Published Wednesday, February 6th, 2013, by Mike Sullivan.
In case you haven’t noticed, the workplace is witnessing a major sociological shift. As we discussed in the first installment of this series, the key factors driving that shift include a reliance on technology, employees’ desire for greater control over their time, and companies’ need to reduce overhead costs.
Indeed, all of these factors – and other factors like the rising mobile workforce that Officing Today has written so much about – are opening the door to alternative workplace strategies.
Just to review, alternative workplace design encompasses work practices, settings and locations, according to Dianne A. Dunnell, a senior associate and project interior designer at Marguilies Perruzi Architects in Boston. The alternative workplace model is also known as high performance workspace, workplace transformation or workplace innovation, as it substantially deviates from traditional office designs and practices.
But just because there’s a trend toward alternative workplace design doesn’t mean that it’s easy to execute. And there are nuances with each particular company that need to be considered. The same is true for business centers seeking to implement aspects of alternative workplace design into their floor plans.
Getting Buy In
For alternative workplace strategies to be successful, facility managers need to work with executive management, human resources, and the IT department to help change how the company works. That’s the message Dunnell is sending to office managers across the country.
“Gone are the workplaces of yore with a sea of cubicles and executive offices on the perimeter. This old style of office space promoted solitary, individualized work and created a very hierarchical work environment, as only the executive offices enjoyed daylight and views to the outside,” Dunnell says.
“The alternative workplace model features an open workplace where daylight and the natural environment are welcomed inside – an easy fit with another trend toward sustainable, green buildings. Work areas are often clustered into ‘neighborhoods’ that offer work group unity and opportunities for branding and wayfinding.”
Case Study: Sapient
Dunnell points to the Boston office of global services firm Sapient as an example. Sapient’s offices feature a colorful, open floor plan of neighborhoods and paths that connect all the departments of this growing company.
The primary path features lit gallery walls on one side and plasma screens on the other, serving to inform visitors and showcase the advertising capabilities of the company, she explains, and additional paths marked by brightly colored carpet travel around the neighborhoods, creating an open configuration rather than confined offices.
“The design provides flexibility for individual workstations with powered spines that allow the workstations to turn 90 degrees to cluster in groups or provide more privacy. A unique color palette was selected for each neighborhood’s cluster of offices and meeting rooms, creating greater opportunities for wayfinding,” Dunnell says.
“Alternative workplace design also features smaller workstations with lower panels, or no panels at all, to encourage interaction and communication. A basic workstation could consist of a six-foot desk, or a bench, or a true workstation with lower walls.”
One Size Does Not Fit All
As Dunnell sees it, the alternative workplace design model recognizes that it is not a
one-size fits-all world. Desk sizes are therefore based on actual job function. In general, she shares, there are fewer private offices in alternative workplace settings, and sometimes none.
The alternative workplace model also encourages fewer and shorter wall partitions, she says, favoring instead screens or filing cabinets to separate clusters of desks from collaborative work areas.
What can business center operators glean from all this? Since business centers cater to small business owners as much as they do larger corporations, it’s unlikely that the demand for private executive office suites will go by the wayside – at least not any time soon. Small business owners looking to upgrade from a home office often do so because they want solitary, individualized workspace.
That said, certain aspects of the alternative workspace model are directly applicable to many business centers. For example, open workspace where daylight and the natural environment are welcomed inside could help attract more mobile workers to your business center.
By the same token, you could cluster workstations into so-called neighborhoods where certain avenues cater to mobile workers and others cater to virtual office workers who are just dropping in to use the copy machine and other business equipment and need a place to organize their materials. Still other workstations could be set up for day office style users. You could also offer different types of workstations, some with lower panels or no panels at all to encourage a coworking feel. You may even take out a few workstations to accommodate a couch or benches.
By organizing the open spaces of your business center according to customer types, it is more than wayfinding – it’s internal marketing and branding. Take the pulse of your local market demand and consider how much your business center needs to tap into alternative workspace design.
Image: Thanks to BID for this one – an image of the BBC Worldwide’s alternative workspace in Sydney, Australia. Designed by Thoughtspace, it features large open-plan spaces with working lounges and activity based working areas.