For those who travel to an office space to work each day, it’s easy to take for granted the overall design or appearance of their work environment. The fact is, designing an office isn’t something that happens overnight, and there are a number of different factors that need to be taken into consideration by facilities managers and designers to ensure a successful space.
No one benefits from jumping blindly into a design, and most people can attest to what it’s like to work in an uncomfortable office environment. Here are five key considerations for designers to focus on when planning an office layout, all of which can play a role in how functional the environment turns out to be.
#1 — New Office Design or Redesign?
One of the major factors that will drive a design plan is whether the office is a new design entirely or a redesign of an already existing space. At face value, it may seem as if there isn’t a major difference between the two, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Designing a new office environment for a startup or a company that has moved to a new building offers a great deal of freedom and flexibility, allowing key decision makers, designers and architects to collaborate with one another in drafting up an initial plan that may or may not shift course during the buildout process. Since there are no inherent issues to correct when designing from scratch, the stakes are often less high than in the case of a redesign.
When an existing office environment is put up for a redesign, it’s typically because the company has identified one or more key issues that must be dealt with. An office that is nothing but partitions and cubicles may be affecting employee interaction and engagement, for example, or perhaps the environment simply looks and feels dated in comparison to more modern designs. Either way, a redesign will almost always involve some element of problem solving, which in turn will affect the approach of the designer/architect.
#2 — Workspace and Layout
The typical end goal when designing or redesigning any office space is to create an environment that will foster an engaged, happy workforce and boost productivity, all while speaking volumes for company culture and—in many cases—brand identity. In scenarios where the space itself hasn’t been selected yet, designers are allotted the maximum amount of control in strategy. They can mark criteria for finding the right space, whether it be an entire building or a section of a building containing multiple buildout areas. Space and layout can and should also be tweaked to meet the goals of a plan in the case of redesigns, so long as the environment allows for it. If employee and customer experience is taken into heavy consideration from the very beginning of the planning process, there’s a strong chance that all parties involved will be happy with the end result.
#3 — Structural Design Elements
A typical full-time employee will find themselves in the office at least 40 hours per week, and often for much longer periods of time during particularly busy times. For mental health reasons alone, it’s important that today’s offices be as far off as possible from the sterile environments that many people are all too familiar with working in from the past. Smart designers and architects are taking advantage of playing up the character of the building an office is housed in by highlighting structural design elements that are already in place. Exposed brick and industrial doors, for example, can help to give the space a personality all its own, and since these elements are already there, designers don’t have to worry about added costs.
#4 — Workspace Lifespan
One factor that can sometimes go overlooked is the type of work that will actually be performed in the space at hand. While there are no hard and fast rules about what defines the duration of a project or scope of work, it’s typically possible to break things down into either long or short-term work environments. Most companies will find themselves in the former category, but “pop-up” workspaces are indeed becoming more popular in an era where many employees work remotely or travel regularly. Short-term workspaces are generally set up with efficiency and immediate productivity in mind, while long-term office environments tend to have more permanent amenities installed. Glass and wire partitions come to mind, as do “living walls” and other plant life appointments.
#5 — Workspace Flexibility
As trends go, there are perhaps none more prominent in modern office design than flexibility. It’s difficult to even have a discussion about designing an office environment without the mention of flexibility, especially when it comes to office furniture. The designers of today are focusing on flexibility from the very beginning of every plan they draft, taking into consideration options for open-office design such as “hotelling,” where multiple employees share a large, open-ended worktable that they can come and go from as they please. Many furniture manufacturers now rank flexibility as being the most important element of their designs and know that static, non-customizable office furniture is not what the majority of today’s companies are looking for. Flexibility is especially important in short-term workspaces, where the ability to shift a piece of furniture from one room to another on the fly is an essential priority.
At the end of the day, designing a functional work environment is a process that rarely follows a straight line from start to finish. Modifications mid-process are not uncommon, and changes must often be made in order to keep things on course. This being said, the five key considerations outlined above are part of an essential guideline that today’s best designers and architects employ in most, if not all of the projects they approach. When carefully integrated into a plan, these considerations can lead to a successful, efficient and attractive work environment no matter how large or small the space itself happens to be.
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