Industry Tracker - Member Viewpoint, Jun. 2012
INDUSTRY TRACKER | MEMBER VIEWPOINT | JUNE 2012
Grappling with the transient nature of work
Understanding Workplace Design and Today's Rapid Explosion of Change
By Bob Fox
If you've been in the workforce for more than 10 years, then you’ve likely noticed the transformative changes happening in workplace design. Technology is spreading beyond the physical boundaries of the organization, the office itself is interactive and increasingly flexible, and employees aren’t glued to their workstations.
Frankly, designing a workplace today is like juggling multiple objects -- like a chain saw, two flaming batons, and a half-dozen eggs (not in the box).
And that captures the challenge we face as designers: learning to manage this rapid explosion of information and change we’re experiencing.
Compounding this is an increasing number of specialized disciplines that can, at times, provide conflicting design recommendations.
And, of course, the conundrum our clients and end-users face is choosing a cohesive design solution that will have the greatest impact on efficiency and improved performance.
Enter Workspace Design Magazine. It’s an online resource we launched in 2010 to provide original content, informed perspectives, and a trusted voice to our design industry-in-transition. And over the last two years since its birth, we’ve curated articles from recent graduates in Generation Y to partners in prestigious design firms. As with LEADER Magazine, many members of CoreNet Global contribute their case studies and expertise.
In both, we see a major common thread: Each grapples with the transient nature of work -- how it is changing, and how to design for it.
Sure, managing that rapid change might be onerous at times. But exploring our history and future (via trends) provides us the solid infrastructure from which we can launch fantastical-yet-effective new environments.
It has been said that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”
However, as much as we’d all like to create our own future, most of us have limited choices about where we can take our organizations.
“And even though we hear frequently about all the profound changes that are about to hit the workplace, the pressures are far greater in most organizations to maintain the status quo—to do what people already know—than they are to innovate or experiment.” – Jim Ware, The Future of Work (full article)The experts involved in assembling today’s workspace have increased.
20 years ago, projects required much less; a client and a designer would work together to determine the requirements and develop a space plan. Managing them only required a budget and a schedule. And given that the average lifecycle of a project might be a few months; this was a small-enough time frame and relied-upon-enough formula that risk was mitigated.
Today, we have many more specialists involved in the planning, design, and delivery of a large corporate office:
Two aspects on expectation-setting become immediately apparent:
In the past, work was work. It was the place where you arrived at 9 AM and stayed until 5 PM.
Today, that is increasingly becoming a relic of the past.
In short, design today isn’t just about the space – it’s about the people.
Office workers now are becoming more transient thanks to federal mandates on telecommuting, private work-life balance policies, and the influx of technologies that enable mobility.
Adaptive companies are starting to embrace this trend by minimizing the space they own or lease for HQ purposes, primarily designing for it to be collaborative and flexible. High-concentration zones are just now starting to be included in the design, but the assumption here is that individualized work can also happen in the home, a coffee shop, on a plane, or at an unassigned desk in an office café setting.
In fact, individual workspaces have been reduced in the last decade, giving square footage to shared common work areas. But interestingly, the overall occupancy utilization is down -- averaging below 50 percent -- which suggests inefficiency! (So get ready for unassigned work stations.)
Perhaps in response to inefficiency, companies may be sub-leasing their space to other workers unaffiliated with the company – in the coworking model, for example.
After all, why have empty desks in an economy that’s not only tougher, but whose workers refuse to be tethered to the traditional 9-5 environment?
Managing the changes in minimized space requirements, increased flexibility, and tenant-type relationships means more coordination. Tapping great planning and communication to design and build your work space can ensure a workplace design with flexibility built-in, thereby enabling the company to adapt in a more agile way.
“Any business owner who has an extra desk, conference room, easel, beanbag, or workspace can add it to our site and choose to share it by the day, week, or month. Hosts can select the types of people they’d like to share with (e.g. writers, designers, entrepreneurs), write a description about their space, choose a vibe and location type, and upload photos. Then, they’re ready to start inviting talent and fresh ideas into their office.” -- Anthony Mediros, LooseCubes (full article)“Cube farms” isn’t quite an endearing term, yet many of us have designed them. (Indeed, we likely were glad we didn’t work within them.) But they existed for a valid reason – with X employees needing to sit in their own, assigned space to complete a task for 8 hours a day, the cube was a model of efficiency.
Today, workers of all generations are looking for comfortable, flexible and productive work environments. That trend affects space organization, and it’s a major reason why so many organizations are moving to an unassigned and shared workplace.
The shared office, coworking, and the neighborhood coffee shop have become places of work thanks to wireless technology, the cloud, and sophisticated mobile devices.
And this variable-cost model – use it when you need it – is also becoming branded and more integrated with the corporate office.
(In fact, the variety of flexible workplaces already has extended beyond the corporate walls and into the community. While that represents less than 5 percent of the mix, it is a trend that will continue to grow and have a significant influence on how we think about our work spaces.)
Given the transient nature of work and workers, the technology advancements, the smaller space constraints, rapid workplace changes and the commitment to healthy and productive environments … well, corporations simply may not continue to provide the overhead costs for real-estate operations in increasingly competitive markets. (The change will be far too great, too quick, and too expensive.)
“The trend toward tastefully (and very basically) renovating existing structures and capitalizing on their perfectly imperfect character is a growing one. Many of us recognize and respect hard work, and an old warehouse that’s withstood the test of time represents the ethic and ideals we aspire to show in our own endeavors.” – Lauren Mikus, AIA (full article)From highly interactive virtual meeting spaces, to very private quiet space -- and every zone in between -- for every corporate function there will be a special place that provides the specific need.
And the core of these needs increasingly maps back to technology for communication, data access, and visualization:
But beyond the workstation itself, the environments also are being designed to include wellness and improve health. Improvements in air quality, ergonomically designed furniture, natural lighting, sustainability, and high-quality materials are just a few areas that designers consider when creating an environment people want to work within.
In short, design today isn’t just about the space – it’s about the people.
MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL
“Work and the workplace are changing today, driven by globalization, shifting demographics, technological advances, and economic pressures, just to name a few causes. And no one sees that stopping anytime soon. More and more companies are asking themselves how to plan to ensure that they can meet the needs of the future without fully understanding what those needs might be. In other words, how do we future-proof the office?” – Kay Sargent, (full article)Given all this, we believe that we have a unique opportunity to help those responsible for the workplace to manage that change. That’s why we commit to curating industry experts to author original articles for us.
After all, there are many different types of experts and professionals involved in the workspace business. Each has his or her own unique value in the market, and it’s difficult for any one individual or organization to see it all, let alone understand it.
That’s where Workspace Design Magazine comes in – to provide objective, expert insight on the sometimes confusing nature of our work.
We all enjoy great design. And we welcome even more individuals and organizations to contribute.
Because in the end, each of us benefits from a robust discussion about designing and building better places for people to work.
— Bob Fox, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP,is a leader in the architecture and interior design profession and is well respected by his peers for his innovative approach to workplace design. He is Principal-in- Charge of FOX Architects, a Washington, DC-based advisory and design firm he founded in 2002. In 2010, Fox started Workspace Design Magazine to open a door to new creative ways of thinking about the future of office space and to provide an open forum for industry insiders and design professional to share infor¬mation, ideas and inspiration.