For enterprises focused on future success, future-proofing the workplace means thinking outside the cube when choosing their interior design components.
Businesses were already beginning to move away from a completely open office prior to the pandemic. While the open office concept promotes collaboration, people complained these arrangements were distracting and inhibited individual focus. On top of that, in-office employees today may feel uncomfortable sitting in close proximity to other workers for health and safety reasons.
Because companies have to both reduce density in the office and adapt to new work trends, leaders are searching for creative ways to maximize their office space as they prepare to return. If you're considering how to modernize your office with flexible workspace design solutions, here are some ideas and best practices to keep in mind.
Today, office strategy should be focused on having enough functional space to accommodate collaborative work and supporting desk-based, individual types of work. In the future, offices will need to combine the best of both worlds, mixing part open office layout with designated enclosed workspaces that are available on an as-needed basis.
Ultimately, flexible workspace design is all about striking the right balance between meeting each employee's individual work needs and satisfying the need for collaboration. When people have the choice between working remotely or being in the office, having access to a variety of spaces will be a huge draw for employees. Plus, people are expecting their employers to deliver the flexibility and autonomy they desire.
Back in 2016, we wanted to know more about effective flexible workspace design. What are the key elements of flexible workspace design?
For answers, we reached out to design expert Allyson Strowbridge, who with her firm, ctrl+shift+space, has years of experience helping companies of various sizes and industries design the best-fit workspaces for their respective needs. For most of the clients she has worked with, that means creating a more flexible workspace design.
According to Allyson, no one element is more important than another. She believes that if companies want to be successful, then they need to incorporate a combination of these three things:
"Proactively create spaces and walls and furniture that can be as agile as the company needs to be when trying to be innovative."
Each of these components should be incorporated to enable both social, collaborative spaces, and activities, as well as private heads-down work. They should also allow for being reused or repurposed. This will be especially important during the early stages of your return as the office is used to support a fluctuating number of in-person and hybrid meetings.
Allyson offered this suggestion, “Proactively create spaces and walls and furniture that can be as agile as the company needs to be when trying to be innovative and move the business forward as fast as technology is changing.”
Modern enterprises are continually evaluating new business tools, considering which solutions will help make their operations more efficient and more profitable. As future-focused leaders know, their workspaces are a business tool. To enable your business to be successful not only now, but also for the long haul, then you need to utilize a flexible workspace design — one that meets the changing needs of your individual employees, teams, and departments.
Modular components, such as adjustable tables and modern room partitions, are one option for helping meet the ever-changing circumstances of your dynamic office landscape. Having a hybrid office environment can be helpful for making sure your office stays ready for the future, whatever that future may hold.
There is also the potential for cost savings from better office space utilization in this design choice. You can save on real estate costs by reducing or maximizing your needed square footage space. Plus, the efficiencies of flexible workspace design — i.e. furniture that can be reconfigured quickly and allows employees to easily create an environment where they can be their most productive self — allow your workplace, as a whole, to function more efficiently, which translates into cost savings.
Allyson also shared 6 tips she learned from her experience helping companies transition from a traditional or open office plan to a more flexible, hybrid office environment. From what she’s seen, high-tech companies are the ones that are the most successful at making this kind of transition.
Here are her helpful tips for a smooth, successful transition to a flexible workspace design.
The design firm, workplace strategist, or whoever is the design decision-maker needs to do their homework on your employees and company, according to Allyson. They need to answer the question: Who are we really trying to serve and what functionality do we anticipate people needing?
"Business leaders need to be taking the time to outline typical personas that they anticipate having over the next 5-10 years and then developing spaces that function for those people."
“Business leaders need to be taking the time to outline typical personas that they anticipate having over the next 5-10 years and then developing spaces that function for those people, not just the employees they have today but down the line,” Allyson stated.
It can be a daunting task to assess where you are today and get strategic about where you want to be heading in the future. But in order to chart the path forward, it will be necessary to get clear on those directions before choosing the physical elements your office needs.
In terms of what your office needs, being trendy is not high up on the list. It’s worth investing in a core set of parts and pieces, like desks and chairs, that are perfectly suited for the needs of your workforce. Look for natural, classic colors and components that are mobile and easy to take apart, repurpose, or remove.
That's not to say you should ignore trends completely. It's useful to have a well-rounded strategy and make sure you're staying on top of the newest and most in-demand design trends. But the truth is that for a flexible workspace design to succeed, having the right function will go a lot further than being ahead of the trends.
Give employees permission to rearrange furniture within certain parameters. That way they can work how they need to work, on any given project or during any season, as the demands of the business change. Allyson strongly believes that giving employees the autonomy to change parts of their space “will go a long way toward them feeling like they can take ownership and have a sense of community because they’re given the flexibility that they need to adapt to their type of work at any given time.”
"[Employees] can take ownership and have a sense of community because they're given the flexibility that they need to adapt to their type of work at any given time."
Allyson shared a story about a large company whose global real estate person she is well acquainted with, who has had a lot of success with providing mobile furniture and allowing employees to rearrange pieces as they need. Different departments and floors are able to barter items with other departments and floors as long as both sides are in agreement over the trade. This free-for-all atmosphere has let employees create areas with purpose, and ensure the workspace has what employees want.
Allyson equates "neighborhood agreements" to having an HOA inside your office. As you move away from cubicles, and people are coming out of their private offices, you have to make sure productivity doesn't suffer.
These office “neighborhood agreements” can help. Gather those who work in close proximity to one another and ask them to explore a set of norms and behaviors that are acceptable and outline those that aren’t. Things like: When is it OK to take a client call at your desk versus moving to a more private space?
Any kind of redesign has costs, but if you want to help reduce some of your costs, find ways to repurpose existing furniture and reuse it when it's time to change your office layout.
Allyson told us about one organization she had worked with, the Technology Association of Oregon, that was super focused on working together but also on working with their larger member community.
Allyson explained: “Their space was conducive to having different types of activities taking place in their open plan, and it was challenging to find areas to welcome other members in to brainstorm over whatever initiative they were working on as a team.”
“We rethought how they laid out their space. They had enough existing furniture to pretty quickly change the layout to where it made it more intentional about where certain group activities could happen versus internal staff activities.”
If there’s one thing many companies forget as they redesign their office space, Allyson said, it’s accessibility to power.
Compared to older tools, today's technology is known for having extended battery life and providing wireless power, but if you want your employees to get up and move around and not be assigned the same stationary desk every day, then you have to make sure that power is accessible. You have to provide plenty of “plug and play” areas, like adding power in columns or mobile furniture, so they can plug in whenever their laptop or tablet’s battery life is running low.
Whether you’re a startup or a company that’s been in business for decades, you don’t want to spend a fortune on reconstruction every time you add a handful of new employees or offered services. Get the most out of your real estate and offer your employees more ways to use the office. By making the transition to a more flexible workplace design that incorporates the proper modular components and technology for multipurpose workspaces, you can help support your workforce in a more meaningful way.
Want to know more about what employees need when you return to the office? Download our e-book to learn the new rules for workplace happiness that can help employees go from burnout to bliss.