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Workplace Design Is Changing, Part 1: It’s All About Employee Convenience

While one-size-fits-all has ruled office design in recent years, this trend is dissolving and is being replaced with a much more flexible approach to the workplace.

Companies are instead moving toward an activity-based workplace design, which aims to incorporate a variety of different workspace preferences to attract and retain employees. 

Workplace Design Is Changing, Part 1: It’s All About Employee Convenience

A recent report released by architecture firm Ted Moudis Associates analyzes how office design has changed over the last year. The report provides guidance about shifting industry trends by dissecting 2.4M SF of office real estate designed and built during 2015 and 2016. Within the report, the firm focused on four industries in particular: financial services, professional services, consumer products and digital media companies.

“The work that we’re doing and how we’re connecting with colleagues and clients has changed significantly, but our physical workplace hasn’t changed that much,” Ted Moudis Associates Director of Workplace Strategy Jamie Feuerborn said.

A large amount of space is being underutilized in today's workplace as people take to moving around the office in order to collaborate with co-workers. While open concept designs, the most popular layout as of late, have proved beneficial in encouraging communication, businesses are finding it is not always the most efficient use of space.

“Visually, [people] just like the bright airy feel that open concept gives. We’re going to have collaboration, people will feel refreshed. But you have to really plan it the right way [and provide] that balance of space,” Feuerborn said.

Density And Open-Plan Flexibility Are On The Rise

Workplace Design Is Changing, Part 1: It’s All About Employee Convenience

As companies seek to improve flexibility in the office, they are placing less focus on privacy and more focus on creating communal spaces built for collaboration.

"Accessories and lounge options are more popular this year than in past years. Clients are requesting less bulky corporate office desking and more collaborative areas," Meadows Office Interiors Designer Courtney Moore said.

The number of private offices used by companies has dropped by 2% from 2016. In fact, only 9% of the 2.4M SF of office space studied in the report included enclosed workspaces; the remaining 91% of companies use the open-office format. 

Of these, an estimated 68% of companies provide employees with desk or bench seating as it is an effective way to turn space that was formerly used for individual workspace into space for shared amenities and alternative use. 

Excess Space Equals More Amenities

While the use of private offices has declined, the average usable square foot (USF) per work seat increased 16% from an average 142 USF in 2016 to 165 USF in 2017. But the additional USF is not being used for dedicated workspaces. Rather, it is being put toward amenities and support spaces instead of offices.

"With today’s technology, it’s no longer necessary to have square footage dedicated to each employee. Many companies are opting for flexible employee touchdown spaces and a more mobile/remote workforce. Particularly in large cities, space is more limited, station sizes have decreased and rooms/workstations are used for multiple purposes," Moore said.

Visibility and transparency have also become more popular and items such as transparent glass walls and low partitions that can be moved and shifted as needed are common in most industries.

Life science organizations in particular are focusing on implementing plug-and-play research equipment, movable benches and providing multiple access points for utilities, JLL reports. This allows scientists to share spaces and collaborate even if they are not working on the same project. 

Empowering Employees To Choose Their Space

Workplace Design Is Changing, Part 1: It’s All About Employee Convenience

Attracting and retaining talent is imperative in today's competitive market. As a result employers are focusing on offering office spaces that mimic the lifestyle employees may have outside of the workplace and providing them with a choice in terms of how they work. This strategy serves to find how and where people do their best work and nurture that.

According to the report, most companies use 48% of their space for dedicated workplace seats, with the other 52% being allotted for alternative seats — or areas that can be used for work- or non-work-related activities. These can range from amenity areas such as café seating, seating within a library or meeting space created specifically for collaboration.

A recent study conducted by JLL shows that it is the small things that count for employees today. While gyms and fancy food halls are appreciated, nearly half of employees surveyed by JLL preferred a dedicated space in their office to recharge their mental and physical batteries, such as a focus room.

Instead of trying to find one seamless solution for everyone, organizations are working to develop new spaces that will cater to different working styles in order to encourage a balance between effective and efficient workspaces

Providing a choice in where employees can work is also important because it allows them to forge emotional, lasting connections with co-workers, a factor that in turn aids in employee retention.

"People come to the office to connect with colleagues and so that interaction with the education aspect and learning from their peers and the senior leadership in the office [is important]," Feuerborn said. "I think they want choice. If I want to do heads down focus work I have a place to go, if I want to connect with colleagues I can choose to sit in a different environment to do that."