Workplace Evolution and the Implications for Offices

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
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Recent years have brought about a remarkable shift in the nature of the modern workplace toward office plans that are far more open, flexible and efficient.

A new study has outlined some of the far-reaching changes in the nature of the workplace which will have a profound impact upon the designs and configurations of modern office.

The 2016 Workplace Report released by international architecture and interior design firm Ted Moudis Associates (TMA) identifies a range of trends which are expected to sweep white-collar office environments across industrialised economies.

The report focuses on four white-collar knowledge sectors in the US – finance, professional services, consumer products and digital media – examining total of 17,084 workspaces and 2.5 million square feet of office space built during the period 2014 and 2015.

According to the report, the long-anticipated change in the nature of the workplace is finally becoming a reality, with a shift away from the traditional office toward more open and progressive environments.

“The most interesting thing that we’ve seen happen over the past several years is the widespread adoption of progressive concepts that have existed for some time, but have not necessarily been accepted by many organisations until now,” the report notes.

Much of this change can be imputed to the proliferation of mobile technologies that make white-collar work far more flexible.

“As expectations about where and how work happens continue to change, we are finding that companies of all types are challenging traditional assumptions about the workplace,” the report states.

One of the biggest changes is the rise of the open office environments, alongside greater use of “benching” or “desking” arrangements and increasing densification of workers on floors.

The study found that 89 per cent of the office environments were comprised of open workspaces, with 67 per cent of these open workspaces making use of desking or benching arrangements involving the use of shared amenities or alternative workspaces.

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The increased use of open space benching arrangements has also raised the density of new office environments, with the average amount of usable square feet per seat (USF) standing at 142. This compares to prevailing standard of between 175 to 200 USF per seat just a few years ago for those office environments categorised as “progressive.”

This rise in density is further spurred by the implementation of mobile workplace strategies by an increasing number of companies, which raise the efficiency of office space usage by taking advantage of the flexibility offered by smart devices.

Mobile workplace strategies can reduce total area per occupant in the office by allowing some employees to work outside the office or by creating “activity-based” work models that enable even those people within the office to remain mobile within their work environments.

As a result of these strategies, the leveraged seating ratio – or the number of people per desk in an office, has hit 1.3:1, which means that every 130 employees of a company share a total of 100 seats. This doesn’t mean that 30 of those employees are consigned to standing positions while at work. It instead means that flexible work scheduling enables those 100 seats to be distributed equitably to a greater number of staff.

Mobile workplace strategies go hand in hand with the use of “alternative” seating, or office spaces that aren’t allocated to specific individuals, and are instead assigned to a variety of both work and non-work related activities.

According to the TMA report, the number of alternative seats in offices has surged, currently comprising 47 per cent of all workspaces to which employees have access – or three times the amount that was considered typical only five years ago.

Alternative seats are also becoming more varied in nature. In addition to collaborative spaces, they are also assuming the form of focus rooms, quiet work areas, and multi-functional amenities, all of which support more lifestyle-oriented work approaches.

While these trends are raising the overall density of the workplace, new technology is also freeing up more space in the office by reducing the amount of paper used by companies, and thus the number of filing cabinets or drawers required for the housing of physical documents.

Although the “paperless” office isn’t yet a reality, the “paper light” office has already emerged, with the workplaces covered by the TMA study containing an average of just one file drawer for every 1.7 workers.

Other office planning trends that are gaining traction include a reduction in the number of communal support facilities. While this would at first blush appear to reduce the convenience of the working environment, particularly given the increased density of office places, it brings advantages in the form of increased walking by workers, which is beneficial to their health, as well as greater interaction between colleagues.

Larger numbers of office workers are sharing fewer copiers or printers, with on average one copy or print machine for every 72 employees. Pantries are also becoming increasingly scarce, with one on average for every 133 office workers, offices instead create larger catering or kitchen facilities to foster social interaction.

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Ted Moudis Associates

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