Jon Steiner, co-founder and executive director of design consultancy, CitySpace, discusses flexible workspace planning in the age of knowledge working.
A workplace is essentially made up of a number of planned zones and workspaces. Space planning, as a discipline, forms a major part of the facilities manager’s responsibilities. It is a continuous process resulting from dynamic organisational growth and churn as well as the emerging new work-styles in today’s global economy. Whether it is a brand new operation, full-scale office relocation or a partial re-organisation, a carefully planned and implemented workplace can have a profound impact on the performance of an organisation.
The boundaries that have traditionally separated work, family and leisure time are becoming increasingly blurred. Driven by advances in technology, the global economy means that 24/7 has largely replaced the normal 9-5 cycle. Working hours are not necessarily longer, but new methods of working let people take their job away from the physical office to virtually any other place – whether at home, in a restaurant or commuting.
According to research carried out by the American Society of Interior Designers in a paper entitled Recruiting and retaining qualified employees – by design, the physical workplace is one of the top three factors employees take into account when deciding to accept or leave a job. So this clearly has a massive effect on employee productivity, meaning that employers have to give serious thought to issues such as employee comfort, access to people and equipment, privacy and flexibility.
The criteria, ranked according to importance, are people, location, management/work style, and technology. When asked about workplace factors that enabled greatest productivity, the general responses indicated that privacy and the comfort of furniture or equipment were considered more important than general aesthetics. Yet at the same time the greatest area of dissatisfaction mentioned by the majority of employees is the view they have from their workspace (followed by lack of privacy, temperature, noise and air quality).
The Middle East’s diverse cosmopolitan business community also throw up some interesting debating points, such as workplace style and decor, religious, protocol and cultural considerations, and open versus closed offices.
CitySpace asks similar questions of its clients in Dubai and the Middle East as part of the design brief process, and this has shown that the region generally follows similar trends to the US study. However, the cultural differences that are an inherent part of the Middle East’s diverse cosmopolitan business community also throw up some interesting debating points, such as workplace style and decor, religious, protocol and cultural considerations (such as a prayer room and separate facilities for male and female employees), and open versus closed offices. Temperature and air quality are considered to be a major factor here, particularly in the hot summer months.
Another, often overlooked factor in employee workplace satisfaction, is the quantity and quality of available parking space as well as accessibility to the building. These nuances that are specific to
companies in the Middle East may seem irrelevant at first glance, but people around the world are increasingly relocating for business reasons. Cross-cultural requirements within the workplace crop up more and more frequently as part of the space planning process.
In today’s corporate world, more and more people are becoming ‘knowledge workers’. Born out of the fast-paced IT sector, the principles of relying on the individual’s power of ideas, thought leadership and information to make the right decisions that enhance competitive advantage are crossing over and being adopted by other industries.
Knowledge transferred though human collaboration via formal or informal meetings and social interaction is further enhanced by communication technology, which can ultimately translate into company assets.
With a variety of needs depending on job function, specific tasks, workstyle and personal life, knowledge workers have greater freedom in choosing when and where to work, which helps in the achievement not only of optimum productivity, but also a healthy work/life balance.
It naturally follows that the design of the physical workspace and infrastructure must also evolve to successfully accommodate this changing approach to work. Effective space planning starts with the building itself. According to a recent article by B Conway of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), a new generation of high-performance office buildings is beginning to emerge. They are designed to promote increased worker satisfaction, productivity, better health, greater flexibility, and enhanced energy and environmental performance.
However, very few companies currently have this luxury of choice. Invariably, the chosen building already exists and the optimum workspace concept has to be compromised and adapted to suit the location. Older buildings often have small lobbies and narrow corridors, low floor-ceiling heights, limited vertical shaft space, embedded ducts and cabling, minimal zones and localised controls – all of which restrict the flexibility required for effective space planning.
Facilities managers will find the following checklist of the attributes of ‘high-performance’ buildings useful in assessing an existing building’s suitability for their specific workplace needs:
Integrated building: there is a holistic relationship between the design, construction, use and maintenance of a building, with the cooperation of architects, engineers, maintainers and clients throughout the design and construction process.
Flexibility: frequent alteration and renovation (churn) due to reorganisation, business restructuring and the introduction of new technology or changes in personnel must be easily and economically accommodated by the building. The floor plate size and layout is the primary factor, as well as the number of floors and access between them.
Technological innovations: the building should be capable of integrating IT, telecoms, cabling and lighting innovations through advanced features such as improved raised floor systems, plug-and-play floor boxes for power, data, voice and fibre, modular and harnessed wiring, buses and conferencing hubs.
Safety, health and comfort: the cost of salaries generally exceeds the lease and energy costs of a facility 10 times over on a square foot basis. Therefore the health, safety and comfort of employees are of paramount concern. By consequence, the provision of advanced features (such as individualised climate control which permits users to set their own, localised temperature, ventilation rate and air movement preferences) plus access to windows and a visually stimulating view, become increasingly important.
Energy efficiency: high-efficiency lighting and controls, occupancy sensors and high-efficiency HVAC equipment to minimise energy consumption are all considerations in the world of ‘high performance’ buildings. Renewable energy systems that are now available include building-generated electricity and solar thermal systems.
Cost-effectiveness: building owners should strongly consider investing more initially, bearing in mind that savings will be made on long-term operations and maintenance, while also attracting longer-term tenants. Sound construction and maintenance: a comprehensive quality assurance plan should be an integral and ongoing process.
Good space planning and design will stem from business trends that influence work-style, such as knowledge-sharing, collaborative work, a flattened hierarchy, employee churn, increased mobility and technology innovations and tools. These key influencing factors need to perfectly synchronise with best work practice to achieve success, and work process has become the major factor influencing workplace design today.