Agile, Adaptable and Flexible – The future of the office space
Last month I went to an open evening at my son’s new senior high school (Years 11 – 13) The classrooms have no doors! Open plan spaces and design is throughout the school with some smaller closed in spaces, with glass walls, for quieter high focus learning and teaching environments. Scattered throughout the school are many random collaborative social areas for students to meet and work together on projects and assignments, plus an impressive cafeteria that offers the students more opportunities to meet and gather. Big bold design features are throughout the school, offering inspiring surroundings to do their best work.
The schools large ‘learning common classrooms’ host three-four concurrent classes at any one point in time. The classes are mixed in both areas of learning and year levels so there is a lot of cross-pollination. The highly open and flexible nature of the school is designed to encourage new methods of learning, both individual and group based. With mobile panels, whiteboards and furniture, spaces of any size can be created to cater for smaller groups.
This is the environment that some of our now and future work force of NZ have only known. Closed in individual offices and cubicles with high partitions are foreign working spaces to this generation. For those of us who watch their children study and do assignments at home, the students of today are all on mobile devices and laptops with no fixed place to work. They happily complete assignments on the couch, the dining room table, or outside on the deck, this is where homework gets done nowadays. When needing a quieter space for more intense study they retreat to their bedrooms or a home office. So how will NZ businesses adapt to this new work force and how will we provide an agile and flexible work environment to inspire and support our future leaders to ensure our business are relevant, productive and profitable?
There are a growing number of businesses with more mobile teams whose workforces are less predictable than the 9-5 sit at your desk for 8 hours workers of the past. Some businesses might have some employees who work from home 50% of the time, others who travel 30% of the time, and contractors who are only around for short spurts. A 2012 study conducted by the Cisco Corporation confirms this, finding that 60% of today’s assigned offices and cubicles sit empty during a typical day. Given that the average office worker has 200 sq ft of workspace, there would appear to be a lot of room for an overhaul of office architecture.
Co-working space is on the horizon for professional services firms with creative sector clients and a millennial workforce. Co-working can be a catalyst for inspiring and supporting the kind of spontaneous interaction that generates and speeds innovation.
Open offices offer more efficient use of space that are adaptable. They offer the employee more opportunity to work from home or in teams as required. The private office is not likely to make a comeback and it is probably going the way of the phone booth. Researchers surveyed more than 40,000 office workers in 303 companies worldwide and found that the plus sides of an open-plan office (ideas sharing and camaraderie) are far outweighed by the downsides (distractions and noise pollution).
It’s true, the office environment speaks volumes about your organisation – it is the only real tangible evidence you have of your company culture in action and you can’t make a first impression twice. Google, Facebook, Sky, Pixar, LinkedIn, AirBnB….they have all created workplaces that are uniquely designed for who they are and what they do. They have realised how office space can be used as a strategic lever to improve productivity, performance and provide competitive advantage.
Whilst people do different jobs, they do similar activities and have similar needs from their office environment. People need to be able to communicate, to collaborate and have time and space to concentrate effectively in order to drive business growth forward.
A few years ago, the Norwegian telecom company Telenor decided to invest in a strange experiment. They got rid of hundreds of coffee machines, leaving just one for every 120 employees and expanded their cafeteria areas to accommodate more people. Surprisingly, despite the huge costs of the capital investment this experiment yielded a 20% increase in profits, a whopping $200 million.
Why? Because office design can have a huge impact on the efficiency and creativity of employees and the right layout can improve information flow and knowledge exchange within a company. By the simple act of limiting the number of coffee stations, they ensured people from different departments would mix, socialize and network. What followed was improved information flow within the company and spontaneous collaborations between various teams.
If your business is thinking about a new approach to your office space, relocating or undertaking a new build, below are a few points and spaces pulled together from the web to consider on your journey. To start the process, consider really important factors, such as your company values, organizational learning and employee wellbeing. We suggest that you spend one or two days simply observing your teams, talking to them and taking notes on what is important for them and the way they work. Studying your teams at work, you may notice that there are several pillars that define the way they work: collaboration, communication, openness to change, transparency, and predictability of the development process.
Office Spaces for Agile Working
The Touchdown area is where you go to work for short periods, 30 – 90 minutes. It’s an ideal environment for roving sales people who can touchdown to check emails, prepare before a meeting or have a brief catch up after the meeting. It is better than hot-desking as it allows people to work without being distracted and without distracting others. The rules are simple: No large, long or formal meetings should take place in this area and it can also co-exist as a short-term quiet area as required.
The breakout area is fast becoming part of the normal office landscape. As well as being a place to relax and recharge, it can also be used for informal meetings. This reduces the demand on meeting rooms. Feedback from clients suggest more informal conversations lead to fewer delays on decisions being made and improves productivity.
This is the area for your printer, photocopier, shredder, recycling and stationery. It’s useful in minimising disruption to open plan areas, maximises the efficiency of multi-functional devices (printer/photocopiers) and creates spontaneous communications between people who might not normally speak to each other within the course of their day-job. Its benefits are seven-fold – a specific area for stationery means it can be restocked easily, recycling increases and secure access printers has led to 50% less paper wastage for one company. Resources can also refer to personal storage centres – cloakrooms and lockers. Again this leads to more spontaneous conversations, and in some cases fewer trips and falls as coats and bags are stored away appropriately.
This is the area for working 2 hours or more where you are signalling that you are open to interaction and collaboration. People are encouraged to work out loud in this area where people can pop by and ask you what you’re working on. The rules are simple. Make a beautiful mess! but don’t have prolonged conversations at your desk as it can be distracting for others sitting nearby. Grab a coffee and head to the breakout area instead.
This is great for training, formal, confidential and large meetings. It reduces demand on desk space and provides an invisible DO NOT DISTURB sign above your head whilst you’re working. The rules are simple – use it or lose it! If you have a booking process for meeting rooms or quiet space and don’t use it within 15 minutes, then it’s free for anyone to use.
Enhance team mobility
Consider installing power and data hubs/terminals in your various spaces or workstation at every desk so it’s easy for your team to move around, changing seats and teams – they can just plug and work. Remember to invest in good monitor handle kits, so each individual can adjust the screen according to their specific needs.
Draw, write and scribble everywhere
Visualising ideas and concepts is one of the most useful tools for learning and forming concrete plans. Every wall in your office could be a blank canvas for your team to use if you cover it with transparent wipe-clean paint. Of course, whiteboards are equally effective. Consider buying a whiteboard on wheels for each team; these can easily be taken to a meeting room and then back to where the team is based. Glass walls can also serve as spaces for scribbles and sticky notes.
- Tanya Hanrahan