designing offices of the future

Designing Offices of the Future

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What Does A Future Office Look Like?

The future offices we have in mind aren’t quite space-age. We just think organizations should be designing offices for the future; workspaces that can respond to growth and change seamlessly while accommodating everyone simultaneously. In order to do that, organizations need to refine their process of workplace design and management – starting with how the functional areas participate.

designing offices of the future

What Does Designing Offices of the Future Take?

The landscape of our workplaces is shifting – and more than just physically. Millennials will comprise 50% of the workforce in 2020, and that’s just the shift at the middle of the bell curve. In the next 10 years, 50% of facilities managers will retire. This means finding new ways to support new management for new occupant demographics.

New is fun, right?

What hasn’t changed much is way designing offices happens – from the top-down, rather bureaucratically. While the process of office design seems to be full of friction, no one is purposefully obstructing progress. Workplace management is a complex process, and the rapid evolution of our workplaces is hard to keep up with.

Millennials will comprise 50% of the workforce in 2020, and…in the next 10 years, 50% of facilities managers will retire.

At Office Furniture Warehouse, we’ve had the unique opportunity to collect insight from all parties involved for over a decade. Typically, the hiccups we see are between silos – highly capable groups that have a deep rigor of knowledge, but don’t necessarily speak the same language.

So, we think that identifying those groups’ priorities and pressing issues might help break those silos down. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the parties we encounter on enterprise level projects – rather, the major players we think should be involved in effectively designing offices.

What’s Inside Each Silo of the Office Design Process

Human Resources

Most Important Considerations: First, how far does workplace planning extend? Second, what do you mean workplace planning?

Most Obstructive Issues: top brass making unilateral decisions using context of 30,000ft. perspective.

In our experience, human resource management is generally being pulled in more directions than they have rules to follow.

HR is responsible for balancing conceptual components of designing offices with the regulatory, budgetary and logistical constraints of the organization. They need to understand how to accommodate all those different groups, then effectively convey that understanding to design. On a deadline. In addition to their regular responsibilities. “And make sure you stay under budget!

HR is in the business of understanding your people. So, how can you support HR in giving the people what they want?

Office Design

Most Important Considerations: cultural perspective, plans for change, work zones.

Most Obstructive Issues: start by parachuting into situation, end with limited feedback reach.

Office designers have it rough, and we feel for them. They’re expected to understand the demographic and behavioral factors that contribute to a company’s culture, factor in work processes and synthesize a scalable, aesthetically-pleasing proposal. “And could you send that by Friday?”

Designing offices is centered on occupants. While that entails understanding culture, plans for change and physical considerations, the programming phase is surprisingly short. This lends itself to limited input and, in turn, limited feedback.

Designers work best through thorough understanding, which they use to transform a workplace vision into an actionable undertaking. So, how can you help the experts designing offices understand your end-user?

Project & Facilities Management

Most Important Considerations: sustainable decisions, finding the path of least resistance.

Most Obstructive Issues: interpreting between design and management, informing occupants’ understanding of the change.

Project and facilities management do most of the heavy lifting on a continual basis regarding workplace management. Project managers are responsible for coordinating on the front-end, but that’s not nearly a full execution.

Facilities managers are expected to maintenance the project on the back-end and measure the results. Further, acting as an intermediary between designers and top management can make miscommunications seem like their fault.

If project and facilities management serve as a neutral hub, how can you give them the flexibility to deliver?

Top Management

Most Important Considerations: making a sound investment and the ability to measure the return.

Most Obstructive Issues: limited context for end-user situations, knowledge of a desired result without knowledge of a solution.

Top management is typically responsible for making the final decision on workplace projects.

They’re the ones supposed to interpret all the data from all the sources, make a sound decision, and move on to the next one. Making those decisions based on the context from 30,000ft. doesn’t help, either. Then, top management answers for it when constraints get stretched by forces outside their control, people are unhappy, etc. And 30,000ft. is a long way to fall.

So, how can you support top management to nurture both the existing culture and ongoing change management efforts in the workplace?

