If you have an open space in your office, you might be considering designing a fitout in order to accommodate multiple workstations and separate offices for management and executives. Here are some tips to have an attractive, yet functional workspace.
Design the Fitout to Reduce Noise Distraction
Many new commercial fitout designs open up the workspace to where there aren’t high walls for the cubicles, but instead a large open space. The problem with these floor plans is that they make it incredibly noisy and hard for each person to focus on their own work. You don’t necessarily need every employee to be closed off inside their tiny cubicle, but you should work on partitions between each workplace that provide some acoustic control.
Reduce the Size of Individual Workstations
Cubicles are starting to get much smaller in size as employees generally need less space to get their work done. If you have employees doing the majority of their work on the computer, they probably don’t need a large U-shaped cubicle, but instead a table and smaller workstation. Computers are a lot smaller than they used to be, so they take up less space. More companies are utilising digital files, so keeping filing cabinets and stacks of paperwork isn’t as important either. This helps you to create an open fitout in the office where employees have their own space, but there is still enough room left over for common areas or meeting rooms.
Make the Office Comfortable For Employees
Part of fitout design has to do with your employee’s comfort level, not just the overall look of the space. Make sure each desk is at the proper height in comparison to the height of the chair. Practice good ergonomics by offering office furniture and equipment that is placed correctly. Have adequate light in the office so there aren’t issues with eye strain, and offer adjustable monitors and keyboards so the employee can move them around to make them more comfortable for them.
Have Common Areas
Common areas are important in any workspace, so make sure every floor or major area of the commercial building has a common area. This doesn’t just include the break room, though that is one to consider. Also have an area where employees use machines like the photocopier or printer, get together to discuss business-related plans or schedules, and a meeting area that isn’t a formal conference room, but simply allows employees to discuss work outside of their normal workstations.
When a business rents a space and determines that a commercial ‘fit out’ is needed to make the space usable for their business, there are many aspects to consider.
First and foremost is to analyze what other similar businesses have done in terms of space, quality and visibility. It is imperative to remember that you do not own the building, and if you move, the majority of the ‘fit out’ will not be transportable. So, if you ‘over spend’ and then decide to downsize, most of your renovation investment will be wasted.
The key to this particular dilemma is to carefully negotiate with the landlord over improvements. While it is possible to negotiate a “turn-key” fit out, where the landlord completes the entire project, the pitfall of this solution is that the landlord may select very low cost (and hence low grade) options for things such as carpet and partitioning.
The best way to ensure a great commercial space fit out without breaking the bank is to negotiate what amount per square foot the landlord is willing to put into the project. The tenant can then hire their own architect and determine their own budget, deciding how much of their own money to add to the money being put into the project by the landlord. This leaves the tenant free to select colors, quality and ultimate presentation.
When you control the fitout of your new commercial space, it is more likely that you will end up with a quality end product! If you need some assistance in planning your new space for your business we would love to hear from you!
Even though technology makes it easy for office workers to stay in touch with colleagues virtually, face-to-face interaction in the work setting is still prized. Many innovative ideas are born and refined not only during scheduled meetings but also at impromptu gatherings. So, while workstations are being slimmed down in number and size, space for meetings and informal interaction is growing. New office fitouts provide attractively designed spaces of various sizes for in-person collaboration, including conference rooms for small, medium, and large groups. Small cafés, lounges, and nooks with comfortable chairs encourage informal interactions.
The weak economy is responsible for a modest bump in office retrofit work for design and construction companies, as employers look for real estate bargains. Vacancy rates are high, and landlords are doing what they can to keep occupancies up. “Tenants are able to negotiate good rates with good concessions,” says Neil Schneider, executive vice president and principal with McCall & Almy, a Boston-based commercial brokerage firm and real estate consultancy. As leases expire, tenants are jumping to higher-quality space, or negotiating with their landlords to revamp their current spaces. Either way, the new office usually differs drastically from the old one.
1. Make way for the incredible shrinking workstation.
Individual workstation square footage is being slashed dramatically—in some cases, to less than half the traditional size—in part to allow organizations to devote more space for meetings and informal interaction. “You need to get the workplace denser to afford more conference and meeting space,” points out Gervais Tompkin, AIA, LEED AP, Gensler’s head of workplace consulting.
“The workstation used to be eight feet by eight feet, or eight by 10, but it has shrunk to six by six,” says Nick Haritos, a regional vice president for office furniture and interiors manufacturer Haworth.
Technology miniaturization has been a factor in this change, says Haritos. Laptops with built-in flat screens take up way less space than bulky desktop computers. Desktop phones are rapidly being replaced by cell phones. With digitization of many documents, techno-savvy organizations have been able to reduce, if not completely eliminate, paper files, catalogs, and other printed material.
