Whilst we have seen vast technological advances in the last 50 years that have fundamentally changed the way we work, the office has been slow to keep up.
Little has changed in the physical environment, with some offices yet to reflect the differing needs of their employees – rows of desks in a big open plan space, with outdated storage solutions, vast empty meeting rooms and little (if any) break out areas.
In order to thrive, companies must address the evolving needs of their employees, and think about how changing the office environment can inject a new energy into the company. There are four key areas that define office space which businesses should consider - design, technology, people and brand.
When thinking about your office design, it should be tailored to suit your organisation. What are the requirements of your business? How do you want people to feel when they enter the space? Should your reception be brand led, formal, informal? Are your employees predominantly office based, or do many of them work out in the field? Quite often, it’s a mixture of both and the modern workplace needs to support different ways of working. Spaces should support conversation and collaboration, as well as offer solutions for independent working.
We recommend ‘activity based’ solutions incorporating desks integrated with areas of collaboration and quiet zones, all of which are technologically enabled so that employees can work wherever they like. Within these core attributes, other things to consider are the type of furnishings and layouts – would sit/stand desks suit your organisation? Do you need a range of informal and formal meetings rooms, and booths for private working?
Interestingly, we find that one of the most popular requests from companies looking to refurbish their office space is for coffee shop style break-out space. It is perfectly normal to have a meeting in a coffee shop nowadays, and the office is evolving so it can emulate this relaxed, informal setting. Some of the best ideas are thought up whilst relaxing, so it is important to place as much emphasis on the breakout space as everywhere else.
Offices should be designed around their people – the lifeblood of the organisation. The workspace is fundamental to recruiting and retaining talent. Who are your employees and what do they need? We tend to categorise employees into four types; the roamer – the person who’s rarely in the office, the hopper – the person who is in a couple of days a week, the hugger – the person who is largely office based with occasional external meetings, and the anchor – the person is in the office all week. Design solutions need to fit all these types. For example, rather than having allocated desks for those who are rarely in the office, their teams can be separated into “neighbourhoods” with fixed desks for those who are in every day, and flexible desks designed for a variety of uses, one of which is accommodating occasional desk users.
The increase in flexible and agile working also means that teams are often dispersed, which can result in a feeling of detachment. Businesses need to ensure the space and culture encourages people back to the office – creating a great workplace experience and environment where people really want to be, not have to be. Employers can do this by making work feel like an experience, with shared goals, a mission and a purpose, adding value to the individuals who work there.
In addition, businesses can learn from the retail and hospitality sectors by creating breakout areas that have a homely environment, and consider health and wellbeing facilities. Research has shown that workers who move away from their desks generate new ideas. So, employers should embrace the power of disconnection and make employees feel that it’s OK to take a break. Encouraging employees to move away from their desks, eat mindfully, and socialise, is intrinsic to creating a balanced and happy work environment, and ultimately, the business will benefit.
Another key consideration when re-designing office space is technology, which has transformed the workplace. It facilitates conversations across teams (and continents!) and is the backbone of agile working. With our changing working styles and differing work-types, it’s essential that the office is technologically enabled to suit all employees’ needs. It’s best to make it as seamless as possible ensuring staff can work with minimal fuss – whether 'docked' at a hot-desk, creating a data hotspot on the move, connecting remotely to the cloud or using integrated AV for a presentation.
The IT department also needs to be accessible and welcoming. IT Help Desks can be incorporated into breakout areas, encouraging interactions and helping change how the IT department is perceived. The Apple store is a great example of how you can mitigate IT problems and enhance the experience of technology in the workspace - an IT hub in the workspace means that IT issues can be quickly resolved, face-to-face.
Lastly, your office should reflect the brand and its culture. What are the design principles that reflect your brand? One of the mistakes we see businesses make is trying to copy what has already been done. It’s easy to become misled by the values of other businesses. Google might be renowned for having a very ‘cool’ and forward-thinking office space, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that its office design would suit your brand. Every company will have its own approach to working practices and, while it’s good to aspire to the values of a respected brand, that’s very different from actually imitating its operational and organisational culture.