Improving the Process of Designing Offices

Breaking down the disconnects between these silos is essential to effective workspaces that attract and retain talent. While bridging the gap between silos may be uncomfortable at the outset, there are substantial opportunities in your collaboration points. Here are three ways we believe that organizations can improve the process of designing offices.

Involving Occupants in Designing Offices

We believe the end user should be the top priority when considering stakeholders’ input. That feedback is the most accurate data you’ll ever receive regarding your workplace, and leads to the most accurate reflections of organizational culture. Those workplaces that embody the culture within them are the most valuable for attraction and retention.

During the programming step, you need people in the trenches. You need to allocate time for interaction that will educate the end user. With context for the change, it’ll be easier for end users to help you account for cultural perspective.

Visual, tactile previews are an extremely effective tool. Smart people don’t form opinions before they experience something, and mockups invite feedback. Then, the end user’s made a contribution to the process – which begets buy-in.

“Choice and control is what people need.”

– Darren Kanthal
Kanthal Group

Incorporating Flexibility in Office Design

A flexible office adapts easily to serve many purposes. Designing offices flexibly entails using the past and present to plan for the future of a workspace. What worked in the past, and what was bad? What do we need to accommodate our work right now? Then, what will our needs look like in the future?

When we think about making investments in flexible furniture, we first want to know that it’s versatile. When a workspace serves multiple purposes, you’ve already improved the utilization of your square footage.

Think about meeting spaces with a big executive boardroom table – how often during the day are they unused? For instance, our office only has one space that can be used by more than 4-5 people. In that space, we use training tables. Typically, they’re pushed together in a large rectangular conference configuration. However, when we conduct training or host CEU’s, we can orient them in a classroom format to accommodate a presenter. Then, when we host networking events, we can nest them out of the way. Now, we have a workspace that serves three or more purposes using one furniture implement.

“Where plans were rigid, the project failed.”

– Megan Thompson, Associate IIDA
Spark Interiors

Second, we want to know that organizational change won’t make that furniture obsolete. When compared to a new purchase every 5-10 years, investing more in workspaces that reconfigure to meet future needs saves money in the long run.

How about an organization that needs to achieve cost-effective density within their square footage? No brainer – cubicle workstations. Since systems furniture is modular, reconfiguring existing workspaces to meet evolving needs incurs only labor and miscellaneous parts expense.

Now, you’ve got the capability to meet immediately evolving needs. And, since most systems furniture lines are standardized, additions to accommodate growth are easy. So, if you’re effectively planning around anticipated changes in headcount, you’re also minimizing the expense attached to those arrivals and departures.

new cubicles | executive boardroom table | office furniture warehouse chattanooga
At the very least, consider going outside the box. You can’t necessarily redefine the space with the same tools.

Implementing Continuous Change Management

So, you’ve made your plans and have to look past the looming transition. What will it take to measure the performance of your workplace?

Hopefully, you involved the right stakeholders that helped you establish key objectives. Ideally, those included thorough input from your end-users. So, in a perfect world, you have a list of key performance indicators and a baseline from the feedback on each. Now, it’s up to you to prioritize those objectives based on the ease of achieving them. We say that because your transition is probably a big elephant to start eating – for everyone. When you begin undertaking the transition with small successes, you’ll get more buy-in for the bigger change.

Finally, don’t be afraid to admit what isn’t working. Once you’ve created an effective feedback loop, pertinent information will come easily. If you’ve made smart investments in flexible furniture, reconfiguring workspace to meet updated needs comes a minimal cost.

“Our only security is the ability to change.”

– John Lilly, MD

Thanks for Reading!

We’ve learned that there are no cookie-cutter responses to growth, change or relocation. Since every workspace is unique, we’re striving to offer a comprehensive mix of commercial furniture and accompanying services. That way, we have an opportunity to build a bespoke solution that meets you where you’re at. Learn more about our space planning services – or, if change is on the horizon, tell us about your project. Designing offices can be a lengthy process, and we’ll help at any point we have the opportunity. Thanks again!