Portfolio | Collaborative

What does the work environment of the future look like? Think outside the office.

New ways of working make all this even more relevant

In response to new ways of working made possible by the plethora of new technology, the office is changing in a number of fundamental ways. While this topic could take up a book and not just this short paper, we want to point out how planning – that is, allocating and arranging space for the office – has evolved over the last decade or two, and will likely continue to do so at an ever-faster pace. In particular, how and why the types of spaces and amount of those spaces relative to other space types are shifting in major ways for many organizations.

At the risk of over-simplification, the “why” might be explained by two fundamental shifts. First, social change is moving us towards a more egalitarian, less “entitled” attitude towards space. Second, technology is enabling both mobility and constant access. We now have unprecedented levels of choice about where, when, and even how we work.

As we place less and less value on space as a status marker and more on its functionality and ability to meet our needs, we move away from status-based space allocations to function-based space allocation – causing us to have to consider what kinds and how much of each space we need to support what we do. And, as we advocated above, to delve more deeply into the critical activities of a given team so that we can provide the right places, technology, furniture, and degree of acoustic support to match their needs.

Space planning has become more complex

While there are still a large number of organizations applying the planning patterns we’ve used for the last 50 years – private offices and open plan workstations making up to, say, 80% of a floor plan, and the other 20% shared spaces like break rooms, copy areas, and meeting spaces for 6-8 or more – others have moved to an expanded group of settings and are allocating space very differently. Many organizations have realized that their workers are – on average (with notable exceptions like call centers) – in their assigned seat less than 40% of the time. They’ve shifted to planning for the 60% of the time that workers are elsewhere – usually with others, or finding a quiet space to do heads down work.

Those who have pushed the furthest are at a ratio of group spaces to individual spaces approaching one “we” seat for every “I” seat. And generally, those spaces for individuals – whether that’s a private office or an open plan workstation – are getting smaller, and taking more forms. In addition to the typical 10’x12′ office, there may be smaller unassigned offices and even smaller focus rooms, for example.

Even more change is taking place in those spaces for group activities or heads down, “getting-away-from-it-all” work – they’re expanding in both variety and quantity. These may be either open or enclosed, located in “public” areas or within a team’s own neighborhood, fixed or meant to be easily rearranged. They may have names like “huddle,” “war,” or “scrum” rooms. They may just be some soft seating in a nook near a great view, or an open area provisioned with a mobile monitor and multi-level seating.

Read the full article on the “Brave New Workplace” from the Allsteel website.