New Collaborative Offices Designed for Productivity
By Michael de Los Reyes
Switching to an open-office or collaborative office design can do much more than attract millennial employees. It can save business owners’ money.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, though. Business executives need to analyze their office’s work processes, business operations and IT infrastructure prior to switching to a collaborative office or open-office layout, say design professionals.
Still, more companies are opting for redesigns of existing spaces due to Orange County’s tight office rental market. The availability rate here dropped from 15% to 14.5% over the past 12 months while the asking rental rate rose from $2.18 per square foot to $2.44. The trend is particularly pronounced for tenants occupying at least 20,000 square feet.
“Every organization has a different (work) process,” said Heidi Hendy, managing principal of Newport Beach-based interior design firm H. Hendy Associates. It has designed offices for business such as Corona-based energy drink maker Monster Beverage Corp.; mortgage data processor CoreLogic in Irvine; and Costa Mesa-based fast food chain El Pollo Loco.
New office designs must fit those processes, Hendy said. Removing walls and doors can affect the quiet and privacy needed to perform certain kinds of tasks.
Open-office designs, however, can hinder productivity if they lack “activity spaces” designed for certain projects or work purposes, said Hendy.
“People need quiet rooms that allow them to concentrate on a project,” and conference rooms that permit several people to have an animated discussion during an all-day project, Hendy said.
The keys are to consider the number of projects that require privacy; install furniture that encourages specific types of work or conversation; and provide the technologies employees need.
People who need to work on a spreadsheet, presentation or report usually need a quiet room. Some of Hendy’s office designs include a small office about a third the size of a traditional office that allows a single employee to concentrate. Quiet rooms typically sit in the center of the floor plan, have a desk for a laptop, one or two glass walls to provide natural sunlight, and a plant to prevent the space from feeling sterile.
The quiet room also has one wall painted in a bolder color, such as a burnt orange, to prevent the employee from feeling isolated while not being so bright that it distracts from the work at hand. Walls depicting an outdoor scene can prevent a feeling of claustrophobia.
A conference room would be a larger version of a quiet room but located at the periphery of the floor plan and with a large computer monitor to allow participants to display financial statements and other information needed for collaborative projects.
Conference rooms can have a bar-stool-type seating and a high conference table to prevent people from becoming too relaxed during a meeting, or they can have living room-type furniture to encourage creativity and conversation.
“The design of a space causes certain behaviors,” Hendy said.
Employees need flexibility to move to a new desk throughout the day, said Jennifer Walton, H. Hendy principal and project director.
She is a specialist who designs buildings and offices to improve employee’s health and well-being in the workplace.
Employees usually need a variety of light, movement, and visual stimulation to remain energized during the day, she said. Blue light, for example, usually is in morning sunlight and helps people wake up. Red light slowly replaces blue light during the day and causes people to become fatigued in the afternoon.
“Most people become less alert in the afternoon,” she said.
So allowing employees to shift their work to a conference table in the lunchroom or to a sofa in front of a TV news show can boost productivity by allowing them to mentally take a break and prepare to solve the next challenge, she said. It also allows employees to adjust their postures, avoid backaches and become more comfortable during the workday.
An alternate inexpensive solution is to install blue-light light bulbs or programmable LEDs that activate in the afternoon.
The biggest challenges in using new open-office designs are convincing everyone to contribute to the new space and convincing business owners and management to adhere to the designs, said Drew Carter, a director at H. Hendy.
The executives should work in these new types of spaces to lead this change.
“It was really hard for me to give up my office,” Carter himself acknowledged. “There’s a sense of status, of prestige associated with a large corner office.”
“Then I realized I was out of the office 70% of the time.”
The architecture firm practices what it preaches: None of Hendy’s leaders have private offices. Carter spends most of his time meeting with clients, visiting work sites, and introducing client’s employees to their new offices. He’s occasionally in the office to read and sign contracts, review proposals or talk with other company leaders.
“So it didn’t make sense to pay for an office that I rarely used,” he said.
So he and the firm’s leaders, including the founder, Heidi Hendy, sit together at a collection of desks. They can easily see each other’s work in the new seating arrangement, make quick corrections and reduce the time spent on a project.
“It’s essentially creating a collective brain,” Carter said. “That means I have less backtracking to do on projects.”
It’s a concept that Carter explains to clients and their employees prior to their occupying a newly designed office.
Redesigned offices also must include technology – phone and computer systems – that allow employees to roam throughout the floor plan.
Other technologies allow employees to shift their workplaces during the day.
If everyone has a work phone number that rings at a specific phone in the office, for example, employees can miss important phone calls if they’re roaming the office throughout the workday.
A solution is a smartphone app to route work-related calls to employees’ cell-phones, Carter said.
A similar system allowed the design firm to eliminate the cost of new desktops and laptops for employees, he said.
Employees use a monitor and Wi-Fi-enabled keyboard to sign into a computer server to access their workstations. The server retains employees’ customized desktops and folders and transmits that information to the desired workstation.
“I can even use a client’s computer overseas to access my desktop, and there are no security issues,” Carter said. It can costs as little as $6,000 to introduce this kind of system. That compares to having “to replace desktop computers every three to five years at a cost of $500 to $3000, depending on processing power.”
Carter said “there are a lot of technologies that can bridge legacy computer systems to the new systems” so that business owners don’t have to invest in entirely new infrastructure.
“So you can use those legacy systems to the end of their life.”
Business owners can pick and choose the changes they want in their new offices spaces, Carter said, including eschewing open-office design altogether.
“If they (the clients) aren’t ready for a more agile office design, we’ll tell them,” Hendy said.