Future-focused companies are thinking outside the cube when choosing their interior design components, but they’re also moving away from a completely open office. While the open office concept promotes collaboration, it can also inhibit individual focus. So the modern workplace needs more flexible workspace design solutions.

The office of the future (and now) combines the best of both worlds, as it’s part open office layout mixed with designated enclosed workspaces available on an as-needed basis. This solution provides the balance of meeting an individual’s work needs with the need for collaboration. It gives employees a variety of spaces to work in, which in turn gives employees the flexibility and autonomy they desire.

Essential Elements of Flexible Workspaces

When designing a flexible workspace, what essential elements do you need?

For this question we reached out to design expert Allyson Strowbridge, who with her firm, ctrl+shift+space, has years of experience helping companies of various sizes and industries design the best-fit workspaces for their respective needs. For most of the clients she’s worked with, that means creating a more flexible workspace.

She believes no one element is more important than another. If companies want to be successful, then they need to incorporate a combination of three things:

  1. Architectural elements
  2. Adaptable furniture
  3. Workplace technology

Each of these components should enable both social, collaborative spaces and activities, as well as private heads-down work. They should also allow for being reused or repurposed.

“Proactively create spaces and walls and furniture that can be as agile as the company needs to be when trying to be innovative and move the business forward as fast as technology is changing,” said Allyson.

Advantages of Flexible Design Elements

Businesses are continually looking at what business tools are going to help make them more efficient and more profitable. Smart, future-focused companies know that their workspaces are a business tool, and if you want your business to be successful now and for the long haul, then you have to have a workspace that meets the changing needs of your individual employees, teams and departments.

Modular components, like adjustable tables and modern room partitions, help you meet the ever-changing dynamics of your office landscape. Having a hybrid office is a way to make your office ready for the future, whatever your future holds.

There are also cost savings in this design choice. You save on real estate costs by reducing or maximizing your needed square footage space. Plus, the efficiencies of flexible design elements – i.e. furniture that’s easy to reconfigure and allows employees to easily create an environment where they can be their most productive self – make your office as a whole more efficient, which translates into cost savings.

How to Make a Smooth Transition

Allyson has helped several companies transition from a traditional or open office plan to a more flexible, hybrid office. From what she’s seen, high tech companies are the ones that are the most successful at making this kind of transition.

Here are her tips for smooth, successful transitions.

Tip 1: Do your homework upfront.

The design firm, workplace strategist or whoever is the design decision-maker needs to do their homework on the employees and company, according to Allyson. They need to ask: Who are we really trying to serve and what functionality do we anticipate people needing?

“Business leaders need to be taking the time to outline typical personas that they anticipate having over the next 5-10 years and then developing spaces that function for those people, not just the employees they have today but down the line,” Allyson stated.

It can be a daunting task to assess where you are today and get strategic about where you want to be heading in the future, but it’s necessary to decide on those directions before choosing the physical elements your office needs.

Tip 2: Don’t be trend-driven.

In terms of what your office needs, being trendy isn’t on the list. It’s worth investing in a core set of parts and pieces, like desks and chairs. Look for natural, classic colors and components that are mobile and easy to take apart, repurpose or remove.

Tip 3: Give employees autonomy.

Give employees permission to rearrange furniture within certain parameters. That way they can work how they need to work, on any given project or during any season, as the demands of the business change. Allyson strongly believes giving employees the autonomy to change parts of their space “will go a long way toward them feeling like they can take ownership and have a sense of community because they’re given the flexibility that they need to adapt to their type of work at any given time.”

A large company whose global real estate person Allyson is well acquainted with has had a lot of success with providing mobile furniture and allowing employees to rearrange pieces as they need. Different departments and floors are able to barter items with other departments and floors as long as both sides are in agreement over the trade. This free-for-all atmosphere has let employees create areas where there’s purpose, and create an idea of place that all employees want.

Tip 4: Make neighborhood agreements.

Allyson equates this to having an HOA inside your office. As you move away from cubicles, and people are coming out of their private offices, you have to keep productivity up. These office “neighborhood agreements” can help. Gather those who work in close proximity to one another and ask them to agree on norms and behaviors that are acceptable and outline those that aren’t. When is it OK to take a client call at your desk versus moving to a more private space?

Tip 5: Use what you already have.

Any kind of redesign has costs, but if you want to help reduce some of your costs, find ways to repurpose existing furniture and reuse it to help change your office layout.

One organization Allyson worked with, the Technology Association of Oregon, is super focused on working together but also working with their larger member community.

Allyson explained: “Their space was conducive to having different types of activities taking place in their open plan, and it was challenging to find areas to welcome other members in to brainstorm over whatever initiative they were working on as a team.”

“We rethought how they laid out their space. They had enough existing furniture to pretty quickly change the layout to where it made it more intentional about where certain group activities could happen versus internal staff activities.”

Tip 6: Don’t forget about power.

If there’s one thing many companies forget as they redesign their office space, Allyson said, it’s accessibility to power.

Today’s technology is better at having longer battery life and providing wireless power, but if you want your employees to get up and move around and not be assigned the same stationary desk every day, then you have to make power accessible. You have to provide plenty of “plug and play” areas, like adding power in columns or mobile furniture, so they can plug in whenever their laptop or tablet’s battery life is running low.

Whether you’re a startup or a company that’s been in business for decades, you don’t want to spend a fortune on reconstruction every time you add a handful of new employees or offered services. Get the most out of your office space and your employees, now and in the future, by making the transition to a more flexible workplace design that incorporates the right modular components and technology for multipurpose workspaces.

Photo courtesy of SRM Architecture & Marketing.

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