By Terrie Campbell
When the cubicle became popular, in 1967, it did more than just change the workplace: It utterly changed the workspace. A private, personalized space was seen as the road to maximum productivity. Unfortunately, the cubicle turned out to be the bane of many an office worker’s existence — not to mention a steady source of comedy.
Eventually, down came the walls and in came the “open office” plan. What began as the signature arrangement for a hip young startup is now something that businesses of all kinds are adopting, in order to enjoy the communication and relationship benefits important for a cohesive office atmosphere. But what about privacy and seclusion? Don’t workers need to be alone sometimes?
The open floor plan doesn’t satisfy every need — but, then again, nothing does. Your workforce is too diverse, and productivity depends on too many factors for a one-size-fits-all workspace.
In a prior post, I wrote about current trends in non-traditional workforce arrangement, both onsite and offsite. Now I’d like to dig a bit deeper: How does a company choose among the various options for arranging a workforce? What arrangement is best for employee productivity?
I think giving today’s workers the spaces they need requires diligent attention to three factors: the roles performed by various employees, technologies that help make a space fulfill its intended function, and methods of optimizing the various spaces your company makes available.
Space According to Role
Scandinavian Business Seating, a Norway-based office furniture company, did some interesting research categorizing spaces according to the type of work happening in each one. The particular names and designations they came up with aren’t strictly applicable to every business or workforce, but they do break down workplace activity in a pretty illuminating way.
- The Lounge is the company’s name for a casual workspace, best suited for informal discussions and helping to enable chance encounters.
- The Stage is a room devoted to formal presentations. This is where you’d host and meet with customers and conduct formal internal meetings.
- The Workshop is a space for collaboration. You can expect the noise level to be fairly high in this room, and naturally this is where you’d find whiteboards and other tools that help people work together.
- The Cell, on the other hand, is a space for quiet, uninterrupted solo work. Here is where you can zero in on a task like coding or reading, or where you can make a phone call or hold a video meeting without distraction.
- The Base is each worker’s “home” in the office, the place they work when they’re not in a shared or special-use space.
Given the type of work your employees do on a day-to-day basis, what is the most appropriate “base” space you should provide to each one? If your employees’ personal locations are part of an open floor plan, you should make sure that you provide one or more locations on site that enable workers privacy and concentration when they need it. How much you invest in collaborative “workshop” spaces depends on how frequently you have teams tossing ideas around and solving problems together. If that’s a frequent activity, perhaps you need multiple spaces enabling it. If it’s rare, perhaps another room can double as a collaboration space.
Google is a company that puts a lot of energy into offering workspace variety. As their director of global design recently put it, “there are so many ways to work — as a team, solo — and so many kinds of workers, from introverts to extroverts and so on. We create many different places so people can be as productive as possible.” Not every company has the time and resources that Google has to invest in a project like this. But when it comes to boosting productivity, a modest investment is more than worth it — and an experienced partner in workplace services can help you do the difficult work of studying your workforce and strategizing ways to give them the spaces they need.
The Right Tools for the Job
We talk about “workspaces,” but the space itself can only do so much. Productivity and collaboration depend not only on where you put the walls, but which tools you put within the walls.
For example, most companies have a dedicated room for formal presentations and meetings. But your presentations will only be as productive as the audiovisual tools and other equipment you have in the room. Do your meeting rooms enable fast and easy video conferencing? Speaking face to face should be as easy as making a phone call — and with today’s technology, it can be. Companies that rely on free or first-generation video services aren’t exploring the full potential of bringing offsite parties into the meeting room. With the latest video technology, not only can you launch meetings with the push of a button, but you can share your computer screen and relay data to other participants. Every communication channel important to a productive meeting is hosted by a single device, allowing employees to put less energy into “running” the meeting and more into actually getting work done.
What about your collaboration spaces? When we imagine a room for workshops and active meetings, most of us picture a big dry-erase board along one wall. But is this really a 21st-century solution? An interactive whiteboard combines the flexibility of a standard whiteboard with the connectivity and capabilities of digital devices. With precise touchscreen control, you can write and draw and alter content — and share it with people who aren’t in the room but who connect to the presentation via computer, tablet or smartphone. Saving and sharing a file of your on-screen creations is quick and easy. Also, you can plug your computer, tablet or smartphone into the whiteboard and use it as an instant display screen—quicker and more visually precise than projection.
The tools are out there. And as you think about where your workers will be getting their work done, you need to think about what they can use to do it better.
Managing Your Different Spaces
Finding out when spaces are available and reserving them for your meeting can be a very cumbersome process: checking room status in one place, making a reservation via a different communication channel, waiting for confirmation, etc. Easily updatable digital signage outside the door of each meeting room changes this entirely. Not only do digital signs make it clear when rooms are and aren’t scheduled, they also serve as touchscreen consoles for entering reservation requests. With the right information readily available, employees may be much more likely to take advantage of the real estate available to them
And with the price of real estate these days, boosting — and optimizing — usage of workspace is very important. Once again, optimizing requires investment in a process: You have to study the traffic and utilization patterns of your various workspaces, and from there you can make choices about how to schedule and configure them.
Technology can do some of this for you. You can actually install sensors that measure occupancy and give you recurring feedback to help you utilize given spaces. With the information you gather, you can continually iterate and adapt your workspace arrangement. If formal presentations prove to be necessary only occasionally, you can find other ways to make use of that space — perhaps a “drop in” casual space for workers who need to spread materials out on a large table. Your real estate isn’t infinite, and only through scrutiny and careful monitoring can you discover all your options for getting maximum usage — and productivity — out of your spaces.
Businesses have tried isolating workers, and now they’re trying grouping them together in open floor plans. But productivity is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. Your workers have different needs, and making workspace decisions that satisfy those needs requires digging into the details and tailoring a solution to your enterprise. If you devote the time and resources to that investment, you’ll see it pays off in the end.