Collaborative work spaces have dominated new workplace design in recent years and now designers are taking things a step further by by making them reconfigurable.
Building on the productivity and social benefits associated with collaborative work spaces, mainstream businesses are exploring the opportunity to design multi-use areas through transformative furniture and easily accessible technology.
Options include desks that fold away, storage that doubles as seating and casual lunch areas that become meeting rooms.
Google, which is renowned for innovative work spaces, offers a completely flexible and fluid office on a large scale with its Google Garage office.
In the Google Garage, all the furniture across the workspace area is on wheels. Whiteboards can be wheeled across the room, chairs can be moved from individual spaces to communal areas and desks can be separated and connected depending on the work activity. Google Garage even features a power network on a grid which sees power points, USB and Ethernet cables drop from the ceiling, making electronic connections accessible from virtually anywhere.
Commercial real estate firm CBRE Group recently announced it was moving to a new office space, dubbed Workplace 360, at 100 East Pratt Street.
Working with architecture firm Gensler, CBRE Group wanted to create a “modern, functional workplace” for the firm’s 90 employees where “traditional facets of office culture such as assigned desks and private offices” were removed and replaced by “neighbourhoods” (workstations) along long communal desks, with separate “focus rooms” for those requiring private meetings.
“Revolutionary may be too strong a term, but this space is changing our industry,” CBRE market leader Chip Olsen said. “We’re the only company that’s doing what we’re doing. Everything we looked at was based on a new office experience.”
Particular Architects also cleverly created a customisable studio in Melbourne.
With office presence in both Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur, Particular Architecture's Little Collins Street studio can be adapted to meet the needs of different office activities and can even be altered to accommodate more people through the use of customisable furniture and multi-functional areas.
“We wanted to create a space that allowed us to take on multiple characters, a space that will allow us to flex – to be big and small, to rove from solo, to team, to crowd,” the firm's website reads. “We wanted to create a space which could be broken down without losing the sense of generosity and openness.”
Half of the studio space works as a formal office and work area for the six architects in the Melbourne office.
Two banks of individual workstations face in opposite directions, divided by a communal workbench. By simply rotating their chairs, staff can move from their individual work spaces to a communal one.
The bench itself also has an embedded LCD screen for viewing files.
"Due to the small footprint of the space we had to look at an infrastructure that allowed us to work, meet as a team, break-out, meet with our clients, retreat to a library, store samples and have large presentations and flexibility for our staff members and work experience students doing their internships with us," Particular Architects director Nicholas Ling told Dezeen.
A stained timber flooring divider connects workers to the next part of the office, which is known as the “shape-shifter.” The firm was inspired by the micro living units in Hong Kong for this space.
Track mounted plywood cases work as storage and display units but also feature concealed custom desk panels that can be folded down to create extra workspace or meeting areas during busy periods.
When filled, the cases boast an eclectic aesthetic. With three different heights, the cases can double as seating, a standing bar or an exhibition space for architectural models.
A 2013 study from Knoll Workplace Research found an incredible amount of support for the growing trend. The report, entitled Creating Collaborative Spaces That Work, found that “…the workplace is increasingly shifting from a 'me' to a 'we' work environment in which a wide assortment of technology-rich group spaces are offered.”
The report also said brainstorming, small unplanned meetings, videoconferencing and project team work are all on the rise.
“In the future, most collaborative spaces will offer features that facilitate connection to technology, sharing of visual information, adaptability to changing work process and amenities that nourish the spirit (food, beverages and daylight),” the report reads.
Like urban residential living, urban office spaces are becoming denser to cater for population increase and will need to be fluid and adaptable in the future.
While a may company exude a corporate and professional message, work space will no longer have to align in a conventional way. Relaxed, ecological and community focused workspaces are becoming widely accepted as employees come to expect adaptability, fluidity, inspiring designs and the opportunity to flourish without the prerequisite of workstation isolation and a suit.