05 can achieve confidential privacy – less than 5% of words can be distinguished. This level of isolation is appropriate for private offices and conference rooms.”
Fire up, sports fans and FMs, and join the game. Athletics prize and represent good health and obstacles overcome. Let’s apply a similar outlook to the building arena.
Even if you don’t manage a stadium or own a youth soccer complex, many efforts at sports facilities can score big at other sites. Because of the unique intensity, variety, and occupancy of these venues, you can learn from their sustainable initiatives. Use the following tips to net a facility win.
Snatch Low-Hanging Fruit
From energy and water use to waste disposal, sports facilities face a number of challenges when greening their operations.
“It’s a huge challenge to make sustainability work at these places. Arenas aren’t occupied like an office or multifamily complex. They get a massive influx of people in a short period of time, and then they sit vacant for days,” explains Steve D’Iorio, senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, a firm that offers third-party property management. “Sports sites start with what’s feasible.”
The same can be said for commercial buildings. Even if you only manage a small area that caters to physical activity – a high school gym, a recreation center, or a pool – steal a few moves from the pros. Focus on small homeruns that really add up.
“Easily achieved items include better discipline about turning things off when they’re not being used and implementing low-cost solutions like aerators on faucets and weather stripping on doors,” says Scott Jenkins, GM of the Atlanta Falcons stadium and chairman of the Green Sports Alliance, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help sports teams, venues, and leagues enhance their environmental performance. “Start with a base knowledge of how you performed in the past and what’s business as usual. Then think about what you can accomplish with a new way of doing things.”
A lighting retrofit is an easy measure that can yield significant savings (For examples of specific strategies, see Case Study #4).
“There’s a real benefit to switching to new technologies. With LEDs, you’ve got instant on/off and no time needed for warming up,” says J. Eric Sullivan, Jr., principal and executive vice president of third-party firm Sports Facilities Management. “Features like dimmability allow you to light up a sporting event for TV and dim them down for a community dance the next day. That’s a whole new opportunity that wasn’t available with metal halide or fluorescents.”
For additional savings, install sensors and controls to achieve further reductions, Jenkins recommends. Energy management and building automation systems will also keep your savings ticking higher.
“Controls should be your next focus,” D’Iorio explains. “Pick systems that give you the most amount of flexibility. They can really help dummy down building operation.”
Slashing water use – think washrooms, cleaning practices, or field and landscape irrigation – is another low-hanging fruit opportunity. You can also produce impressive financial savings by recycling water for irrigation and toilet flushing or switching to waterless urinals (see Case Study #7).
“Anything you can do to minimize gallons per flush or implement low-flow technology is huge from an efficiency standpoint. Water is likely your second highest utility expense,” Sullivan says.
Another overlooked opportunity is waste disposal. While landfill fees may not be as high as other operational costs, the motivation for diversion is reducing your carbon footprint. Strategies like recycling and composting can get complex, but again, start by focusing on feasible actions.
“When it comes to source separation and recycling, most companies will jump in and do whatever they can,” D’Iorio explains, adding that most measures are as simple as providing designated bins for recyclable items.
Extensive waste management programs go beyond source separation and focus on managing the supply chain. Consider switching to compostable food packaging and recyclable drink containers (see Case Study #5).
“No matter how much you educate and encourage participation, you have to think about the backend side. There will still be garbage in the recycling containers and plastic in the trash,” says Chet Chaffee, vice president at FirstCarbon Solutions, a firm that helps clients lower their carbon footprint. “Much of this sorting must be done after an event.”
Good waste management should also affect your cleaning practices. Aim for products with environment certifications or declarations. Next, focus on the impact of your janitorial protocol.
“Think about the times that you clean and if more of that can be done during the day,” D’Iorio suggests. “Alternatively, consider group or section cleaning so staff can complete areas one by one, turn off the lights, and then move on.”
Occupant engagement is essential for success. At stadiums, enlisting fan support takes your efforts the extra mile. In Philadelphia, staff hand out recycling containers to tailgaters and also recruit volunteers to prowl stands with plastic bags (see Case Study #3).
Renewable energy sources like solar panels are becoming commonplace at a number of early adopter sporting sites, but be mindful of the payback period, Sullivan says: “The use of solar is popular because these facilities have such large, expansive spaces, but you should first look at your local rebate and incentive programs to help offset some of the upfront cost.”
