AFD Special Report: 6 Trends in Office Design

Trends in office space size and configuration undoubtedly will affect office leasing and sales.

What will the office of the future look like and how will it affect commercial real estate?

To find out, the Commercial Investment Real Estate Institute asked Steelcase, a manufacturer of office equipment, to predict into the future.

The company foresees fewer, more-flexible offices and an increase in shared space, allowing more amenities to be added. 

Trend 1. Collaboration Is the New Work Model. 


Everybody has heard a story about an R&D company that started out as four people in the garage sitting around with folding chairs and tables. There was energy, a buzz. Something was happening. As the company grew bigger, it moved into larger, more-traditional office space. Employees ended up getting private offices with windows, but something happened — they lost the energy. Essentially, every company reaches a point in its organizational maturity where it loses the original buzz. But when an R&D team goes into a space that similarly affects what it does, it will impact the output. Why not provide a space that is more collaborative and supports the need to balance both think time and team time?

Trend 2. Say Goodbye to Big Private Offices. 

Imagine an alternative work environment in which each team member has a smaller workstation, but all the workstations are put into a wagon train formation. Instead of having a conference room down the hall, the conference room is in the middle of the workstations. The team members are just close enough to overhear each other and they’re buzzing with project ideas in each station and in the middle space. When privacy is needed, the smaller workstation offers a door.

Trend 3. Say Hello to Shared Private Enclaves. 

By applying some basic, simple knowledge about how people interact, space planning can restore that feeling of the entrepreneurial garage without sacrificing privacy. For instance, instead of everyone having an 8-by-9-foot workstation, what if they were designed as 6-by-5-foot stations? The saved space could be put together to create a pint-sized enclave with a door with two pieces of lounge furniture, a table, a laptop connection, and a phone connection that is shared among five people. That’s where team members go when they need time to look through notes, write notes, or do research on their laptop computers. To make private phone calls, employees move 20 feet out of their stations into this private space, shut the door, and call. That privacy doesn’t exist in the way buildings are built today. Employees moved out of offices into open plans, but they never got back the privacy that they lost.

Trend 4. Today’s Workforce Requires Touchdown Spaces. 

People are beginning to accept the idea that employees don’t have to be at their desks with their heads down to actually be productive. Instead, today some employees are much less tied to their office space. For instance, computer repair representatives are in their offices very little. But when they are using their spaces, it’s critical that they be functional. If a repair rep has to crawl under the desk to plug in his laptop to get on the network, he’s going to be upset.

When these workers come into the office, they need a touchdown spot. There is a desk, but it’s more open and a lot smaller, upward from 5-by-6 feet. The activities it supports are e-mail, voice mail, and basic filing — touching down.


Trend 5. Activity – Based Planning Is Key to Space Design. 


This line of thought addresses re-planning buildings based on what people do. When employees come in during the day, the first thing they do is check e-mail and voice mail. After they’ve touched down, they might have a meeting. If it’s not confidential, they can have it in the open conference space. If it is confidential, they can use a private enclave.

Despite the fact that workers have smaller spaces, they have more activities to choose from. There is now space for a coffee bar, a library, a resource center, maybe a cafe, as well as all the little private rooms. A client in London actually made one whole wall of these pint-sized enclaves. Each room had a sofa, a desk, a chair, a laptop connection, and a phone connection.

Trend 6. One Size Does Not Fit All. 

Some jobs are very tied to their spaces. For instance, an airlines reservation clerk is tied to the desk, answering the phone all day and often being measured on not interacting with other individuals. But computer companies also have groups of people who answer the phone all day long, taking questions from dealers, customers, and buyers. But after a caller describes a problem, the computer operators usually say, “Can you hold?” What they end up doing is talking to their neighbors across the hall: “Hey, Joe, have you ever heard of anybody messing up this file this way?” Interaction has to be taken into account in the way the space is built out.
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