In a recent article, we detailed the rapidly accelerating trend of businesses moving to innovative office space design. Some CFO’s love the idea because it means they need less square footage per employee and it costs them less money. Many businesses also believe that if their team members are closer to each other, maybe even moving work locations via ‘hot desking’, they will have more interactions and collaboration will improve, but this is not necessarily the case. A growing body of research, including this recent study, indicates that open office spaces might be making us less productive, not more, and leads towards higher levels of distraction, less fulfilling relationships and higher levels of dissatisfaction.
Businesses looking at ways to address this realize they need to augment these office environments if they are going to put employees in the best possible situation to be productive, engaged and fulfilled. Many interior design firms are employing flexible office space designs that showcase a new corporate workplace model to create a hub for co-working, client meetings and socializing. The activity-based design is a composition of free-address individual and collaborative workspaces.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a long conversation with Vishal Brown, the Vice President of Professional Services at Yorktel. Brown has been on the leading edge of the conversation around this Next Generation Workplace and we discussed the ways businesses are transforming the traditional office into a flexible, mobile, collaborative work environment.
Collaboration, Privacy and Quiet Spaces Enhance Workforce Satisfaction, Productivity
The first open office space I remember seeing was in the mid-90’s at the headquarters of a New England based sporting goods retailer. Everybody, including the president and CEO, worked in a 100 foot long room with two rows of cheap wood tables running the whole length. The tables had a computer monitor and a phone for each employee and were piled high with papers. The two rows sat facing each other and the noise was like a buzzsaw. “Wow, cool,” I thought. Followed quickly by “How does anyone get anything done? What if you have to make an important phone call or need to have a meeting?” Granted, that was an extreme case, but this is still a challenge employees face at some level as they adapt to life in new work environments.
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According to Brown, it’s not good enough to place employees in tighter quarters and expect magic to ensue. “While most organizations built an increasing number of larger meeting rooms when going through this process, it is clear that most meetings are small in size. The driving vision of the Next Generation Workplace is that free-address work space environments permit employees the flexibly to work in the space that will maximize their productivity at any particular time. This also means providing employees with the right types of meeting rooms to collaborate and concentrate as necessary. These ‘right-sized’ meeting and work spaces also represent a huge efficiency opportunity for companies.”
Yorktel has interviewed dozens of companies about Next Gen. Workplaces and has found that there is little consistency in what businesses call these various types of new rooms and spaces. However, they have identified four categories or types of spaces that leading companies are starting to provide: Collaboration Rooms, Collaboration Spaces, Privacy Rooms and Quiet Rooms.
As you’d imagine, collaboration rooms are enclosed spaces and are meant for multiple people to get together in a private room and collaborate on projects. This can be done locally or, depending on the room setup and technology options, with remote team members, partners or customers. Collaboration rooms can be broken down into additional subcategories – for example Huddle Rooms and Immersive Rooms.
- Huddle Rooms are smaller conference rooms meant for a group of fewer than ten team members to work on a project together. They can be as simple as a room with a small table, a handful of chairs and a whiteboard (If you want technology, bring it in with you.), to a room with full UC and video conferencing capabilities including high end speakerphones and touch screen monitors, and anything in between. Companies generally have several of these in order to ensure employees have easy access to a nearby room when they need one.
- Immersive Rooms are traditionally larger conference rooms meant for larger groups and are outfitted with tech for visual collaboration. This might include a Cisco telepresence setup, tightly integrated Skype for Business capabilities or even full visual collaboration walls, like those from Prysm or Oblong.
These are areas without walls meant for impromptu meetings. Employees can wander in, find some open space and start working alone or together. There is no expectation of silence and any technology is carried in by employees. These can be spaces like cafeterias or even courtyards, or increasingly, more comfortable lounge-like areas. Lounges might include couches, chairs and multiple areas set aside for small groups to work together.
These spaces provide another option when employees need to work as a team, or are a great place to kick back with a laptop when a change of scenery is needed
These areas are meant for an individual to get some privacy while making an important phone call or working uninterrupted on a project. These modern ‘phone booths’ are small (think a privacy room at your public library), may have a chair, a desk and a telephone, but any other technology is carried in. Since many calls or conferences are performed on laptops, it can be helpful to have Ethernet connections available for optimal voice / video quality.
Difficulty concentrating and ongoing distractions are one of the biggest complaints employees make about working in open office spaces. This leads to difficulty in getting ‘heads down’ work done and explains the rise of quiet rooms. Quiet rooms are silent areas, like a quiet car on a train, and conversations and technology sounds are discouraged. These rooms come in various layouts, are available for multiple users and can be used as an area to quietly work on a task or as an area for employees to go, take a break or even grab a quick cat nap.
Often containing comfortable furniture, these spaces are akin to an open floor space library and technology is brought in by users. Just put your phone on silent please.
Providing employees access to these types of spaces to enhance collaboration, privacy and concentration is becoming more and more important. “According to Gartner, by 2020, 25% of organizations will have a catalog of smart workspaces maintained by IT, real estate and facility management.” says Brown. What about your business? What types of spaces are you making available? How are you using technology to improve connectivity and engage local and remote workers? Let us know in the comments section below.