Blurring Office Boundaries

05/01/2015 |

Compiled by Jennie Morton and Janelle Penny, Senior Editors

Turn your static interior into a dynamic workplace

Modern office cafeteria

PHOTO CREDIT: WARREN PATTERSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Fluid, mobile, collaborative, transparent, egalitarian – these are the buzz words that are driving office trends. Companies can no longer afford to treat the office as a mere receptacle that holds employees for eight hours. Today’s knowledge workers expect an atmosphere that encourages productivity and creativity, which means tossing out stiff designs in favor of more casual settings.

To avoid being caught between management’s vision and the workers who have to live with it, building professionals need to be involved with space planning. You’re in an ideal position to add input to a redesign, but that entails understanding
how effective layouts can keep employees relaxed yet engaged.

BUILDINGS has collected a number of examples that illustrate the latest office configurations and how they support workers. See how businesses create zones using touchdown areas for collaboration, quiet spaces for focused work, kitchens and cafés for refreshment, and wellness features that encourage health.

No one is claiming that the boardroom with the 15-seat table has had its day – it’s simply that employees often need smaller, more intimate nooks and crannies to connect with colleagues.

“You need to have a variety of collaborative spaces,” explains Melissa Price, CEO of the design firm dPOP!. “That could be as small as a table between two workstations to a breakout area or conference room.”


To infuse your office with touchdown spaces, keep these three tips in mind:

1) Poll Your Workers – Organizations need to be cognizant of how their employees are actually working, says Carl Bergauer, director of contract furniture sales with Business Interiors by Staples. The best way to anticipate a new layout is to observe how people interact in the existing one. Walk the floor, use webcams or surveillance feeds, or review your reservation system for utilization trends.

“Keep in mind that employees create culture, not management, so occupants should be consulted about design changes,” Bergauer recommends. Companies will see pushback with space changes if the layout’s value can’t be easily perceived by users.

2) Balance Open Layouts – Removing communication barriers among employees is always a smart move, but a completely walls-free environment can leave workers without the right tools to get the job done efficiently.

“While the pendulum has swung from closed offices to open spaces, companies need to balance collaborative areas with individual spaces so all employees can have a productive environment,” says Peylina Chu, senior consultant with the environmental consulting firm Antea Group.

To achieve workplace equilibrium, offer employees a variety of “we” and “me” spaces. Touchdown areas for teams are more than just furnishings – they need to accommodate the type of business that will be conducted there, stresses Bergauer.

“If you design something as ‘let’s throw two chairs in this space,’ that doesn’t always work. If you have furniture that’s versatile and mobile and team members have the flexibility to rearrange pieces to make the space right, they will,” Price notes.

3) Apply FM to Occupant Comfort – No matter the office layout, facility managers are on the front lines of occupant comfort. Offer employees a communication channel to voice concerns and be responsive, Chu advises. Get down to the root of complaints – they can often be resolved by making adjustments to mechanical and lighting settings or janitorial practices.

Also take note of potential trip hazards from cabling or changes in flooring materials, stresses Chu. You might need to take careful stock of power access, chargers, and adapters so employees aren’t tethered to one outlet, adds Price: “Collaboration areas don’t necessarily have to have technology integrated, but electronic devices need to be able to land in that space and be functional.”

Sound control remains a challenge for many businesses, so don’t be shy about adding acoustical panels or a soundmasking system to ensure noise doesn’t escalate beyond acceptable levels.

COLLABORATION

Coordinate Teamwork with Smart Options
No one is claiming that the boardroom with the 15-seat table has had its day – it’s simply that employees often need smaller, more intimate nooks and crannies to connect with colleagues.

“You need to have a variety of collaborative spaces,” explains Melissa Price, CEO of the design firm dPOP!. “That could be as small as a table between two workstations to a breakout area or conference room.”

Here are a number of ways to infuse your office with touchdown spaces: click here

CAFETERIAS

Hungry for Casual Dining
A few tables in a dark corner and an old microwave are far from inviting when employees are ready for a lunch break or a change in scenery. Organizations are also recognizing that productivity can be lost if workers have difficulty leaving a campus setting, have to travel too far for errands, or encounter traffic congestion, notes Carl Bergauer, director of contract furniture sales with Business Interiors by Staples.

Think about why coffee shops are popular places to work and mimic that atmosphere. Allowing employees to make or purchase food on-site can help them maintain their concentration. Eating areas enable a team to have a working lunch or allow workers to schedule meetings with their counterparts in another time zone.

In order to achieve a home-like atmosphere where productivity remains high, companies are adding snack stations, kitchens, and full-service cafeterias: click here

WORKSTATIONS

A Place for Solo Time
Are employees rebelling against your open office? If you’re flooded with complaints about privacy, noise, thermal comfort, storage, and lighting, take a hard look at how well your layout is working.

Keeping employees relegated to cube farms can cut off collaboration, but a monolithic bullpen can drown workers in a sea of distractions. Firms have come to realize that workers need options for where and how they tackle their to-do list. If employees are expected to perform a variety of tasks, they need diverse spaces to switch gears.

Stations for focused work, nooks for solitude, and sheltered retreats can help employees preserve their concentration. See how you can give workers the flexibility to move around the office and find a spot that suits them: click here

RECREATION

Encourage Activity to Boost Productivity
The workplace isn’t just for work anymore. Organizations are increasingly turning to recreation and wellness amenities to attract new employees and retain existing ones.

“Environmental health and safety is not as much about code compliance as it is maximizing productivity. Many offices strive to offer a total package to ensure workers have the best tools to support their job,” explains Peylina Chu, senior consultant with the environmental consulting firm Antea Group.

Even the features that seem least work-related, such as game tables, can actually increase productivity by allowing employees to refresh, regroup, and take in a change of scenery. Adding an element of spontaneity can pay unexpected dividends, adds Price.

“It’s about purposeful fun. Sometimes you really need an element of humor in your day,” Price explains. “For instance, everyone was concerned when we added Razor scooters to our office. As it turned out, the scooters weren’t just fun, but also allowed the tech team to deliver things to clients faster. We were trying to create a great space and have fun, and before we knew it, ticket times were going down too.”

Take a look at how organizations are adding sit-to-stand stations, ergonomic chairs walking routes, and fitness opportunities to their offices: click here


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