workspaces are still growing up

living in a gray world

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

office space of the last millenia

When I began my first office job I was relegated to a gray cubicle surrounded by other gray cubicles that were just tall enough so that if I stood I couldn’t quite see over the top. Outside of the gray cubicles the office walls were painted beige, the ceiling was t-bar with drop in fluorescent fixtures and the only adjustment on the chair was the wheels that allowed it to roll from here to there.

If we were late to work, meaning arrival time after 8:05, we signed in. Breaks were at 10 and 3 and lunch was at noon. There was no lounge area, no ping pong table, no nap room. We had a cafeteria. Also beige. In those days we worked quietly, alone, in our cubicles and on average each employee was expected to take up about 400 square feet of space over the course of a day. If we collaborated at all it was very quietly in our own cubicles.

google zurich-camenzind evolution

Google Zurich meeting pods, photo courtesy

office space in this millenia

Then Silicon Valley took off. Laptops were born, wifi became commonplace. Telecommuting became a possibility. And the buzzwords of the day/year/decade became design-thinking and collaboration. No longer were employees expected to work in a vacuum creating whatever it was they were tasked with creating.

By 2014, employees in the US were allotted about 190 square feet. Offices don’t look anything like that first office I worked in and employees aren’t relegated to their own cubicles to spend their eight hours. Amenities can include things like:

  • flexible spaces for work and meeting/collaboration
  • casual lounge spaces with living room furniture, bean bag chairs, hanging chairs, hammocks
  • water features both inside and outside
  • nap rooms and nap pods
  • healthy vending machines
  • gardens
  • whiteboards everywhere to aid collaboration
  • food….lots of food
  • coffee….possibly surpassing the food
  • party rooms, slides, fire poles, ping pong, billiards, foosball and arcades
  • exercise rooms, swimming pools and spa areas
  • pet friendly spaces
  • color everywhere….is that an amenity?

office space that really works

It’s a whole new world out there. And yet, have we achieved the ideal? Are all of these amenities giving employees what they need to do their best work happily and creatively? An Oxford Economics’ survey executed at the end of 2015 says no, we’re not there yet. According to respondents, what employees are missing is quiet.

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

Fast Company put together a list of how we designers can work with employers to remedy the noise complaints and keep some of the other amenities that employees enjoy. Some of the suggestions are well worth considering.

  • Address adjacencies…keep quiet spaces near other quiet spaces.
  • Designate spaces for concentration…spaces can be visually connected and still be separated by doors that close.
  • Offer choice…provide enough differentiation in space that employees can relocate to whatever space fits their current need.
  • Include phone booths/rooms…give loud talkers a place to talk.
  • Provide movable partitions…movable acoustical partitions allow employees to create quiet spaces.

We’re getting there. Office space is certainly more inviting, and a lot more interesting, than it was once upon a time. But it’s not time to get complacent yet designers. We still have work to do.

Keep in touch,

1 reply

Comments are closed.