Sprint Toward Savings
Success should be tracked with audits and data collection, advises Jenkins. After a year or two, small successes will begin rolling in. Share these with your occupants, stakeholders, and sponsors. Post them throughout your site as if they were championship banners.
Aside from financial savings – which can stretch into the millions of dollars at venues this massive (see Case Study #6) – there are many intangible benefits to greening your site.
Enhancing the fan experience while being environmentally conscious is a major focus at the San Francisco 49ers new stadium, says Morrie Eisenberg, who manages the team’s sustainability efforts as director of business operations. “You don’t have to go for one or the other,” he explains. “Our green roof lowers our heating and cooling needs for the suite tower, but it also provides a beautiful place for fans to experience on game days or tours.”
Organizations can also attract environmentally minded sponsors by taking on sustainability. The Miami Heat garnered $1 million in new corporate partnerships that aligned with greening efforts. An eco-friendly site is also an avenue for enticing tenants, clients, and events.
“Stadiums should look for opportunities like corporate outings, concerts, and other types of entertainment,” encourages Sullivan, noting the Philadelphia Phillies spring training facility in Clearwater, FL. It’s only used as a ballpark for a few months but hosts nearly 300 events per year, some as simple as a happy hour with live music and beer specials just to keep their taps flowing. “How can you market the facility so it’s not a white elephant? Maximizing utilization is often missed,” he adds.
If you set the bar low at the beginning, it rises higher with each milestone you pass yet becomes easier to surpass. Start slow and gradually pick up speed.
“You’re always going to be able to do better in the future,” says Chafee. “Sustainability is never a point in time or a single item – it’s a moving target.”
Case Study #1:
The site became the first existing outdoor professional sports facility in the U.S. to receive a LEED-EB Gold designation.
Name: M&T Bank Stadium
Location: Baltimore, MD
Uses: NFL, soccer, and lacrosse games; music and entertainment
- 43% water reduction with the installation of over 400 waterless urinals
- 123,070 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions offset
- 5 million kWh of electricity reduced between 2005 and 2012
s 71% of regularly occupied spaces have access to outdoor views
- Recycles 31% of its regular waste with plans to increase diversion
- Purchases follow USGBC’s Sustainable Purchasing Policy to use recycled, renewable, and ENERGY STAR-labeled products
- Encourages public transportation, with 10% of visitors using the MTA Light Rail service and 2% arriving via “Ravens Ride” buses
- Irrigation system and adaptive vegetation reduce 30% of its potable water usage for outside irrigation
Case Study #2:
San Francisco 49ers
The stadium’s concession is focused on working with local suppliers to fulfill its “farm-to-table” menus and will be composting food waste. “Sports are very regional,” says the 49ers’ Morrie Eisenberg. “Our fans are environmentally conscious and also very proud of their food.”
Name: Levi’s Stadium
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Uses: football and soccer games; concerts
- 20,000 square feet of solar panels on pedestrian bridges and roof decks
- Along with low-flow fixtures, recycled water is used for landscape irrigation, toilets, and urinals
s 27,000 square feet of green roof space on top of the suite tower
- Controllable and programmable lighting and thermal comfort control systems
- Installation of permanent monitoring systems that provide feedback on ventilation system performance
- 75% of construction waste was diverted, recycled, or salvaged
- All wood used in the owners suites is reclaimed from a local airplane hangar
- Located on a public transit system and bike path
Case Study #3:
To increase fan engagement, Eagles staff use humor in their signage. For example, posters above urinals urge, “Recycle your beer here, but recycle your bottle outside in our containers.”
Name: Lincoln Financial Field
Location: Philadelphia, PN
Uses: football, soccer, and lacrosse games; Monster Jam truck shows; concerts
- 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines allow the stadium to generate near all of its electricity onsite
- Energy conservation programs and management systems reduced consumption by over 33%
- Increased monitoring and updated field infrastructure cut water consumption by 21%
- All tissue paper products are 100% post-consumer recycled paper, saving 10 tons of paper annually
- Almost half of its cleaning products, or 169 gallons, are environmentally friendly
- Media guide publishing dropped from 50,000 to 2,000 by providing the content online
- Green teams hand out recycling bands to tailgaters
- The waste system of utilizing chutes for trash and carts for recyclables has been switched due to the increase of recycling initiatives
Case Study #4:
San Francisco Giants
The Giants’ ballpark became the first in the majors to achieve LEED Silver for Existing Buildings. It was also the first MLB facility to install a solar array, which produces 123 kilowatts.
