The Dos and Don'ts of Office Redesign
Louise Coombs, design associate with Crown Workspace and founder of interior design consultancy, The Jones London, considers current and future trends in office redesign.
Let’s face it, offices are like our second home. Many of us spend a large portion of our lives in one surrounded by colleagues, rather than friends and family. In fact, during the course of their working life, British workers will spend an average of 3,515 full days (or 84,365 hours) at work.
Every office space is different, and every business has its own unique needs and ways of working. However, office design and environment are critical to the success of any business. Employee engagement and productivity can be significantly impacted. With increased focus being placed on employee wellbeing and mental health, more employers are thinking carefully about their office design and function.
There are many factors to take into consideration when designing an office. Creating a space that caters for a range of generations and personalities can be challenging. There are now more generations than ever working together. Millennials expect an agile environment while baby boomers are more wedded to their own desk. Organisations also need to accommodate different personality types. Introverts may prefer quiet areas whereas collaborative areas help extroverts thrive. This can help shape how space is utilised.
For any business considering redesigning their office, it’s important to understand who really needs a desk. You may have 200 employees but that doesn’t mean you need 200 desks. While this decision needs to be handled with care, unnecessary desks are one of the biggest causes of poor office utilisation. Businesses can usually group their workers into different categories based on their working patterns. For example, Anchors are individuals who are at their desks all day and include office managers, IT staff or finance employees. These individuals are prominent within the office and need a well-planned and highly personalised workspace. Whereas Gatherers are heavily office-based but don’t necessarily need a desk. These included recruiters or trainers who spend a lot of time in meetings. Understanding how your employees work can help to understand how many desks are really needed.
Using space wisely
When in the midst of redesigning an office, the thought of tearing down walls and getting rid of isolated cubicles to make way for an open plan area may seem like a good idea, and an opportunity for your staff to interact and increase productivity. However, a 2018 study by Harvard Business School found that open plan offices reduce face-to-face interaction by about 70% and increase email and messaging by roughly 50%. This shatters the notion that open spaces always make workers more collaborative. Introducing quiet spaces for employees to make phone calls or have private conversations can also seem like a good idea however, these can sometimes make employees feel pressured into using the space or often the space can go unused. Incorporating a range of different areas is a good opportunity to cater for different types of employees.
It’s vital that the office space is carefully planned to ensure it’s doing what it should and that every square foot you pay for is able to deliver value. Different team areas allow for different work modes; concentration and collaboration. Whereas public spaces allow visitors to feel welcome and interactive meeting spaces encourage knowledge sharing and social activity. Informal working booths particularly work well within these areas. Perfect for meetings and brainstorms, these stylish seating areas double up as informal booths where employees can have lunch or take five minutes out of their busy days.
Embracing change through your office design.
Whether a business is going through a merger, management buyout or rebranding it’s important to consider your office needs. You may have to consolidate two teams within one space or rebrand. Any type of major change within an organisation can leave staff feeling unsettled. If you empower staff to believe a new office fit out is focused around them, this can help to create an ‘all about me’ attitude and create a buzz within your business. You can’t force your employees to create a positive working environment, but you can encourage productivity. Your employees often spend endless amounts of hours within the office, therefore it’s important that they have their own space and feel as though their individual needs are being met.
What does the future hold?
An office fit out and redesign can be a considerable investment. It’s important to understand the business’ forecasted growth and future requirements to ensure the new office is built to last. However, future proofing can also be challenging. With the raise of the gig economy and flexible working, simply cramming in additional desks can be distracting and your office can quickly become overcrowded. Creating a space that can adapt to meet future growth is key and hot desking and collaborative areas can work wonders. Collaborative areas, or booths can easily become perfect areas for freelancers and part time workers.
Another aspect of future proofing is ensuring the office can be easily adapted to reflect changes in branding as more and more businesses are also considering ditching the branded office. With company changes and re-branding becoming more common, it can often be cost effective to do without branded wall art or logos. Keeping colour schemes simple and stylish can ensure the business doesn’t need to fork out huge sums of money when faced with a rebrand.
A recent Crown Workplace survey with a sample of 500 small and mid-sized enterprise (SME) business owners (the Missed Middle Whitepaper) found that improving productivity was a top agenda for many companies.
Additionally, it identified several emerging trends in 2019, including:
Increased reliance on activity-based working (ABW) - 68 per cent of the survey participants expressed a concern their current working environment limits staff engagement. ABW gives employees a choice about how, when and where they work. The office provides a choice of work settings each designed for a different type of task, e.g. private work stations and collaboration areas. Outside the office, ABW is facilitated by enabling technology which allows staff to work from anywhere.
Greater reflection of corporate personality - An office design reflects your brand identity, telling your company’s story. The way the building is constructed and the layout and interior design help to reflect your brand identity. Therefore, giving your office an identity can provide colleagues with a heightened sense of their overall goals and also support recruitment efforts.
Adaptable workspaces - Making your office furniture comfortable allows your colleagues to work with minimal restrictions. In offices today, many believe that dynamic and agile spaces should be highly interactive. Not hampered by any physical or ergonomic constraints. Furniture adapted to a team’s liking and requirements can have a positive impact on output.
Improvements through technology - Technology should be used to support business strategy and promote employee engagement. It can enable companies to flourish, better interact with like-minded firms, and provide employees with the ability to work from anywhere. Business can also reduce the running costs of the office by implementing energy and water monitoring solutions, computer-aided facilities management, and artificial intelligence (AI).
Recognition of the importance of workplace wellbeing - A positive workplace culture is a big draw for candidates evaluating different job opportunities. Promoting agile working and well-being in the workplace will continue to be a focal point in 2019.
Samantha Kopsch, owner of Sam Kopsch Studios and a contributor to the Missed Middle Whitepaper, suggests the following, practical measures for safeguarding employees:
- Soundproof booths restrict noise in an open plan environment and enable quieter, more confidential working.
- Sleep pods and calmer spaces promote relaxation.
- Don’t sit next to printers – they omit toxins, noise and heat.
- Move people around areas – women are typically colder than men, so position women closer to heating outlets.
- Improve natural light – larger windows create more natural light.
- Change the desk footprint and move storage into a basement or offsite for more space.
- Use furniture to create anchor spaces for people who are based in the office full time and shared desk-space for floaters. Remove banks of desks and create more space for groups working in pods.
Don’t take it too far!
It can be tempting to add creative elements and gimmicks to your office design but it’s all well and good wanting to design a working environment that makes your employees want to come to work, but you need to ask yourself, do you really need a slide? The answer to which will be no. While the likes of Google and Disney take office design to a whole new level with the introduction of sleeping pods and even a bowling alley you need to think about the practicality and budget. It’s important to create a space that employees feel comfortable in and that caters to their needs. Therefore, keeping noisy, loud or garish elements to a minimum is a must. These can all create a distracting environment that can hinder productivity. Ensuring your office is aligned to the business’s needs is key. It’s important to have a plan and work out what’s important and not just follow fashionable trends.
Whilst some organisations demand professionalism, others opt for a trendy and informal environment. Workspaces provide the opportunity to express your company’s personality and values. Every organisation has different requirements and understanding how the space can be used to best meet these needs is critical. It’s important to align your business’s needs with your employee’s needs and personalities as well as future growth plans.