Congratulations to the honorees of Fast Company’s 2019 Innovation by Design Awards for retail environments. These companies are recognized for their forward-thinking designs that serve markets better and offer more productivity and profitability to their owners. From our perspective as space utilization and information management experts, two businesses in Fast Company’s 2019 class stand out for ingenious uses of commercial space and data technology:
The co-working company Spacious is built on an inventive model that takes freelancers out of their overcrowded daytime “Starbucks office” and places them in restaurants that are closed during the day, open only for dinner. These restaurants are climate-controlled, and the lights are on for the day prep crew, but the dining areas are completely empty until late afternoon; in essense, the restaurants are paying for underutilized space. Restaurants team up with Spacious to provide co-working space in the unused dining rooms, and the Spacious on-site team provides power points, wifi hookups, and user assistance. With memberships set at an affordable $95 per month, which Spacious splits with the restaurants, it’s a win for everyone.
This is the kind of maximized space utilization that NOS encourages with our document conversion services and high-density storage systems. Big thumbs-up to Spacious!
Walmart has been a pioneer in retail technology for many years. An early adopter of supply-chain RFID, Walmart recently installed a pilot program of retail AI in the form of an Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL) in one of its highest-demand locations. Sensors and cameras send information to a room-size data center, which in turn generates alerts to maintain the in-store inventory. Availability of products, freshness of produce, even the number of empty grocery carts in the parking lot, all is monitored by the IRL rather than by store associates. Staff are freed up to focus on face-to-face interactions with customers. Productivity goes up, and the cost of outdated inventory and lost sales goes down.
We strongly advocate the use of asset management technology. RFID and bar coding are proven information management systems with a positive impact on profits. Well done, Walmart!
Good design isn’t just an aesthetically-pleasing façade; it contributes to the success of a business, and enriches the community in which that business operates. Our highest compliments to these enterprises for their outstanding designs!
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You’ve worked hard to make your offices attractive to millennials – open sight lines, “water cooler” collaborative centers, glass-box conference rooms, and hot-desking. Now Gen Z is about to move into the business world in large numbers. Will the wide-open constant-collaboration millennial style help to recruit and retain the top Gen Z employees?
Gen Z-ers are accustomed to living online – learning, socializing, shopping, communicating with parents. They are team players, but their teams rarely have face-to-face conversations. In BizNow.com, HOK’s Director of Workplace Practice Kay Sargent states that these new workers are overloaded with information. To function at their best, their work environment should be visually uncluttered and should be structured for working individually as well as collaboratively.
The shift toward balancing collaborative spaces with individual workspaces has already begun in some offices where staff were frustrated with the distractions of their open office plans. That’s good news for Gen Z, but bad news for business owners and facilities managers. Open office plans require less square footage per employee compared to traditional office designs, and increasing the number of individual workspaces also increases real estate costs. That’s not a welcome prospect.
However, there are several steps office and facilities managers can take now to prepare their workplace designs for the coming influx of Gen Z workers, and simultaneously keep their real estate costs stable.
- Use modular casework to increase spatial flexibility. These “building blocks” of high-quality cabinetry can be re-configured and re-used when open spaces are changed to enclosed spaces, lowering build-out costs while increasing sustainability ratings – something Gen Z appreciates.
- Add high-density mobile shelving systems for files, media, and inventory. These space-saving storage systems reduce storage area by 50%, creating the extra room needed for individual workspaces without expanding the existing footprint.
- Plan and execute a comprehensive document conversion program. Although we live in a digital age, paper documents still seem to accumulate in the workplace and take up valuable (and expensive) space. Creating digital versions of documents preserves the information and makes it accessible to tech-savvy Gen Z staff while freeing up useful work space.
Age diversity is standard now in the 21stcentury, with Baby Boomers to Gen Z-ers each bringing their unique perspectives to the workplace. Organizations stand to gain greatly from the combination of wise experience and youthful new ways of thinking, and the cost savings of efficient storage systems make it possible and practical to accommodate everyone.
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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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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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