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Flexible Office Space Designs
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Reducing Office Space with Alternative Work StrategiesPt. 2: Telecommuting: Holding Down Office SpacePt. 3: This PagePt. 4: New Space Calls for New Facility Management Rules
To design and operate a facility that supports growth without adding more space, companies should consider space design, behavioral protocols of occupants, communication and building technology, and building operations.
Space that accommodates organizational growth is flexible and supports easy movement. People need to be able to inhabit different spaces in different ways over time. Users need clear circulation and wayfinding as well as easy access to conference rooms, huddle rooms and copy areas. Consider using modular furniture and furniture on wheels.
When moving from traditional space to an alternative work environment, important space metrics change from “square feet per person” to “square feet per person served.” In traditional work environments, space is assigned to individuals. In many alternative work environments, space is either not assigned at all or assigned to a group. Space utilization for a highly mobile organization can morph from 230 square feet per person to 100 square feet per person served. Using these numbers, flexible space can accommodate two to three times the number of employees in the same-sized office area.
Alternative work relies on a change in company culture. For most organizations, the cultural hurdle is moving to an environment in which spaces are no longer individually assigned. Truly adopting alternative work means shifting employee thinking from space that is “mine” to space that is “ours.”
Technology enables alternative workplaces to really work. Communication and building technologies that support smart workplaces include:
- Integrated phone and PC technology such as voice over IP, internet protocol telephony, computer telephony integration or Follow-Me.
- Thin client or docking stations for laptops.
- Hotelling software that enables employees to reserve a workstation or conference room in the office.
- Automatic light and HVAC shutoff to respond to varying building occupancy.
- Software and equipment that encourages employees to store and manage information digitally.
- CAFM software to track occupancy.
An alternative work environment may well require different ways of operating. For example, new staff — such as a “concierge” function — to support workers may be required.
The fact that people will be coming and going throughout the space means security is a consideration. Some companies use a badge system for spaces that are occupied by multiple people throughout the day.
Expanding cleaning programs in areas where there is no “ownership” is important. Organizations may consider having a cleaning staff come through twice a day. Even with training, people have varying standards for “clean” at home — and things don’t change when they come to the office.
If an alternative work environment sounds enticing, facility executives should ask one very important question: Does the organization have an appetite for adopting strategies for working differently? If the answer is, “Well, sort of,” that may be a good starting point. Small portions of an employee base are often great candidates to adopt more flexible work arrangements. Chances are, many employees are already mobile and working out of the office. Perhaps the space just needs to catch up.