The open office plan isn’t everything we’d hoped it would be. Once touted as the magic bullet for productivity, creativity, and collaboration, the open office plan in reality is too noisy, too public, and too distracting for heads-down workers. Rather than collaborating, employees use every tool at their disposal to claw back a tiny bit of personal space, isolating themselves with headphones and using email and texts to communicate with co-workers who are mere feet away, often at the same workbench.
Like business owners, facilities managers were initially enamored of the open office plan. Requiring fewer square feet per employee, the open office plan kept the cost of rent low, and the lack of interior walls reduced the build-out costs.
Facilities managers were among the first to hear the negative feedback around the open office concept, as staffers began requesting enclosed meeting rooms and sound-reducing measures. In an effort to achieve a balance between open areas and enclosed areas, facilities managers and designers have begun turning to a ready-made solution: the “phone booth” office pod. As reported in Fast Company, these micro-offices are fully enclosed, sound-proof, ventilated, and come complete with plug-and-play power for electronic devices. Businesses can add a string of these prefabricated offices within their existing open office space at a cost of a few thousand dollars each, without the disruption of construction.
There’s a downside, however. Although they’re small, micro-offices take up a certain amount of floor space, putting the squeeze on work space and storage space alike. Employees who are already feeling crowded are not likely to react positively to more encroachment on their work areas.
Files and supplies, on the other hand, never complain about having their storage space reduced. High density mobile shelving, rotary file cabinets, and lateral sliding files condense storage space into half the space of traditional shelves and cabinets. Moreover, these compact storage systems offer greater accessibility than old-school storage systems; search-and-retrieval times are reduced and productivity is improved.
Space-efficient storage systems provide the floor space needed to achieve the balance of open work spaces and enclosed, heads-down work spaces, preserving the overall office footprint while making room for everyone to do their best work. Businesses are learning that this balance will deliver the improvements in creativity and productivity originally promised by the open office concept.
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Like it or not, office hoteling is a reality for many workers today. For those whose work is self-contained, and who enjoy choosing where to do their work on any given day, the flexibility of hoteling is highly desirable. For those whose work requires access to physical elements (books, files, tools, electronic gadgetry, etc.), hoteling poses a productivity problem: Where do they keep all that stuff during off-hours if they don’t have an assigned desk where they can store it?
This has been a vexatious problem for facilities managers, office managers, and practice managers whose enterprises have embraced the concept of office hoteling. Hoteling has the undeniable advantage of reducing real estate costs through reduced office space. If only 50% of your employees are in the office most days, why are you paying for unused space?
But many types of businesses require quite a lot of “stuff” on the desk to get the job done. Maybe it’s a small-scale scanner for receipts, or a stack of documents that aren’t available online, or research materials for an ongoing project. Add to this the quantity of stuff many of us carry around through the day: workout clothes, commuting shoes, a heavy winter coat, the dry cleaning we picked up on the way to work. Without a fixed work area, all these personal and work-related items end up spread over the open workspace – not at all practical or aesthetically pleasing.
Managers are realizing that hoteling requires a type of storage solution they may not have needed in the past. Just as a hotel room contains a closet, a hoteling office needs lockers for all those personal things that shouldn’t be cluttering up the workspace.
But these aren’t the clunky hall lockers of our high school days. Today’s office lockers can be outfitted with smart digital locks linked to mobile phones for easy access. They can be sized to fit the needs of the workforce – full length or compact – and the exteriors can be customized to complement the office aesthetic. They can be an asset to the interior design rather than just an annoying necessity.
A conversation with a designer or storage consultant can point you in the direction of a solution that fits your office hoteling needs. Hoteling doesn’t have to make employees’ stuff a productivity burden, as long as a place is provided for all that stuff.
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Although the federal government has for many years urged telecommuting to ease Washington’s notorious commuter traffic, the snowstorms of 2010 were the precipitating event which created the Telework Enhancement Act, requiring federal agencies to establish telework policies. Nearly a decade later, has it made a difference?
The GSA has led the way in transitioning to telework, with almost all employees scheduling desk time via a hoteling reservation system. As reported in the New York Times, the former bureaucratic cube farm has given way to the wide open look of a Silicon Valley start-up, with collaborative teams clustered together.
