The Next Generation

April 1, 2004
Office Design Trends and the Restored Economy
“What do you do when people come back to the office? Our question is: Are people going to come back in the traditional way that we think?” asks Kim Heartwell, vice president, RKTL Associates, Washington, D.C. According to recent Labor Statistics, the U.S.’s economic status so far has been a jobless recovery. Facilities managers will be faced with the challenging task of handling consolidation and downsizing of staff. Accommodating employees who are returning as consultants or part-time workers is another major task. And there is also the emerging trend of hoteling – creating work environments that can support mobile employees.An international design firm, RTKL Associates is headquartered in Baltimore, with offices in Miami, Chicago, and London. Its interiors group, based out of Washington, D.C., covers workplace design and corporate branding projects. Improved technology, globalization, cost pressures, and an increased interest in business continuity planning are driving the push for more telecommuters in the workforce.Over the last 10 years, a lot of RTKL Associates’ design work has centered on hoteling, as well as universal design, which embraces flexibility. “All of those things that we have been doing for the last 10 years are well-suited to when people do come back to work,” says Dennis Gaffney, vice president, RTKL Associates, Washington, D.C.That Was ThenInitially, the concept of hoteling was not well-received in many workplaces. The concept of remote working emerged in the 1980s, yet technology was often not sophisticated enough to support teleworkers. However, the workforce demographics are evolving and a younger segment of employees is entering the workforce. This younger group is more receptive to working outside the office and employing equipment, such as PDAs and laptops, which fully supports hoteling. Mobile workers are usually defined as employees who work more than 20 percent of the time outside of the home and office. Telecommuters are defined as working more than 20 percent of the time in a home-based office.In the next two years, businesses are predicted to see a major growth in teleworking, according to a new AT&T survey ( conducted by AT&T’s Economist Intelligence Unit, Bedminster, NJ. Responding senior executives worldwide indicate the percentage of companies where almost no one works from home on a regular basis is expected to drop from 46 percent today to just 20 percent two years from now. In Europe, by 2005, the number of mobile workers is expected to triple to 20.1 million, and the number of telecommuters is expected to more than double to 8.7 million. “[The newest generation of workers] wants to be much more mobile and is interested in the new technology and a more balanced work-play lifestyle,” says Gaffney. For hoteling, solutions can be as simple as creating single work cubicles that accommodate single or double occupancy. One example of a workspace that can accommodate multiple users is flexible two-sided workstations. However, to achieve this flexibility, organizations have to understand the different generations within the workforce. It is not uncommon to have four generations working in the same organization. “For the first time in the history of the office, there have been so many different age groups working [together],” says Gaffney.“Many of the strategies that we implemented with clients over the last 10 years, and more recently in the downturn economy, were about flexibility and universal design. At the time, they were implemented to save space and to make it easy to consolidate,” says Heartwell. The same flexibility in design that allowed companies to contract can now permit expansion without additional real estate costs (i.e., open workstations with demountable partition walls that allow for easier reconfiguring). Yet, how can corporations achieve this much-needed flexibility? Many facilities managers have turned to one-size-fits-all approaches with modular workplaces supported by a variety of meeting rooms, teaming areas, and privacy spaces. For mobile employees, it is vital to create spaces within the workplace where they can interact with co-workers.This Is Now“Sustainability has been a new hot issue for some time. It has become ingrained into the process,” says Heartwell. The majority of design firms have Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED)-certified design professionals on staff, and facilities managers are increasingly learning more about the benefits of green design.The focus on green design has led to greater attention on creating healthier, end-user-centered work environments. Increasingly, facilities are designed to take advantage of natural light and to give employees control over their workspace’s light levels and temperature. “Having individual control will become a big thing as we move forward, so that you are not just creating a healthy environment, you are creating spaces for each individual,” says Gaffney.The concept of status and private office space is also evolving. Some businesses, such as law firms, prefer to demonstrate status with private office space. However, other companies are choosing alternative ways to show status beyond large private offices, such as with higher-end furnishings.In the past decade, many organizations that went to a completely open office plan to flatten their companies’ hierarchy have realized that some work styles demand privacy. In response to this realization, some corporations have created additional private office space. To accommodate varying work tasks, offices of the future should have the flexibility to create open office space and private offices, as well as multiple sizes of offices.“One of the things that has not been addressed a lot is that the people coming into the office now are more mobile by nature,” says Heartwell. The latest generation of employees places less importance on status and more on mobility, flexibility, the right environment for the work, and an appropriate mix of lifestyle with work. Facilities managers will be challenged to manage work environments that support mobility requirements of younger workers, while still respecting the needs and work styles of older employees. For example, at an outsourcing firm, RTKL Associates created a flexible work environment that acts as a mini-corporate work environment test tech lab. The newly designed space features a great room that can be used for conferences, training sessions and lectures, or for socializing. Adds Gaffney, “There are a lot of places where people can come in and plug-and-play.”Along with technical support, mobile employees need space within the work environment to plug into the company’s social network. “There is a greater need for a place, such as a kitchen, pantry, or a socializing area, for networking and interaction so that consultants can engage themselves back into the work environment,” explains Gaffney. By having these socializing spaces, companies are helping their hoteling employees become re-acclimated to the work climate.This Is NextIn one recent project, RTKL Associates designed the European headquarters for the Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) in London. The company had grown a great deal through acquisitions in Europe, and its divisions were scattered in many locations. The organization was looking to consolidate itself in one central location. “We had nine to 10 locations we were consolidating, and they were made up of all different types of work styles and people who had worked in other groups before. [CSC] was looking to create a common culture,” says Heartwell. Additionally, the office space needed to be as flexible as possible. RTKL created an abundance of community spaces to achieve these goals.The new headquarters is comprised of four towers of office space, the majority of which accommodates a universal plan with one-sized workstations and one-sized offices. Office spaces are very reconfigurable: End-users can easily work in teams and the facility can “grow” or “shrink” as team sizes change.All of the headquarters’ community spaces are located on the building’s entry level. “The hard-walled community spaces have moved into a common zone of spaces,” explains Heartwell. Training rooms, a presentation room, a cafeteria, and a coffee bar co-exist within this centralized area. Adds Heartwell, “These specialized community spaces were brought into one area [for flexibility and] to create a sense of community – a place the people would come.”The importance of community space in the work environment is a growing trend. “Corporations and small offices: All of them want a place where everyone can gather,” says Gaffney. These important spaces allow mobile employees to connect with in-house staff members and serve multiple purposes.Meeting spaces are adapting, too. Companies now need hard-walled conference rooms for presentations, but spaces that also open for impromptu meetings and get-togethers. “We are finding that people are looking for a larger menu of places to meet, work, and support their independent workspace,” says Heartwell. Typically, these spaces have furniture and the technology to support laptops. The mobility of employees has also increased the need for additional IT and human resources support for staff members on the road. “[Companies] have to provide that infrastructure so they can support the people on the road as easily as they can support the people right next to them,” says Gaffney.“Whether it is fast growth or long-term growth, the more flexibility you put into the workspace and the more variety you have for accommodating different work styles, the easier it is to accommodate the ups and downs – the people leaving the workforce and those coming into it,” says Heartwell. According to the Scottsdale, AZ-based research firm Instat/MDR, approximately six percent of U.S. employment will be made up of full-time telecommuters, and the number of remote office employees is expected to rise significantly. Although not all employees will be going mobile and offices are in no danger of disappearing, the way people work is changing. And the work environment must change to keep pace with the future.Regina Raiford Babcock ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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