Viewpoint - 18/02/2014

Meeting the need for modern space

Open plan layouts that encourage collaborative working have become the norm in office design and many occupiers now favour varied, informal space to stimulate the creative process.

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But there is evidence that, for some ideas-led companies, this can be supported by more private areas where people can focus their thoughts.

The notion that most people flourish in a working environment that encourages them to interact with their colleagues has become almost universally accepted by occupiers, designers and developers alike.

Few would doubt the need to act as a team and the benefits of an open-plan environment where colleagues can easily communicate are seen by many as vital in driving productivity – and in generating the high-value ideas that differentiate the top-performing firms. In a modern, service-led economy companies are doing more than just putting forward template products that can be created without thinking.

New ways of working

Hot-desking, break-out rooms, café areas and technology-enabled remote working have addressed these needs along with the informal meeting areas that are already found in many modern offices. But there is evidence that these features can be supplemented by private areas which allow individuals to focus their ideas.

Global design company Gensler carried out a five-year research programme looking into these issues, taking into account 90,000 people from 155 companies across 10 industries. Its resulting report, ‘What we’ve learned about focus in the workplace’, suggested that the collaborative environment can be enhanced by providing areas where concentration is made easier.

The effects of improving focus

Gensler’s research concluded that individual focus work was critical in 88% of jobs and that helping to improve it had beneficial knock-on effects. It believes that knowledge-based work is made up of four activities – individual focus, collaboration, learning and socialising – but it is focus that is the key to getting the other components right. The inverse is also true, it found. If individual focus work was ineffective so were the other work modes, particularly collaboration.

Social media distractions

This is particularly important at a time when people already face a huge variety of new distractions. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook and new technology like smartphones and tablets can help boost productivity in some circumstances but they can also make it difficult to keep people’s minds on the task in hand.

It seems unlikely that anyone would advocate returning to a time when people were housed in a warren of dusty corridors and offices. Gensler suggests creating space that balances the need for uninterrupted focus with all the other elements that are important to work.

Communal and private space

The ideal, it says, would be both communal areas for collaboration, learning and socialising alongside the provision of more private space. In some cases, employees should be able to modify their workspaces according to their own preferences.

Whether such ideas become fully accepted remains to be seen but developers and designers will increasingly need to ensure that office space really suits the requirements of each occupier. The provision of individual space where people can crystallise their thoughts, alongside semi-private ‘agile working‘ areas, is one potential strategy to achieve this. Our forthcoming Office Market Report will explore this topic in more detail.


This article is part of Asset Class winter 2014.

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