2. Say goodbye to high partitions—hello, open office.
Workstations are not only shrinking, they are becoming more open. Partitions are either being junked completely, or their height is being lowered to foster greater employee interaction. Some organizations are even getting rid of private offices, or at least reducing their number significantly. Exceptions to this trend: workspaces for accounting and human resources personnel who have to deal with confidential matters.
If your client wants to remove private offices, you should discuss the potential impact on executive morale with them. Mark van Summern, AIA, a principal with New York-based Perkins Eastman, cautions clients that want to move employees from closed offices to open spaces to consider the office-as-status-symbol factor. “You may end up with increased turnover from more senior people who are accustomed to having their own offices,” van Summern warns.
To blunt executive grumbling, senior managers at the client firm should take the lead in promoting the open office. As part of an office rehab in New London, Conn., Pfizer business unit managers gave up their private offices. “Some of them were the biggest advocates of the change,” says Terri L. Frink, IIDA, a principal and the interior architecture studio leader with the S/L/A/M Collaborative, headquartered in Glastonbury, Conn.
When private offices are included in a new fitout, they are now being enclosed with glass partitions rather than drywall. This serves two goals: maximizing daylighting throughout the office, and allowing everybody to see who is present. “Young people want to see their managers,” notes Marie Fitzgerald, IIDA, a senior vice president with architects Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, Cambridge, Mass. “You are more likely to have conversations and share information when you can make eye contact more often.”
3. Manage noise and privacy—and not just through design.
An open office environment has one major drawback: lack of acoustical privacy. With office workers sitting together more snugly, and smaller partitions (or none at all) separating them, noise levels can rise, sometimes making it harder to concentrate.
Many new fitouts are providing quiet and privacy via small, enclosed spaces that are available for any employee to use. With mobile phones taking the place of landlines in some offices, employees who take a sensitive or lengthy phone call can head to a private, acoustically isolated “phone booth” or “enclave” without having to hang up and call back from another room.
“People like to work differently, and we don’t all do the same job,” says SMMA’s Fitzgerald. A recent fitout at Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Providence, R.I., provided unassigned quiet spaces. “If you need a full day of privacy, you can sign out a small enclave.”
Pfizer’s New London rehab set aside 6% of total space for “focus booths,” each a 36-sf dog-bone-shaped, acoustically isolated space that accommodates two. These spaces are sometimes used by individuals to access online teleconferences.
Other strategies for quieting the office include using sound-absorptive desk-level products, ceiling tiles, and flooring. Breaking up areas to limit the number of workstations connected to each other can help, too.
Sound-masking technology can be used to reduce distracting noise in some office environments. Sound masking can supplement or replace ambient noise by broadcasting a fan-like “white noise” over speakers so that speech is somewhat diminished. Ironically, quieter HVAC technology such as underfloor air displacement and chilled beam cooling—popular options for sustainability—make for a quieter space when vacant, but when people are present, speech is more discernible over longer distances.
“Office space is often designed for acoustical standards without people present,” says Niklas Moeller, vice president of Logison Acoustic Networks, a sound-masking provider and acoustic consulting firm in Burlington, Ont. The result is distracted workers. “Noise and lack of privacy are near the top of complaints, along with thermal comfort, in new office projects,” he says.
One noise-reduction solution is decidedly low-tech: asking employees to keep their voices down. Pfizer’s office rehab project included etiquette training focused on being considerate about noise. And because all workstations were unassigned, that kind of courtesy extended to asking employees to leave the workspace clean at the end of the day, says the S/L/A/M Collaborative’s Frink.
4. Program in more team rooms, not necessarily more conference rooms.“Most companies don’t have the right types of conference rooms,” van Summern says. “They are oversized, and you have three or four people meeting in 10- or 12-seat rooms.” That wasted space is money not well spent. Better to offer team rooms of varying capacity for groups of different size.
Pfizer’s project provided four sizes of meeting rooms: “huddle spaces” for four, “living rooms” with a capacity of six, and two sizes of conference rooms, one for up to 12, another for up to 24.
5. Allow for an appropriate amount of flexible space.
The pace of change that many organizations face has accelerated to hyperspeed in recent years. Many traditional procedures and tasks are becoming obsolete; new high-tech operations have to be generated from scratch. As work groups grow and shrink in response, the workspace may need to be adjusted accordingly.
“It’s not a uniform trend across the board, but some companies need a more agile interior,” says Angie Lee, workplace corporate practice leader with A/E firm SmithGroup. Demountable partitions, sliding doors, movable walls, raised flooring, and standardized furniture and fixtures make reconfiguring office space easier and cheaper.
6. Design common areas to serve your client’s organizational goals.
Determining optimal placement and size of common areas is important for workplace efficiency. In the Blue Cross & Blue Shield project in Rhode Island, employees were encouraged to use fewer paper documents by limiting the new space to just one multifunction printer/copier/fax machine per floor. “This reduces the footprint and printing costs,” Fitzgerald says.
