Our work and the place where we do that work is a huge and important part of our lives.
Work itself is dramatically evolving and the results of that evolution can be seen in new office designs. Technology is creating a huge evolution in office design, affecting where, how, when, and what work is done, specially in these coronavirus times.
Some forces driving these new office designs include private workspaces getting smaller as less time is spent working individually and a larger part of work is done in teams and in group areas; working out of the office or telecommuting; new communications technology bringing greater, faster changes every day; and businesses changing their philosophical, structural models.
Three Basic Business Philosophies Reflected in Office Design
01. Office design should reflect the needs of the work and employees, as well as the structure of corporate philosophy. In the “rank or job title equals square footage” model, numerous rows of low-ranking employee cubicles graduate to fewer larger ones and then to private offices and then to increasingly larger private offices, to the ultimate highest rank, the top of the pyramid — the top floor or executive suite. This model is primarily a holdover from the military-industrial structure, but remains in use and genuinely applicable in some types of corporations whose employees require private, enclosed offices to enhance concentration.
02. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a new business model is used in which rank is not denoted by square footage, but by other compensations, such as the start-up company with a flattened structure that gives greater equality and autonomy to employees. Here, rank doesn’t depend upon territory or physical space, it depends on individual and collective performance results.
03. In the middle of the spectrum, utilizing a mix of the elements of the two previous business models, is the zone where many businesses hedge their bets, opting for office designs that are not drastic, but effective and flexible enough for the future.
Technology Drives New Office Design.
New office designs not only reverse the traditional individual workspaces, but also the team areas traditionally known as the conference room. In many new office designs the only floor-to-ceiling walls in the place, besides the restrooms, now enclose team or group work areas that have increased like rabbits in size, space, and variety.
One of the complicating factors in office designs is the new technology. Now, instead of just insuring the usual electrical, phone, power, lighting, and heating-cooling, office design must support data, networks, and communications technology for each workspace. Technology is crucial to today’s office designs, as communications technology becomes ubiquitous in the work environment. “As hard as people are working, the office environment as a place to work with minimal distraction and highest technology needs to be a more comfortable environment,”
Employee Attraction and Retention Create More Enticing Office Spaces.
As workplace values shift from being territorial and pyramidal to more equal status and respect-oriented, from management directives to self-directed work, from data technology to enhanced connectivity technology, from paper shuffling to challenging team projects, more and more employees are working in optimally designed office spaces. Due to a shortage of workers, businesses are now caught in the swift rapids of attracting and retaining qualified, educated, and technology-savvy employees by providing enticingly positive, energetic, flexible, and dynamic workplaces.
Present-day work environments are being designed more for employees and their work needs. Increased teamwork has created the need for more different types of group areas and interactive spaces than just conference rooms. As a result, individual workspaces are decreasing in size, but the need for a space for concentration, privacy, and quiet has not.
Making the most of the “in-between” spaces to encourage peoples’ need to connect on levels other than just the five senses, the architects use techniques like slowing down the elevators to promote spontaneous conversations and brainstorming.
Patterns of human behavior give architects predictable paths. Then architects define areas where flexibility is built in, including pathways to slow circulation so that overlaps occur, enabling serendipitous encounters that “feed the brain,” according to Scott Wyatt, FAIA, and CEO of NBBJ.
“Environment is the third most important item to employee retention and retraction,” (Sari Graven, ASID, Associate Principal, Callison Architecture.)
Merging the Employee, the Technologies, and the Office Workspace
The past: You were in the office. The present: Your desk is office. The future: You are the office.
In the future,which is NOW, work may be completely virtual. You may conference, work with 3-D prototypes, or teamwork with others in remote locations using a virtual meeting space or environment “We strive to use appropriate technology within a structure that supports change.” The same goal must be holistically applied to office design — especially at a time when highly skilled employees are hard to recruit and retain. If companies want employees to put their hearts, minds, and souls into their work, the design of the workplace must appropriately reflect and enhance that vision.