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Striking a Successful Balance with Choice in Office Design

Four minute read

It’s no secret that the workforce of today is quite a bit different than those of the past. This is especially true for “knowledge workers,” the majority of whom tend to find themselves working in an office of some kind, often in front of a computer.

It’s no secret that the workforce of today is quite a bit different than those of the past. This is especially true for “knowledge workers,” the majority of whom tend to find themselves working in an office of some kind, often in front of a computer. Comprised primarily of millennials, this generation of knowledge workers is well aware of the fact that balance between work and personal life is essential to finding satisfaction in life. Alongside many other factors, this has had a significant impact on modern office design—choice has become the nature of the game.

Take a close look at trends in office design that have surfaced in the past ten years, and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a pendulum swing of sorts. Those who remember the cubicle-ridden offices of the ‘80s may be surprised to see that many companies are now embracing open office environments. Interestingly enough, there’s currently a backlash against office environments that are entirely open, which can lead to a lack of privacy, employee dissention and more.

Clearly, there’s got to be a better way—and there is. It all comes down to learning how to strike a balance between closed and open office environments which is the biggest challenge faced by today’s designers, architects and corporate decision makers. There are a number of different factors that can play into choice when it comes to office design—here are a few that are particularly pertinent in today’s world.

In-office Work vs. Telecommuting

If there’s one trend that has infiltrated the business landscape more than any other, it’s telecommuting. Technology has made it easier than ever before to work from home, to the point where clocking into the office isn’t even necessary any longer. This has caused many companies to consider hiring predominantly remote employees, but it’s clear that there are issues with this concept as well. Some flexibility can go a long way, and is appreciated by employees looking for work-life balance. When it comes to team-building and creation of company culture, though, there's no substitute for being face-to-face. What’s the solution? Many organizations have been successful dropping strict rules, while building a corporate culture that values team building and live collaboration. Managers are then able to provide reasonable flexibility for those who use the privilege in moderation.

A similar benefit that many organizations are offering is unlimited vacation. Sound crazy? It is working for these companies who value work-life balance and trust employees to deliver great results.

Open vs. Private Work Environments

It’s clear that working within an office environment has its advantages, namely team building and collaboration. But these benefits are not realized when employees are siloed into cubicles and close-door offices. Open offices, the experts said, was the wave of the future for innovative companies. But instead of the nonstop collaboration and boosted employee engagement that so many hoped for, privacy and concentration issues began to emerge, offsetting productivity gains from increased collaboration.

The past few decades of experimentation has helped us learn that both interactive and private spaces are vital in the workplace. Open office environments do, in fact, foster collaboration and idea-flow. And private spaces are also needed for concentration and getting work done.

One way architects and interior designers have found balance is through unassigned private spaces and huddle rooms. These flexible spaces offer a degree of choice that didn't exist in the cubicle or all-open designs of the past.

Assigned vs. Unassigned Space (Hot Desking)

There are a number of reasons why companies of all shapes and sizes have been moving in the direction of unassigned space. Perhaps most pertinent is the issue of being able to make the best usage of space and furniture assets available. After all, if employees are working out of the office or in alternate locations increasingly, assigned desk space makes less and less sense over time.

The answer to this all-too-common issue can be found in unassigned workspaces, which is also commonly referred to as “hot desking.” This allows employees to come and go as they wish, choosing where they’d like to sit and work. It opens up an element of choice that many professionals aren’t exactly familiar with, which may lead to enhanced productivity for certain individuals. Ideally, an amalgamation of desks that are assigned and space that is left undetermined should be used to create balance and options for employees.

The Future of Choice in Office Design

The ways in which we work are changing continuously, and office design must change with it so as to avoid any potential disconnects from occurring. One of the key instruments of change in office design today is creating a balance between open and private desk space. The new word of the day is choice—choice of where, when and how employees work. A workplace that provides this flexible environment is one that adds value and facilitates productivity in ways that competing ones can't.

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