11/21/2005

Meeting in the Hallway

Facilities seek more open, flexible, and informal collaborative spaces

 

The University of California-Davis' MIND Institute allows people to interact outdoors in courtyards, while various facility amenities are situated in a manner that promotes communication between individuals.

Components of Effective Workplace Collaboration

  • Open, unified floorspace: Interior designers are finding that fewer walls and more visual connectedness equals better productivity. In the case of the AIS headquarters in Blue Bell, PA, Little Diversified, based in Charlotte, NC, did a post-occupancy evaluation and found that AIS employees increased collaborative work by more than 33 percent after the project’s completion; 80 percent of employees there thought that their previous locations and set-ups were less effective than the new design.
  • Innovation and technology: Strategic placement of worktables, and common areas such as kitchens and copy rooms, are pivotal to encouraging conversation and knowledge-sharing between team members and coworkers.
  • Flexibility: This means creating rooms and open areas to serve more than one purpose. Says Bill Blanski, a design partner at Minneapolis-based HGA: “The first question in any auditorium is, ‘Sloped or flat floor?’ To make it more flexible, you clearly go flat. That way you can dine there, meet there, or have conferences there.”

The mention of meeting spaces at corporate facilities tends to evoke less-than-enthusiastic responses from those who have experienced them: cold, sterile, pale-colored, and fluorescent-lit conference rooms, often set apart from other building activity and more conducive to boredom than brainstorming.

Or, at least, that’s the way it used to be.

These days, facilities professionals are noticing a tangible shift in what some employees are seeking for meeting space. The status quo in facility planning once dictated conference and meeting rooms as the only suitable place for team collaboration. Now, newer buildings and recently remodeled offices are reflecting a standard that calls for more efficient and multifaceted use of public areas. Project participants needn’t huddle in soulless spaces to coordinate with each other anymore, nor do they need to arrange such meetings days in advance. Productive collaboration by colleagues - even that which takes place on a spontaneous basis - is made possible by new facility designs taking shape across the country.

One such design is located at the new facility for Aetna Information Systems (AIS) in Blue Bell, PA. Completed in November 2003 and designed by Little Diversified Architectural Planning, Charlotte, NC, the project sought to consolidate the company and its roughly 700 employees from locations in various cities to a single unit. The driving force behind the idea was to create working areas that facilitated teamwork and open communication between project members. Space would be used more efficiently and business would be more effective because of enhanced collaboration.

“What our clients are asking us to do is find a way to make a hallway or lobby or gathering space do more than one thing,” says Carol Rickard, a Washington, D.C.-based partner with Little Diversified who oversaw the design of the AIS offices. “By increasing the width of a circulation hallway or space pocket, and placing soft seating and a teaming table there, we’re able to maximize use of that space by creating an informal collaboration hub.”

The floorplan at AIS was created to be flexible and open. Employees are able to concentrate on a project alone if necessary, but can correspond with colleagues at a moment’s notice with the informal meeting areas located just steps away from individual workstations. “We call it ‘chair ballet,’ ” says Rickard. “People literally wheel themselves over to the table and are able to meet.” The set-up allows for personal and group space that is closely intertwined with larger meeting areas, facilitating various levels of collaboration.

Even the walls reflect this concept: They’re covered with material that turns the surface into a dry-erase board, which can be used for formal presentations or spur-of-the-moment discussions. The colors matter, too: A yellow wall indicates that the space behind it is for collaborative purposes, while red implies workroom space. This allows workers to easily find their way on any floor of the building.

The layout of the AIS headquarters is certainly not alone in its effective use of space. Bill Blanski, a design partner with HGA architectural firm of Minneapolis, has undertaken a series of similar high-profile projects in recent years - most notably a new headquarters for Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul and the MIND Institute at the University of California-Davis, where neurodevelopmental disorders are researched. His philosophies are a pervasiveness of information, flexible space, and interdisciplinary interaction.

“At the MIND Institute, it was all about getting people together to share info,” says Blanski. “Breakthroughs in medicine don’t happen in the test tube. They happen when the neurologist runs into the psychiatrist in the hallway while getting coffee, and they talk to each other and things become clear.” This idea is reflected in the design: MIND is composed of four separate buildings with just one café - a “necessary nuisance,” as Blanski puts it - which forces workers to come together and communicate on an ad hoc basis, a stark contrast to the days when interaction was confined to windowless conference rooms.

Open space and strategy of location are the rules at MIND. The mild California climate allows people to interact outdoors in courtyards, while various facility amenities are situated in a manner that promotes communication between individuals. And though the harsh Midwestern winters didn’t allow for the same level of outdoor space, the new Minnesota Public Radio offices don’t leave out the notion of flexibility.

This concept seems to be taking root across the industry. “Conference rooms really are not an efficient use of space, because they’re dedicated to one function that’s used only 15 to 20 percent of the time,” says Rickard. “Companies are starting to look at their bottom line and say, ‘How do we make our space do more?’ ”

Peter M. Warski (peter.warski@buildings.com) is assistant editor at Buildings magazine.

 


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Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.


Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.


When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality.

Yaskawa drives offer quality performance for air handlers and cooling towers on the roof to secondary chilled water pumps in the basement

Bluebeam® Revu® simplifies digital facilities document management from design review to leveraging as-builts, maintenance manuals and O&Ms submittals.

We Can Help You Reduce Energy by 30%

Our mission is to help our customers manage their buildings' energy costs, improve reliability, and enhance performance while having a positive impact on the environment.
CLICK HERE to find out how.


 
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