Use these ideas to accommodate differing work styles of occupants
If you’ve been riding the design pendulum, you likely believe that enhancing employee engage- ment means cultivating collaboration. You might think it requires
having an open office. But keeping
workers satisfied actually depends
on keeping an open mind.
The open plan pendulum may have swung too far, or it
may be swinging back, but trying to keep up will only leave
you dizzy. Beware of following seesaw trends that seem to
change from year to year. Instead, focus on striking a balance between closed vs. open, quiet vs. collaboration, and
privacy vs. spontaneity.
Let the following strategies shape your layout.
Consider the Complaints
The problems with open offices are well known and
include acoustical control, inadequate meeting spaces, and
inflexible furniture and partitions. Research reveals that
an important issue to worker satisfaction is lack of space,
but perhaps simply improving the use of the space can address that issue.
Space utilization is the trendy new buzzword, but
what does it mean? Whitepapers from manufacturers and
designers may offer you some explanation, but at its most
basic, space utilization simply means that a workspace
should support the work of its occupants. Mistakes occur
when you assume that everyone works the same way and
then take an all-encompassing approach to office layout.
“Designers and manufacturers will reveal a great new
concept and spread it like mayonnaise everywhere,” says
Karen Thomas, principal at architectural firm Lawrence
Perry and Associates. “But the problem is that one size
doesn’t fit all. Pay attention to your needs to balance your
space. A tech company is different from an accounting
firm or a sales enterprise. If the design is not appropriate
for the individual company and users, then it’s not going
to work. Understand the workflow of your organization.”
Study Work Styles
A key takeaway from occupant complaints is that
the open plan isn’t necessarily to blame, explains Scott
Heagle, manager of global product communications at
manufacturer Steelcase. The best way to support your
workers is to offer them choice and control.
“There’s an ebb and flow throughout the day where
you’re in a team session for an hour or two, then maybe
you check email for a while and are open to interruptions,
and eventually there comes a time to put your head down
and do focused work,” Heagle says. “We’re asking people
to perform all of those activities in the exact same space
and that’s where the problem resides.”
Giving coworkers easy access to each other and
spurring connectivity is good for business. The value of
collaboration isn’t going away. There is a human need for
interaction but there’s also one for individual space and
time in which to concentrate and recharge, Heagle says.
Simply offering options and alternatives is a step in the
right direction. “In some offices, you’ll see people hanging
out in the hallways or reception area making phone calls.
That’s how you know something is missing,” adds Janet
Morra, principal at designer Margulies Peruzzi Architects.
“People shouldn’t have to do that if they’re talking to the
doctor or their kids. They need a dedicated space.”
Popular solutions are huddle or breakout spaces
for two or three people, says Thomas. The size is ideal
because it can be used by a single person who needs
complete silence for a conference call, two people for one-
on-one review, or small groups looking to collaborate.
“The average conference room seats about twelve
people but the average meeting is just three people,” adds
Morra. “If two people need to have a private conversation,
they tie up a room intended for twelve, and users say they
need more conference space. By designing a certain num-
ber of nooks or phone booths, it allows spaces to function
in the OPEN OFFICE
MARGULIES PERUZZI ARCHI TEC TS