Flexible workspace design can have a lasting positive impact on your employees, inspiring them to work more creatively and collaborate more effectively on projects. At HMC Architects, we so strongly believe in the power of flexible workspace design that while we’re in the process of remodeling our own offices in Oakland, California, our teams are working out of a WeWork space. The dynamic WeWork building offers everything from yoga studios and cafes to conference rooms and quiet, individual workstations. This experience has helped us to build on our key design strategies for the multifunctional work environments we create for our clients. The spaces we design not only help our clients’ employees thrive, but also help company leaders do the following:
To retain and attract the most talented employees to your company, you’ll need to offer a few office amenities that your competitors may not have—beyond free cappuccino. The amenities that have the greatest impact on happiness include fully stocked cafes, comfortable lounges, and open areas with soft flooring where staff can stretch or exercise. The amenities you choose should also reflect your company’s ethos and core values. For example, to foster a culture of collaboration, you might design a lounge on every floor. Convenience and comfort will encourage more active teamwork. You’ll also need to make sure that office operations run smoothly to increase productivity. After all, happy employees are 12 percent more productive than their less happy peers.
Flexible workspace design encourages employee engagement on a daily basis. Allowing staff to spend time outside of their cubicles and in zones better suited to specific tasks can improve mood and productivity. For example, if a sales manager needs to phone clients, she can move to a soundproof phone booth away from the chatter of coworkers. Without noise distractions, she’ll complete the task much faster. To build specialized, creative work zones, discover what your staff needs to be more successful. Do employees need more private spaces? Do managers and training teams need conference rooms outfitted with high-definition digital monitors? Does your cafe accommodate informal team brainstorming sessions? Each zone should be designed with your employees’ task requirements and comfort in mind.
The layout of office spaces should respond directly to the workflow of occupants. Your marketing and art department teams, for example, function much differently than your human resources and accounting teams, so their spaces should be conducive to their unique operations, needs, and movements. An art department relies heavily on collaboration, so you’ll want to design an open office space that’s free of hurdles that might get in the way of productivity. On the other hand, designing individual HR offices off a long, straight corridor will provide the necessary privacy for interviews and eliminate distractions during performance reviews.
You’ll also want to consider the ways in which materials and colors can improve workflow. While color is most often used to enhance space aesthetics, it can also be used to complement wayfinding, identify teams, and even communicate unity and equity within an organization. Laminate floors with brightly colored walls work well in more creative spaces that include wheeled furniture. Carpeting dampens sound, so it’s ideal for quiet office zones. When we designed the McAfee Headquarters Executive Briefing Center in Santa Clara, California, we used taupe and red carpeting to not only help with acoustics, but also to signify different zones: red carpeting marked the main corridor while taupe carpeting marked seating areas and conference rooms.
By designing with a focus on improving the workflow, you’ll maximize the space you have and increase employee performance and satisfaction in the process.
Mobile technology allows employees to do their work on smartphones, laptops, and tablets from anywhere in a building, not just from their desks. To support your most mobile workers, provide a reliable wireless connection throughout the building. This could be challenging if your offices include a lot of concrete, brick, stone, or tile features, as each material can interfere with WiFi signals. Wireless repeaters and other Wi-Fi signal extenders can help you overcome signal challenges and provide internet access to every employee—even those located in basement-level offices. Chairs and tables that include an embedded power source will prevent employees from having to find an outlet or return to their desks to charge their devices.
Supporting mobility through flexible workspace design will foster immediate creativity. If an employee comes up with an innovative idea while walking around the office, he or she can jot the note down on a mobile device or email the idea to a peer. Supporting mobility also requires employees to have movable and lockable storage, so that they feel their belongings are safe as they move from space to space.
It’s also important to give employees a place in which to appropriate. In an agile and mobile workplace, people still appreciate opportunities to share family or pet photos. While this may not be possible without assigned seating, there are other ways that allow peer connection and engagement. In HMC offices, for example, digital screens display photos, social media posts, and company news.
The most effective offices are designed to meet a range of employee desires and physical needs, Therefore, a variety of workstations should be provided. Some employees require a simple desk and an ergonomic chair with ample back support in order to concentrate on their work; others prefer to stand while they work to improve circulation and avoid being sedentary. Height-adjustable workstation tables allow staff to sit or stand depending on their preferences. Modular chairs and ottomans will allow employees to stretch out during breaks. By accommodating various employee needs through flexible workstation design, you’ll foster good employee health and meet diversity initiatives.
Beyond supporting diversity, flexible workstations and furniture also foster collaboration. Just as incorporating innovative classroom furniture Into modern school design facilitates student engagement and teamwork, when employees can move chairs and tables easily, they’re more likely to work together. The best strategy for incorporating flexible furniture in your design is to subtly zone spaces. Start by locating areas in a room where furniture will be most effective. For example, alcoves in cafes or near large windows are perfect areas for modular couches and ottomans. Dining options and natural light will attract employees to the area, while comfortable seating will encourage them to stay and enjoy collaboration more. Conference rooms are also ideal spaces for flexible, multifunctional work surfaces. A large conference table can double as a ping-pong table during lunch breaks. By offering your employees collaboration and relaxation options, they’ll feel more powerful and more connected to your brand’s ethos.
Lighting and acoustics play vital roles in flexible workspace design, as they set the mood for spaces and can improve employee concentration and productivity. It’s difficult to read documents in a dimly lit room or concentrate on writing proposals while sitting next to a noisy printer. When designing workspaces, optimize for daylighting to create a healthier and energy-efficient space. If it’s not possible to include large windows, incorporate cool white artificial lighting to mimic natural lighting. Also, mix different types of lighting to ensure that every corner of a room is well-lit. Direct downlighting, warm accent lighting, and indirect ambient lighting can all be used in tandem to highlight areas of the room that are most important. To improve the acoustics in a space, you’ll need to balance sound absorption and ambient noise. A room that’s too quiet can be just as distracting for workers as a noisy room; ambient noise offers a pleasant audio backdrop that promotes relaxation. To achieve the right balance use soundproofing materials on walls or ceilings combined with ambient sound machines.
Humans are innately connected to nature, so it makes sense that employees perform better when working in spaces that feature views or even qualities of the outdoors. Incorporating biophilic design in office spaces can be fairly simple. For example, place open office spaces, cafes, and lounges at the outer edges of the building to take advantage of views. Incorporate glass walls where rooms with views meet inner spaces, and provide curtains that can easily be closed to create privacy. In basement spaces where no natural views are available, mimic the look of nature through color choices and design elements, such as murals of landscapes, paintings or photographs of nature, and artificial lighting that mimics daylighting.
Workspaces should provide opportunities for employees to better connect with one another and with your company’s ethos. When you hire HMC Architects to design your office building, we’ll ensure that every element of the design makes the right impact on your employees and reflects your corporate culture. We’ll collaborate with you throughout an immersive design process, help you set clear, specific project goals, and offer innovative solutions unique to your specific needs. We also often provide clients with a 3D model of their projects using Virtual Reality. This allows them to ‘walk’ through rooms to confirm that our design plan aligns perfectly with their goals and core values.
We design for humanity from cradle to grave, and that includes designing for the workforce. We are ready to partner with you to create functional, agile workspaces that improve employee satisfaction, productivity, and collaboration. To learn more about flexible workspace design strategies, contact HMC Architects today. If you have specific questions about our strategies, email Sergio Lechuga, Senior Interior Designer, directly.