Following the GSA’s lead, the Department of Homeland Security, the Patent and Trademark Office, Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Agriculture have put telework policies into action. Now that the telework policy has been operating for several years, the Office of Personnel Management’s most recent report, surveying 89 federal agencies, shows some interesting trends:
- 42% of all federal employees, or nearly one million workers, are eligible for telework.
- Situational telework (such as working at home to concentrate on a big project) is the most common type of telework, followed by regularly-scheduled telework.
- Although many agencies do not have a way to calculate the budget impact of telework, those that do track telework costs found that telework saved $30 million annually.
- Agencies had many goals for their teleworking programs, but the most often cited was real estate cost reduction.
And the real estate cost savings have added up. The Department of Homeland Security estimates savings of $55 million in leased space. Fish and Wildlife, a smaller organization, will save $3 million in rent reduction.
Telework presents challenges for any agency. Organizational culture is re-shaped when a telework policy is instituted, and open-plan offices require a new etiquette. Physical space is also re-shaped; a lack of offices and reduced overall square footage require facilities designers and managers to get creative with office furnishings. Flexibility is fundamental to a successful telework policy, and flexible furnishings fit well into the new interiors, giving agency facilities managers a variety of options in the way they use their open-plan office space. Designers are choosing flexible, adaptive workstations, mobile filing pedestals, and modular cabinetry that can be rearranged as staff comes and goes.
Digital document management is also helping with the new telework policies. Agencies’ document conversion programs and digital document procedures permit their teleworking staff to access needed information from almost anywhere.
With such significant cost savings as reported by the OPM, teleworking is here to stay for federal agencies. As more and more agencies adopt teleworking policies, adaptive furnishings are a valuable solution in real estate right-sizing.
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Remember those carefree college days, hanging out in the stairwells, meeting on the quad, studying in the library, the cafeteria, the student lounge, wherever? Then you began your career and all that spatial freedom was suddenly gone, and you had to be in one place. At one desk. All day. Every day. Five days a week. It was a tough transition.
And now that newly-graduated millennials are driving the hiring market, campus-style spatial freedom is being incorporated into offices designed to attract the recent graduates. NCR’s new Atlanta headquarters is one example; it touts its “technology and tools to support the changing nature of how, when and where work is done.” Located adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus, NCR hopes to use the headquarters’ college-like environment to capture the brightest and best new graduates, with such familiar features as dining options, coffee bar, gym, informal spaces, and a large lecture hall.
Formaspace discusses how office designers and facilities managers can learn a few lessons from college campuses, including:
- Natural light and outdoor work areas – Large windows and park-like campuses are features of colleges that enhance mental health and performance; businesses too can benefit.
- “Work neighborhoods” – Colleges offer a range of options, from lounge chairs to lab workbenches to library carrels to coffeehouse tables; these can be emulated within corporate settings.
- Serendipity – College campuses provide countless opportunities to run into people who share common interests; offices with casual collaboration areas can profit from the synergy of serendipity.
- Quiet zones – College libraries are famous for their inviolable quiet; the notoriously loud open office plan should incorporate quiet spaces for focused tasks.
We would add a fifth lesson: Flexible space utilization. Colleges have perfected the concept of flex spaces that are a classroom one day, a lab the next day, and a meeting room the day after that. As businesses start to incorporate collegiate design into the workplace, the ability to experiment with space utilization is essential; what may have worked as a lounge now needs to be a quiet area, or vice versa.
Adaptive furniture and modular cabinetry make this kind of flexibility possibility. For example, adaptive-furnishings manufacturer Swiftspace offers desks that combine into semi-private “huddle spaces” or change into extended tables or workbenches.
Empowering staff to adapt the workspace as needed is another holdover from college days, and it’s one more feature that can attract sought-after millennial employees. No hiring manager wants to hear this quote, reported by design researchers speaking to a newly-hired graduate: “The thing that keeps me up at night is going to sit in my cubicle farm on Monday.”
Of course not every business workstyle can incorporate college campus features into the workplace. But for those in a competitive hiring market, a collegiate environment could be the perfect recruitment tool. Consult with your design professional about bringing some college spirit to your offices.
