Five Steps for Re-Imagining Your Workspace

Nov. 1, 2007
Accommodating individual desires in an office space is an ongoing challenge

Today, every employee brings his or her specific needs to the workplace. Accommodating individual desires while dealing with the inevitable limitations that come with any office is an ongoing challenge. As the costs and availability of both human and physical assets continue to escalate, deriving maximum productivity from both is vital to success in the modern office environment.

At the same time, there are certain universal needs that apply to most people who spend their days within the confines of the workplace. Here are five simple, all-purpose steps to help make your office spaces as functional, effective, and comfortable as possible. 

1. Start with the End User
Instead of starting with the physical space, start with the person who will be using that space. If you start with the office worker and understand what he or she needs in order to be productive and comfortable, you are miles ahead of the standard workspace set-up. Attempting to accommodate the "typical" worker's needs in a "typical" office space may be the first step in not meeting anyone's needs. By recognizing and providing for individuals, you foster maximum productivity while balancing and accommodating the needs of employees. 

2. Think Outside the Cube
Today, the typical office is made up of a series of cubicles. While space and financial limitations often necessitate this set-up, rethinking what individual cubes look like can make a world of difference. Creating a more adaptable working environment - cubicles that can accommodate guest seating, collaboration, and impromptu meetings - can lead to greater productivity. Similarly, meeting areas outside of the cubicle that offer an inviting, residential atmosphere can lead to enhanced output and greater creativity. 

3. Let Down Your Walls
There are many ways to go about creating territories or boundaries without using built walls or panel systems. Through a selective use of standard furnishings found in the office landscape, you can easily manage traffic patterns and flow through the workspace. By placing islands of filing cabinets with shared storage in strategic locations, you can create a buffer for workstation groups while simultaneously creating a standing-height meeting space for users in that area.   

4. Allow for a Sense of Control
Research shows that people need a sense of personal territory and control over their workspace. Having this control gives employees a greater feeling of ownership over their work and an enhanced sense of personal responsibility. In the last decade, many industries have attempted to create office environments where everything is mobile and individual workstations are shared, not "owned" by any one user. Mobility can be a great thing, but too much can lead to a feeling of impermanence within individual workspaces, which can be counterproductive to employees' effectiveness. 

5. Get off the Grid
Many modern offices are on a "grid system" and feature vast rows of cubicles, desks, or workstations in addition to individual offices. Bypassing the grid system in favor of "clusters" or "neighborhoods" can lead to greater creativity while also increasing opportunities for teamwork.

Jess Sorel is the design director at Oakland, CA-based Metro ( 

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