Common area design is also scrutinized in some cases to better support company values and goals. When Nissan North America moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Smyrna, Tenn., it wanted to promote cross-functional collaboration through the new design. The old headquarters was scattered over multiple buildings. The new single-structure, multi-story design featured a large floor plate with a “town center” on every floor containing meeting rooms and break areas; support functions such as printers were purposely located near elevators to generate “forced congregating,” according to Jack Weber, principal with Nashville-based Gresham, Smith and Partners, which designed the Nissan HQ.
7. Use the fitout to embellish the client’s branding.
Fitouts can address a client’s key marketing function: “How are we communicating to extend our brand message?” asks Goettsch Partners’ Prendergast. That means doing more than just slapping logos on the wall behind the reception desk. “If you have an environmental law practice, for example, sustainability is particularly important,” he notes. Clients and recruits want to see a commitment to the environmental ethos. One recent Goettsch fitout for a law firm reused furniture as much as possible, bought new materials with recycled content, made extensive use of daylight harvesting, and provided light sensors in every private office—all to reach LEED Silver status.
Multi-location organizations often want to foster aesthetic continuity across job sites with uniform standards for color, material choices, lighting, and other features readily visible to employees and the public. Other clients may choose to go in exactly the opposite direction, looking for distinctive touches related to the local area. For example, to add a touch of local color to its corporate look, Google fitted out its Zurich, Switzerland, office with some ski gondolas that are used as small huddle spaces.
With the increasingly mobile work force, iconic spaces and imagery are more and more important, says Gensler’s Tompkin. “These are grounding elements,” he says. “They relate to the cognition of wayfinding and help to establish an emotional connection to a place over great distance.”
8. Help clients ‘manage presence’ to avoid ‘office future shock.’
If the trend toward employee mobility continues at the pace it has show in the last few years—and who’s to say it won’t?—there could be profound implications for corporate real estate managers and designers of workspaces, says Tompkin. The work-from-anywhere-anytime lifestyle has taken hold at many companies, especially among high-tech and life sciences companies.
“We are seeing radically more virtual interactions, and the number of in-person meeting participants is nose-diving at some companies,” says Tompkin. He wonders if this might not foretell an office model where meeting space will be severely limited, or a scenario where corporate management might try to reverse the trend and require more employees to be present at the office. “Everything is pushing people to work individually, virtually,” he says. “Who wants to battle rush hour traffic to attend a status meeting in person when you can do it from home?”
Many organizations have yet to fully consider the implications of extreme mobility, says Tompkin. “Companies need to actively manage presence,” he says. “We may be headed for a model where office space will support more organizational-critical tasks but not support individual work.” That could mean the office of the 2020s could be radically different from today’s most up-to-date workspace.
BUILD IN THE HUMAN FACTOR IN OFFICE TRANSFORMATION
Architecture/engineering giant SmithGroup (#7 among A/E firms on BD+C’s Giants 300 list for 2011) learned firsthand how a major overhaul of an office environment affects employees at its own Washington, D.C., site. The firm’s new office accommodates 175 people, just as its old space did, but density is way up—180 sf per person compared to 300 sf per person. The key to the redesign: scrap private cubes and offices in favor of open workspaces and add a lot of collaborative space.
The studio space employs open benching. Designers work in close proximity, yet it’s “incredibly quiet,” which suggests people are monitoring their own behavior and moderating their voices, says Angie Lee, the firm’s workplace corporate practice leader. The firm’s leaders made it clear that keeping the volume down was crucial to the success of the new environment. Remarkably, compliance has been better than expected. “It’s very surprising to me that the studio areas are the quietest areas in the office,” says Lee. It may be that moving people closer together and taking away partitions makes them more sensitive to how their actions impact others.
There was trepidation in the ranks over the office revamp, the firm admits. “People typically don’t like change,” Lee says. “You almost have to overcommunicate to make the transition succeed.”
Younger workers seem to have adapted most quickly. “You notice the generational divides by looking at desks,” Lee says. “Millennials desks are very clean. They don’t have a lot of stuff. More mature baby boomers have a lot more stuff.”
Millennials, and to some extent GenXers, have grown up with mobile technology. Those workers are less concerned with space as a status symbol than in having the right technology. “That’s much more important for younger workers than having their own office,” Lee says.
Employees have embraced the congregation areas. “People are not eating at their desks anymore,” Lee says. “The café and living room areas are pretty well packed at lunch.”
Sustainable design was a high priority in the fitout, with the project aiming for LEED-CI Platinum. “Millennials and GenXers are very savvy consumers,” Lee points out. “They expect a workplace that is healthy.”
The new office has marketing and educational purposes, too. “We’re going to invite our clients in as much as possible,” Lee says. “Our intention is that our offices be a showroom of a well-thought-out 21st-century space. BD+C