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Trust – we all agree it’s fundamental to any organization. Employees have to trust their bosses, managers have to trust their staff, customers have to trust the business. And it’s far easier said than done. How do you create a work environment that reinforces trust and builds the loyalty necessary for a strong, successful organization?
In the Harvard Business Review, Carolyn O’Hara lists trust-building behaviors:
- Get to know your employees and find common ground, to demonstrate that your goals align with their goals.
- Be truthful and transparent; when you trust your staff with information, they will trust you back.
- Take responsibility for the mistakes, and share in the credit for successes. Integrity reinforces trust.
- Show competence, update your skills, and when you don’t know something, seek out an expert. Your employees will trust in your authority, and your own competence will raise their competence levels.
Autonomy and empowerment also demonstrate your trust in your team. Giving employees a clearly-defined goal, then letting them decide how to achieve it within given parameters, shows that you trust them to get the job done. Your workplace policies, too, can underscore autonomy and empowerment. Flex hours and telecommuting say you have faith in your team’s decision-making for the good of the organization.
Trusting your employees to make their own decisions about when and where to work can present a challenge for facilities management, however. Businesses may find their offices half empty on many days, and they’re paying rent for an excess of space. Hoteling-style open office plans may “right-size” the space, but not allow enough sound control for collaborative meetings and conversations.
Solving the space utilization challenge is a golden opportunity to build trust. Marie Puybaraud, writing in Entrepreneur, recommends including staff in the design process. Not only will they feel trusted (and will trust you in return), but they will be very invested in the success of the design. With innovative products like adaptive furnishings and modular cabinetry, office space can be used with maximum flexibility. The ability to rearrange work areas on the fly increases workers’ autonomy, and the circle of trust gets stronger.
Forbes Magazine terms trust a critical success factor for businesses, “the fabric that holds everything together.” Shape your workplace to show you trust your team, and they will reward you with loyalty and dedication. Those are results you can trust.
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Coworking is the new normal, claims Cecilia Amador in AllWork.space, the flexible workspace newsletter. Amador points to statistics from Cushman & Wakefield, Emergent Research, and others that show the extraordinary growth of coworking: 20% annual growth in major U.S. cities such as New York and Chicago; 40+% growth in other locales; 27 million square feet of coworking office space in the U.S. alone.
Until recently, start-ups and freelancers were the typical coworking clientele. Now larger organizations are getting on the coworking bandwagon. As reported in Entrepreneur, coworking leader WeWork saw a 90% rise in the number of enterprise corporation clients between June 2016 and June 2017. Tech companies like IBM and Microsoft are finding coworking spaces to be a valuable source of innovation and talent that they can partner with. The coworking spaces are essentially incubators where these tech giants can spot potential disruptive technologies and identify potential acquisition targets.
The coworking trend is not confined to the tech industry, however. Entrepreneur lists a broad range of corporations that are now making use of coworking spaces: Verizon, McKinsey & Co., Merck, and American Express are among the major organizations signing on for coworking.
The driving force behind this corporate real estate trend is agility. Agility is not often associated with large businesses and institutions, but coworking spaces allow big companies to scale up quickly with minimal logistics, as a small, agile business would do. New geographic markets can be explored without committing to a 5-year lease. One-off projects can be undertaken without major overhead costs.
Coworking’s agile advantage is supported in part by similarly agile furnishings. Adaptive workstations and modular cabinetry are the underpinnings of flexible coworking spaces. Furnishings like Swiftspace’s benching systems and individual workstations can be rearranged on the fly as occupants’ activities change during the day, then collapsed down and wheeled into storage when not in use. As interior walls come and go, modular cabinetry is reconfigured and re-used – a “green” bonus appreciated by the environmentally-conscious and the cost-conscious alike.
Organizations large and small recognize the benefits agility can bring to their businesses. The “Agile Manifesto,” created in 2001, advocates self-organizing teams, simplicity, sustainability, and continuous attention to improvement. Those values sound a lot like what we see in today’s coworking spaces. Small wonder, then, that big businesses are looking to coworking spaces to improve their agility.
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