As staff become used to agile working rather than being tied to a desk, there is scope to develop a variety of different office space designs to foster corporate creativity and collaboration, says The Senator Group's Adrian Campbell.
23 April 2015 | By Adrian Campbell
Over the past decade the workplace has seen a dramatic transformation.
Offices are now smarter, more flexible and, ultimately, more user-friendly than ever before. In some industries - creative and technology in particular - this has been driven by a desire to make the workplace a more enjoyable place to be.
The result has been the advent of what some may see as adult playgrounds.
For other businesses, which are perhaps enthused by the evolving workplace, or affected financially by the recession, the introduction of more flexible working has made the efficient use of space a priority at boardroom level.
These are just a few of the many issues at play in the metamorphosis of our expectations when it comes to the workplace. Whether at our desks or on the high street, we have grown used to thinking as consumers and, given that we spend most of our week at work, we expect to have the best facilities and latest technologies.
Spare a thought then, for the designers who are creating workspaces against an ever-changing vision of how businesses and their people want to work. Designing furniture that facilitates this is a daily challenge and an inspiration. Manufacturers are constantly developing their offerings to make sure they are ahead of the curve, regularly reviewing the changing trends at play and incorporating these into conversations with FMs and workplace designers.
One size won't fit all
As businesses have become more tech-savvy and flexible in the way they work, so too have they become more diverse in the way they use workspaces. Large corporates and government organisations are as open to new working patterns as SMEs and start-ups, so workplace designers are working to more detailed briefs than ever before.
Furniture designers and manufacturers are developing greater flexibility in their products, ensuring that they are appropriate for a multitude of spaces and purposes. This has encouraged an increased focus on modular design, allowing businesses to create spaces that are flexible and can be reconfigured depending on their use at any given time.
Long gone are the days of the cubicle; employers are enjoying the benefits of adopting a culture where people are encouraged to share and collaborate. Although the open-plan office has its merits, an office needs a variety of spaces for people to perform a multitude of tasks.
Broadly, these tasks can be categorised into 'work', 'share', 'source', 'show' and 'refresh'. In a typical working day, a person may need to collaborate with colleagues on a project, find a quiet hour to reply to emails, and then deliver a presentation as part of a wider team. Designers are therefore creating spaces that can facilitate all these activities, as well as rest and relaxation - sometimes with a multi-functional brief.
Much has been made of the influx of millennials into the workplace, and the idea of activity-based work has been further driven by this generation's experience of higher education. Those entering the workplace have studied in well-funded, multi-functional university facilities.
Modern university libraries now cater for individual study, alongside collaborative spaces and hot-desking facilities. Millennials are well versed in this approach, so the importance of designing for activity-based work cannot be overstated.
Technology is also playing a big part in design. While IT departments continue to evolve to accommodate new devices and systems, interior designers are looking for original solutions that will make the transition easier and support different technologies and formats.
Whether it's an ergonomic desk set-up that encourages interaction across a multitude of devices, or breakout furniture pods with access to charging ports, product designers are thinking ahead to facilitate tasks and people during the working day. This all aids productivity, and creates the feeling of a seamless, integrated workspace.
With greater numbers hot-desking and using videoconferencing technology, the workplace has expanded beyond the office. The result is that the workplace at large has had to develop a greater sense of destination. Despite an initial wave of support for people working from home or hot-desking, many businesses are now trying to attract people back to the office. Central to this trend has been the realisation that, while flexibility is an incentive for staff, ultimately, collaboration and good communication have a higher impact on productivity.
The motivation for designers has consequently changed. As the lines between work and play blur, the office has become a selling point for businesses. People have greater choice about how and where to work, so the office must have the facilities and surroundings to make it a destination of choice rather than just a place we go to work.
Adrian Campbell is head of Workplace Design, The Senator Group