4  FM quick reads on interiors

1. The New Criteria for Selecting Office Furniture

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is that furniture selection needs to take the changing way we work into consideration.

The office furniture market is in a state of rapid change. Shifts in the way employees work are prompting developments in workplace design that facility managers who are in the market for office furniture will want to consider. Andrew Laing, director, North America, with design firm DEGW says furniture trends are being driven by the way people are working, including how they're working and using space differently.

Twenty to 30 years ago, cubicles largely replaced what were referred to as "bullpen offices," featuring rows of desks, with no walls or panels to separate them. Employees enjoyed little, if any, privacy.

Bullpen layouts gradually gave way to cubicles, whose panels offered several benefits. For starters, they offered workers some privacy. In addition, they provided a way to bring power to technical tools, including phones and personal computers, that were becoming ubiquitous across many workplaces.

Today, a new round of changes is well underway. As a starting point, employees' increasing mobility is affecting both the design and allocation of space within buildings. More employees work remotely, at least part of the time. In fact, some companies that have surveyed their workplaces have found that, on any day, a high percentage of workstations go unoccupied. To use both space and their facilities budgets more efficiently, more organizations expect employees to share desks or work stations. There's no need to provide a workstation with full panels and storage for an employee who may be in the office infrequently.

After all, costs are a significant concern in any discussion of office design and furniture. Real estate is a significant expense, and companies looking to cut costs often zero in on this budget item. Many organizations, particularly given the tight economy, have shown a preference for less tailored, less expensive furniture.

Environmental Considerations of Selecting Ceilings

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is to consider the environmental impact of a new ceiling.

The idea that removing a ceiling would make a space more sustainable encouraged the move to open plenum spaces. The thinking was that facilities could gain sustainability by using fewer materials.

What's more, building owners interested in LEED certification often focused on other components, such as energy-saving HVAC systems, because a building's acoustical attributes haven't been included in the certification. He adds that this may change with the U.S. Green Building Council's Pilot Credit 24, which focuses on acoustics in new construction and commercial interiors.

Perceptions aside, there is evidence that ceilings can reduce the environmental impact of a space, in addition to providing acoustical benefits that can improve indoor environmental quality. A study by the Ceilings & Interior Systems Construction Association compared an area's energy use with a suspended ceiling and an open plenum. Researchers found that installing a suspended ceiling saved between 9 and 17 percent of energy costs.

Many high performance acoustical ceilings are highly light reflective. For instance, a ceiling with a 90 percent light reflectance reflects 90 percent of the light from its surface back into the room. That means fewer light fixtures are needed.

Over the past several years, one focus of indoor air quality has been to reduce or eliminate the amount of volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde in a space. However, while it's possible to reduce the amount of formaldehyde in a facility, some still occurs naturally. In addition, it's a component of some cleaning solutions. To counter this, a new type of ceiling tile incorporates a coating that removes formaldehyde.

Take Advantage of Ceiling Options to Address Workplace Trends

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is to take advantage of ceiling options to help address workspace design needs.

It's easy to think that ceilings are just there for looks. Unlike walls or floors, they don't meet an obvious functional need except to hide the plenum. And if the design goal is a contemporary, loft-like appearance, why not just eliminate the ceiling? Over the past decade, that's exactly what a growing number of spaces did. What's more, doing without the ceiling seemed a logical complement to an emphasis on green design.

But doing without ceilings meant giving up some of their important benefits. High on that list is acoustics.

In some open-plenum spaces, the lack of ceiling has had a negative impact on productivity. Heartland Acoustics and Interiors president and CEO Jason Gordon says it looked cool, but no one could function.

Exacerbating the acoustical challenges has been the move from private offices and workstations to desking or bench systems. As this has occurred, the physical barriers between employees have been removed, and it becomes very difficult to offset the loss of physical separations.

With fewer surfaces left to absorb sounds, noise from conversations and equipment reverberates within the space. One solution is sometimes referred to as "clouds" or "canopies." These are panels suspended from an open ceiling to provide acoustical absorbency and reduce noise levels. Another solution has been sound-absorbing panels that can be connected to the bottom of the floor above an open area. They absorb sound, while maintaining the look of an exposed structure. While some panels are formulated for use in offices, others have been developed for recreational areas, such as gyms and swimming pools.

Technology, Workforce Driving Design Changes

This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management. Today's tip is that technology and a changing workforce are helping to drive green office design.

Although there are a number of forces enabling the transition to more flexibility in workspace design, two of the biggest are technology and a changing workforce. With laptops and wireless Internet connections now common in offices, workers can take their computers with them as opposed to being tethered to a desk.

That applies inside the building as well as out. If four team members need to collaborate on one particular item, they can meet in a conference room or an open area and still have all the information they need at hand, instead of exchanging notes or emails from their individual desks. This allows for more efficient interactions on team projects.

As for the workforce, it's becoming more open to the idea of this flexibility as the next generation enters. Architecture firm HOK teamed up with the International Facility Management Association, or IFMA, on the development of the "Distributed Work Research Report," a survey of distributed work — defined, simply, as work that is spread out among teams and performed in variable locations at varying times — and employee attitudes regarding it. In response to a question about how much appeal distributed work had to employees, 71 percent of employees under the age of 30 said it had a "strong appeal." In contrast, only 15 percent of workers 50 and older said the same.

Think about it this way: For one of those under-30 workers, what's the difference between four people sitting around a table at work with laptops and four people doing the same in a dorm?


interiors , furniture , mobility

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