Webinar Recap: Office Design and How People Work

The office is no longer a singular, monolithic place where everyone is working at the same time in the same space. Work and place are becoming two separate things. It’s not that place no longer matters — just the opposite: It’s more important than ever.

Last Thursday’s webinar, led by Gary Miciunas, Principal and Lead Workplace Strategist at NELSON, discussed the relationship of office design and how people work. A virtual audience of 100+ tuned in; the attendee list represented interests across the industry.

According to Miciunas, the workplace is becoming “plural” and more complex. Companies offer a variety of working policies and employees have more options to work from anywhere, at any time, in the context of different work cultures.

On its surface, this may hint that work is becoming untethered from place as the underlying platform of technology increases mobility. With the increased popularity of teleworking and third places, it would seem that employees are leaving the office in droves to work out of their homes or favorite coffee shop, right? Wrong. Miciunas agrees that mobility is important, but believes that it is mobility within a workplace portfolio that is key.

Baby-boomers and millennials both value workplace flexibility, but for different reasons. Miciunas cited several studies, including the “2012 Cisco Connected World Technology Report,” and the numbers didn’t lie. Boomers and millennials are driving design moves that are increasingly focused on the employee experience at the office, from their perspectives as the “generational bookends” of the working population.

That’s not to say that employees aren’t working remotely, but in the opinion of Miciunas, it’s not to the extent that the work and design worlds might think.

For workplace strategists, designers, manufacturers, HR, IT, and real estate professionals, roles are evolving to meet this new focus. Projects now require integrated delivery where practices, places, and platforms have to be considered at every step of the strategy, planning, and design process.

To clarify evolving trends behind workplace design, Miciunas presented six metaphors for the changes taking place:

1. Workplace as a service

Offices are becoming smart physical workplaces, bundled with digital services and shared by a much larger membership community than the maximum number of users that the space can accommodate at any one point in time. The aim is to increase a sense of mobility within the space to allow for more collaboration.

Employers see the value in incorporating co-working design elements from both a financial and talent perspective. Revenue of “subscription-based” offices (e.g., co-work spaces and virtual offices) shows growth rates 3-4 times that of dedication-based offices. Co-working space is the new ecosystem that blends traditional employment with talent that is increasingly choosing to stay in the contingent workforce as independent workers.

2. Workplace as a meeting place

The office is not going away. It will continue to exist as a place where employees will build trust and maintain relationships among knowledge workers with increasingly expansive networks.

3. Workplace as a network

Across organizational boundaries, work is more distributed, mobile, and collaborative. Providing a positive employee experience of working this way and the services to enable a more distributed work setting is becoming increasingly important.

 4. Workplace as a brand

“Brands go beyond traditional notion of company logos and colors in customer-facing areas,” said Miciunas. “[The brand] goes to places that only employees experience, and demonstrates what that work environment says about the core values of the company, especially how they value their employees.” This idea is emerging as a key consideration in attracting and retaining top talent.

5. Workplace as a lifestyle

“Traditional notions that money is everything in terms of job choice are being challenged,” said Miciunas. “Flexibility not only in how, when, and where to work, but in how the workplace supports that work practice is becoming a very strategic issue.”

6. Workplace as an ecosystem

“We must design for sustainability regardless of whether a client is seeking any kind of official certification such as LEED,” said Miciunas. As the workplace expands beyond the envelope of fixed assets, corporations must also consider the environmental impact associated with third places and commutes.

As the responsibilities of design and function respond to meet the new perspectives of the workforce, the metrics to evaluate design must change as well.

“I think a lot of the benchmarking that’s out there is in hindsight to what was happening in several years past,” said Miciunas. He presented metrics focused on foresight, based on emerging patterns and a demonstrated divergence from general rules of thumb for office design and space planning.

Today, there is less emphasis on productivity measures. Companies favor a more common metric: engagement. Because of this, enterprise is reprioritizing how to allocate space with more emphasis on collaboration.

In a traditional buildout, roughly 60 to 70 percent of the space is assigned, about half of which is under-utilized all of the time. According to Miciunas, today’s most engaged workplaces are trending more toward 50 percent assigned space. Achieving an effective balance requires a reconfiguration of a portfolio – not just a reduction of space.

Miciunas reviewed design examples to illustrate his point. For a deeper look into the metrics he used, check out this previous article.

Work Design Magazine produced the webinar in collaboration with IFMA’s Workplace Evolutionaries, and it was sponsored in part by Teknion.

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