THE KEYS TO OPEN OFFICE SUCCESS

Furniture and layout play an outsized role in the success of open office designs. Here’s why – and what you can do about it.

More than any other single factors, furnishings, and layout drive the success – or failure – of open plan office design. Creating an open plan office where people can be productive demands an honest look at your client’s company culture and the way they do business. Open office design means different things to different people, notes Dave Madson, principal at CBT, an architecture,  interior design and urban design firm. Even the companies that fully embrace the open office concept still need enclosed or semi-enclosed areas for group collaboration, private conversations, and individual work. It’s a good idea to start the design process by understanding why your client wants an open plan design solution in the first place and envisioning how other spaces and design features can make that approach successful. Companies that implement an open office strategy tend to do so for one of two reasons, explains Angie Lee, vice president of buildings for Stantec, a global design firm:

Cost reduction. Open-plan offices allow you to fit more people into a space, which minimizes your square footage requirements.


Recruitment and retention. Open office implementation can be part of an overall upgrade aimed at keeping the talent you have and bringing in new people.

open office space types

The most functional open office design accounts for different work modes by including flexible spaces that cater to each type of work. Most office employees don’t do the exact same task for eight hours a day, so it doesn’t always make sense to have them stay in one type of space all day. Stantec designs spaces for five basic work modes, Lee explains:

Focus: This critical space type fosters concentration. Private offices, workstations in quiet areas and benching can all contribute to healthy focus spaces, Lee explains.

Collaboration: People should be able to duck into areas specifically designed for collaboration when they need to have conversations or brainstorm with colleagues.

Social: Cafeterias and other multiuse gathering spaces are perfect for bumping into coworkers for quick conversations that can lead to further collaboration later, Lee says: “Having those types of spaces woven into the planning and design is critical.”

Training/learning: Most organizations don’t need dedicated training space, but they will have to do some type of all-staff learning periodically, Lee explains. Think about flexible furnishings and layouts for spaces like conference rooms – clients can convert them into auditorium-style or classroom-style seating when they need to train groups.

Respite: This category describes any area where employees can rejuvenate and come back to work with fresh eyes, Lee says. This could be an outdoor terrace, a peaceful meditation room or any other space that’s not specifically for working.

There’s no set formula for the ratio of focus spaces to other space types, Lee adds. The recipe for success depends on the industry your client is in. A tech company might prize collaborative space, for example, while an insurance company might need more focus space for sensitive conversations. Company culture is also part of the mix, Lee says. It’s not enough to simply provide different space types; employees need to know they can actually use them. “If the organizational culture itself does not support employees having these types of choices, it’s very difficult to make it successful,” Lee explains. “It has to do with the behavior and whether management is willing to walk the talk. It’s very much a top-down scenario. Make sure that senior management or the leadership team buys into the idea of giving these types of choices to employees.”

selecting space size

Correctly sizing space for various work modes is a constant struggle in open office design. Workstations that are too small can leave employees feeling like they’re working in the proverbial sardine can. Huge conference rooms go unused or underutilized, accommodating a dozen people once a week and remaining empty for the rest of the time. Look at how big your total space is and your current square footage per person, then consider how you might reallocate that space to a different balance of open plan workstations vs. other space types. A recent Stantec project, a consolidation of two Washington, D.C., offices for business management consultancy Gartner, decreased total space from 450,000 to 350,000 square feet, even as the staff size grew from 1,600 people to 2,000, Lee explains. The density ratio in that office dropped from 280 square feet per person to closer to the industry standard of 175-180, and the open plan to closed plan ratio moved from 70% open and 30% closed, to 95% open and 5% closed. The client ultimately eliminated several floors from their lease from the square footage savings.

“The CEO at the time had a vision of moving, knowing that the existing space was private office intensive and people weren’t talking to each other or collaborating,” explains Lee. “It’s primarily occupied by two major groups, sales and research. You can imagine that the sales people operate differently than the researchers. But they needed to recruit the best people, and to do that, the work environment has to reflect the best state-of-the-art 21st-century environment. It was his vision that drove the project.”

specify the right furniture

Choosing open office furniture is all about finding tools that will support the activities happening in each space. A small huddle room that’s meant to be used for 15-minute meetings may not even have chairs, Madson suggests. “Are there tasks where you’re going to need a place to write or ideate on the walls?” Madson asks. “We think it’s crucial to ask questions like this and cocreate
with our clients to understand what’s driving the need for these spaces and what resources are required to help them complete their day-to-day tasks.” Client visioning sessions are the perfect place to discover these needs and guide your design. CBT’s process is called the Vision Lab and can last anywhere from four hours to three days, Madson explains. The company gathers a  representative cross-section of employees from its client and leads them through a deep dive into their office needs, wants and culture. “Not everyone in the group works the same way or has the same ideas of what tools they need throughout the day to do their job,” says Madson. “A computer developer, an HR person and a legal analyst all work at the same tech firm but might need different tools throughout the day, and that’s OK. How do we solve for each of them and let them thrive in a new workspace?”
SquareFoot, a commercial real estate tech firm that helps companies find office space, conducted a
similar process for itself when it relocated its New York headquarters into a bigger space nine blocks from its
old one. It turned out that most daily interactions were informal and didn’t need conference rooms or scheduling,
explains Jonathan Wasserstrum, founder and CEO. “When it came time to planning the office space we really desired, we deliberately built in lots of little corners and areas that would be inviting to people looking to get a change of pace away from their desks or to meet with colleagues to check in on projects,” he says. The project’s furniture specifications followed that same strategy, Wasserstrum says. The design team scouted for furniture that would support casual get-togethers, embracing custom-designed items that were created for the spaces where they’d be placed. “We also kept an open mind to work with vendors
not necessarily traditionally known for office space furniture,” Wasserstrum notes. “Our whiteboard desks,
for example, come from a school supply vendor. But it was perfect for what we knew we wanted. The line between home furniture and commercial furniture is blurring more every day, as employees want to feel comfortable in their workplaces. We also wanted to
select furniture of a certain size that would allow for the natural flow of movement and encourage collaboration. We chose lounge chairs that swivel around to give people the ability to turn their attention to someone else or something else.” A thoughtful layout and flexible furnishings won’t promise your client success, but they’ll go a long way toward creating a space in which people can thrive.

Original Article - Interior + Sources - November 2019 Issue- link here

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