The Herman Trend Alert: Workspace Evolution

The Herman Trend Alert: Workspace Evolution

The upside of open floor plans and cubicle forests was that organizations could fit more people into less space. However, we now know that rather than encouraging productivity and engagement, those layouts fostered boredom and malaise.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Xavier Arnau

A growing body of research on building design promoting worker well-being and productivity is fueling advancement in the design of office space. New office arrangements support the range of assignments that today’s workers are asked to handle.

The upside and downside of the status quo

The upside of open floor plans and cubicle forests was that organizations could fit more people into less space. However, we now know that rather than encouraging productivity and engagement, those layouts fostered boredom and malaise. 

Partly in reaction to one-size-fits-all office layouts, the new arrangements offer spaces for collaboration, individual work and team meetings with new definitions and types of seating for each. Plus, rather than sitting in one place all day, workers will move from space to space, depending on the type of work they need to do.

Solving the privacy problem

Another problem with open floor plans and cubicle forests has been the lack of privacy. The new workspace evolution recognizes the need for spaces that allow for focused concentration. The new arrangements often incorporate isolation spaces, private phone booths and tech-free lounges.

Collaboration spaces, too

In this new model of workforce efficiency, collaboration remains important. Mostly still open, the new model offers collaborative spaces, including standing tables, cushy couches and movable walls to facilitate teamwork.

Based on science

Companies like Apple, IBM, and Microsoft are basing their renovations on research about building design, worker well-being and productivity. The University of Oregon discovered that when people had exposure to natural light with outside views translated to about 6 percent fewer sick days versus those without the light and windows. A British organizational psychologist Craig Knight found that offices in which workers could choose their own conditions resulted in increased productivity on cognitive tasks by at least 25 percent. Moreover, scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that “well-ventilated offices can significantly improve” an employee’s ability to develop strategy or respond to a crisis.

Becoming what it will be becoming

Like many aspects of today’s workplace, the workspace will be in a constant state of evolution. The way the workspace is constructed allows for change, as needed by the month, day or hour, depending on the types of spaces needed to optimize productivity. And this optimum workspace is defined not only by the type of work, but also the type of people, e.g., engineers at Microsoft work best when team areas hold 8 to 12 engineers and more private spaces.

Doing more with less

Wise employers will keep tweaking their workspaces to optimize worker experience and productivity. Expect organizations pushing to increase profits to look for gains facilitated by updated workspaces as well.

Special thanks to The New York Times for their recent coverage of these advancements.

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