Do you feel like the walls on creeping in on you at work? Here’s a fact that will come as no surprise to the everyday office dweller. Your workspace has shrunk – a lot.
Years of downsizing – both in headcount and real estate – led businesses to reduce the size of offices while challenging workers to produce more with less work area. The square footage plunge over the past three years has been significant. According to a CoreNet Global survey, U.S. businesses currently allocate roughly 176 square feet per employee, down from 225 square feet back in 2010. And, the downward trend is expected to continue.
Second only to payroll, real estate is a firm’s next biggest expense. Long-term leases on sprawling traditional office space have come under scrutiny as they often sit vacant at least 50 percent of the time. Mobile technology is keeping employees away from their offices making it very plausible for them to work in a variety of locations – on the road, at home and, sometimes, in the office. Work is now what someone does, not where they go.
The overpowering desks that stood tall down mahogany row and served as the anchor of an office are being tossed out in favor of more sleek designs aimed at striking the balance between privacy and collaboration. Supersized furniture is out. Businesses at all stages of development – from Fortune 500s to start-ups are realigning their workspace need with their financial realities and are opting for less space. In the process, they are not willing to sacrifice employee productivity. Instead, they are looking to office design to help bolster teamwork and problem solving. The goal is to develop a flexible physical layout that enhances productivity and saves money.
Changes in Work Styles
Modern work habits are changing workspace design. Technology is one part of the equation. Organizing a meeting doesn’t mean walking down the hall to the conference room anymore. While many meetings to take place face-to-face, Skype and videoconferencing makes it possible to bring together workers from around the world. Stylistically, work has become informal, impromptu and more inclusive. This had led to more multi-purpose spaces and less private offices.
Collaboration is a huge driver of change. If all workers are in fully enclosed spaces, interaction diminishes. In a constantly connected environment, where works are adjacent to each other collaboration amongst co-workers will more likely occur in these open spaces spontaneously and as needed. The challenge for office designer is to provide a fluid mix of workspaces to meet the growing density of people and equipment that now take up less square footage.
Updated Look and Feel
From lighting to seating and from compact desks to open campuses, modular office design has emerged as the solution to balancing privacy and collaboration.
LED lighting has reduced the size of desk lamps. Light sources can hone in on a particular space and can be easily controlled by its user. Without the natural privacy afforded by four walls, designers have created furniture that offers visual barriers even in an open space. Semi-enclosed seating such as one- and two-person stand-alone booths include sound-minimizing felt and tall panels offering a sense of privacy.
Open floor plans with low barriers encourage side-by-side interaction, create a sense of defined space but allow for workers to share ideas. Lots of glass, even in an enclosed office, creates a welcoming feel in an office environment. Conference rooms tend to have glass walls but with a bonus feature. The glass can be dimmed so that the meeting participants have some privacy.
As businesses look to attract and retain employees, the image they project to their workers matters. A stodgy cubicle row isn’t going to foster innovation and won’t help individuals function better as a team. Office design impacts creativity, productivity and corporate identity. While some companies are making the investment in renovating their spaces, others are giving their workers access to flexible workspace providers.
Flexible providers have the infrastructure in place that allows a mobile worker to drop-in and choose a work environment best suited for a particular task. And, with more mobile workers in the workforce than ever before employers realize that flexibility has to be accessible no matter where there employee is.
Businesses embarking on an office transformation need to understand that a certain population of their company is going to miss their fixed desk. As the concept of the workplace evolves, it’s important to communicate the workplace strategy with staff so that they can more easily embrace these changes. Reinvention is a good thing. The technology, new ways of working and change in business processes is helping dictate a new chapter in the workplace.