INFlexible Workspace Putting a Strain on Business?
Today, business objectives cover more than revenue projections and employee productivity. Businesses need to be ready for anything it seems, as workers become more mobile, markets more volatile and agility more crucial.
Effective office design has to reflect a company’s organizational goals. Twenty years ago, that could be accomplished with meetings between designers, managers and employee focus groups. But 20 years ago, the average worker was not changing jobs every four years. Domestic companies were not competing in global markets. And the average company did not see a 25 percent increase in hiring one year and a 10 percent decrease in revenue the next.
To best support the businesses of today, office design needs to be simple and nimble to adapt to change, says Sonya Dufner, associate principal, planning and strategies senior consultant for Perkins+Will in New York.
“We used to be able to predict further out into the future, and now that is not so true,” Dufner says. “A flexible workplace has always been part of good design, but now it has to be incorporated to support changing business needs.”
Within the past few years, designers have sought to create a new generation of flexible buildings and work environments that fully support change while sustaining new technologies, and multi-faceted individuals and teams, according to the Whole Building Design Guide, a resource for the building community from the National Institute of Building Sciences.
Global – The Total Office, a furniture manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in New Jersey, has responded to this need by developing several series of furniture lines that are flexible for change, but accommodating for multiple office uses and company personalities. The key is simplicity, says Michael Fishman, director of marketing/design for Global in the United States.
Flexibility in simplicity
“In the evolving contemporary office environment, the desire is for simplicity in design, specification and installation,” Fishman says. “Business owners don’t want 17 varying lines of office furniture in one office — they want to be more efficient and save money, which is possible when obtaining everything from one source. When everything coordinates, it creates a much more pleasing and contemporary look for the productive office environment.”
Global’s Zira line, introduced in 2009, is a full-featured desking series that uses the same design principle to create teaming environments, managerial and executive suites, conference areas and workstations. Thousands of components can be assembled in even more configurations, with as little storage or as much storage, or as short or tall — up to 84" — as a job function requires. Zira’s multiple elements help businesses differentiate office areas and can be easily reconfigured to accommodate a new office plan. Click here to see an animation of Zira’s possibilities.
Some additional lines, including Bridges tables and eO+ modular panels and desking components, are simplified systems that can be configured and changed to fit in any space, Fishman says.
Keeping it simple and interchangeable is an important consideration that goes beyond furniture. Lighting, phone systems and outlets can restrict an office redesign if they were installed based on an initial layout. Recommendations from the Whole Building Design Guide in designing for flexibility take a top-down approach and include:
- Consider multiple office configurations when installing power, voice and data.
- Integrate technological tools to ensure technical, spatial and environmental quality.
- Provide systems that are controllable and adjustable by the users without reliance on outside contractors.
- Incorporate sustainable design principles, such as natural lighting, so spaces are not limited to the locations of vents and interior lights.
Workplace as a communication tool
When L’Oreal USA designed its New Jersey headquarters, the facility also was a symbol of change to support a more collaborative way of working for the leading cosmetics, beauty and fragrance company. More than 600 employees would move their work environments from a dozen older buildings in the bustling New York and New Jersey metropolitan area to a newly built, open-concept office building in suburban New Jersey.
L’Oreal worked with Perkins+Will to design the New Jersey headquarters, a work environment that cultivated high energy and performance — in technology, setting new workplace guidelines for working more collaboratively, flexibility of design and incorporating sustainable design throughout the building.
“L’Oreal’s primary objective was to have its workplace better align with the organization’s culture and business objectives, and this meant a shift from an office-intensive environment to a primarily open plan with the addition of many different types of meeting areas, both formal and informal,” Dufner says. “The new office design would maximize efficiency with the flexibility to adapt and change over time, just as the company will.”
Perkins+Will worked with L’Oreal to increase space efficiency by creating “neighborhoods” that break up clusters of workstations with team and informal meeting areas. The layout utilizes one standard size office and one standard size workstation that make it easy to move staff around, providing another way to better utilize the inventory of spaces. Groups of workstations are designed with a module that will allow for a section to be swapped with offices, or the reverse, as the organization changes, Dufner says.
Employees embraced the new design and saw it as an invigorating new direction for the company. This is a trend Dufner is seeing more and more as companies use workplace design and furniture selections to support culture.
“Organizations are starting to see that they can let real estate be a tool to help communicate and support change,” Dufner says. “If an organization wants to differentiate itself, take on new market segments, highlight how its work helps the environment … a workspace design can reinforce these objectives, which not only solidifies the values of the organization to the staff, but also helps with attraction and retention of talented professionals.”
Office photos of L’Oréal USA. Photography - ©Paul Rivera at Archphoto. Workplace Consulting and Interior Design - Perkins+Will.