The largest show in the commercial interiors industry, this summer’s NeoCon exhibited clever solutions to help FMs achieve the Holy Grail – office space that is flexible and easily reconfigured for different work activities, including collaboration. Also space that can accommodate rotating, telecommuting workers who appear in the office only on occasion. And space that is economical and inexpensive. Particularly for offices in the urban cores of major metros, the current model for average square feet per occupant has been estimated at half of what it was 15 or 20 years ago.
At NeoCon I saw trim storage and shelving for unassigned workstations designed to handle the “bag drop” of transient workers. There were many versions of configurable lounge furniture as well as desks with wily worksurfaces able to accommodate multiple layouts. For sound control, there were slim, eye-appealing acoustical panels that can be hung from ceilings and walls or positioned in freestanding form. For privacy – the lack of which is the most common complaint in the open office – there were ventilated and acoustically sealed booths for quiet work or small meetings. A new software application allows FMs to monitor space utilization by occupants in great detail. These products and more are featured among the winners of our annual Product Innovations Awards (beginning on page 26) dedicated to NeoCon exhibitors.
The formula for the new office space is more complex than the one for more conventional offices and, I think, harder to get right. It involves rethinking notions of work and the work culture. As a CoreNet survey suggested a few years ago, it can make the FM into a kind of “experience manager.” In the case of some cool Silicon Valley offices outfitted with ping pong tables and other recreation, the FM is a kind of office cruise director. Of course, all the while the FM must be delivering cost efficiencies.
The silicon culture's space will never suit every firm, but if you can help cultivate the office layout that suits your organization, supports employee recruiting and retention, and enhances office productivity, you and the FM department won’t be seen by management as a mere cost center.