Name: AT&T Park
Location: San Francisco, CA
Uses: baseball, football, and soccer games; ski and snowboard contests; concerts; corporate events
- A massive lighting retrofit included replacing incandescents with LEDs and fluorescents, installing motion sensors, and updating to a 78% more efficient scoreboard
- An irrigation clock receives weather data and couples it with site data to establish zone watering times, saving 33-50% in irrigation water use
- Amendments to the infield mix (now 50% sand, 25% silt, and 25% clay) has reduced field watering by one-third
- After achieving an 85.2% diversion rate in 2011, the organization reached 100% by recycling or composting cans, bottles, cups, cardboard, paper, wood pallets, electronic components, light bulbs, batteries, cooking grease, food waste, and grass clippings
Case Study #5:
By utilizing compostable food packaging and recyclable cups, the Safeco Field is flipping its waste stream – in the mid-2000s, 90% of its waste went to the landfill, but now the goal is for 90% to be recycled.
Name: Safeco Field
Location: Seattle, WA
Uses: baseball and football games; corporate and political events
- The Mariners reduced natural gas use by 60%, electricity by 30%, and water by 25%. This saved about $1.5 million in utility costs between 2006 and 2011
- Updating the incandescent bulb scoreboard to LED lowered annual electricity consumption over 90%, reducing costs by $50,000 per year
- Goals for zero waste increased diversion rates from 12% in 2006 to 81% in 2011, saving $95,000 in landfill costs and reducing greenhouse gas emission by 10.4 million pounds
- Purchasing policies include prioritizing products like hand towels and toilet tissue made from 100% recycled fiber (65% of which is post-consumer), office paper made from 100% post-consumer recycled content, and custodial supplies certified by Green Seal and ECOLOGO
Case Study #6:
In a race with the Atlanta Hawks to win the first LEED designation for an NBA arena, the Heat’s certification came at a cost of $73,384 with $10,000 going toward an expedited evaluation and $47,592 to internal staff hours. Both arenas became certified on the same day.
Name: AmericanAirlines Arena
Location: Miami, FL
Uses: NBA games; WWE events; family shows and concerts
240 lamps in the arena’s concession stands and merchandise locations were upgraded to compact fluorescents, achieving a 2-year payback
- A building automation system monitors and controls HVAC
- 9,161 square feet of canopies reduce the heat island effect
- 16.7% reduction in potable water use through low-flow faucet and toilet retrofits
- Irrigation of planters and landscaping is now done with a drip system on timers, saving $11,000 annually
- Energy efficiency initiatives enabled the arena to consume 53% less energy than the average facility of similar size, according to ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager
- In one year, the Heat attracted $1 million in new corporate sponsors through greening efforts, including Home Depot and Waste Management, while also saving $1.6 million by reducing energy
Case Study #7:
Los Angeles Lakers
Incentives spur fan engagement at the STAPLES Center: if recoverable items are returned to the refreshment stand, customers receive a discount.
Name: STAPLES Center
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Uses: NBA (Lakers and Clippers), NHL (Kings), and WNBA games; concerts and family shows; Grammy Awards; X Games; Democratic National Convention
A 1,727-panel solar array covers 25,000 square feet of roof space and supplies up to 20% of the building’s energy use, saving $55,000 per year
- A lighting retrofit replaced almost 3,000 halogen fixtures with LEDs, saving $80,000 per year
- Low-voltage lighting relays control the sequence and operation of all task, general, and event lighting
- Variable speed drives are on all air handlers and one chiller
- All 178 urinals are now waterless, saving $28,200 in annual water costs
- A 50% landfill diversion rate was achieved through source separation of cardboard, wood pallets, electronic waste, and glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers
- Over 90% of cleaning projects have green certifications
- EV charging stations are installed in adjacent parking lots and structures
- Public transportation and bike riding is encouraged through ticket discounts and secure bike racks