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Today's office: Into the great wide open | 5 May 2014

Todays office: Into the great wide open

The corner office and personal cubes are out. Open, collaborative workspace is in. The new office is saving companies money and making employees happier and more productive.

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In 2001, office workers in top-tier buildings had an average of 300 square feet of workspace they could call their own. By 2010, that area had shrunk by one-fourth, to 225 square feet, then to 170 square feet two years later, JLL research shows.

Personal workspace may be shrinking, but that doesn’t mean employees are feeling squeezed. The workplace is moving away from the corner office and the cube to shared workstations and open space designed to promote collaboration.

 

“Our schedules and work styles are different …and there are about 30 years' difference in life experience between us,” explained Elizabeth Brooks, Senior Government Affairs Representative for SCAN Health Plan in its Washington D.C. office.

Brooks joins a growing number of Millennials who entered a workforce shaped by offices with doors to close, but today situates them closer to managers and bosses in open spaces.

“Before our office restructuring, my boss and I had separate offices across the hall from one another,” she said. “Now we share collaborative office space.”

And while there are both benefits and drawbacks from being physically close and openly accessible to your colleagues and bosses, Brooks believes that she and her colleagues have become more productive.

Transitioning from private to collaborative spaces isn’t uncommon these days, as employers look for ways to provide activity-based workplaces that enhance collaboration and help connect employees via open office plans. In these workplaces, they can take advantage of large, open space with a variety of settings to get work done—and fuse employees’ work styles and habits.

“Workplace culture is only partly based on office space layout and design—the other piece is behavioral,” said Bernice Boucher, lead of JLL’s Workplace Strategy practice in the Americas. “Employers must establish norms and etiquette for open-plan workplaces so employees can reap the benefits of enhanced productivity, inclusion culture and collaboration.”

Rethinking Space

The Great Recession forced many companies to downsize. A JLL 2012 survey of 545 companies found that nearly one-third of commercial real estate executives had presided over a reduction in their company’s real estate portfolio since 2009.

But something else is happening. While the overall space reductions have slowed, and in some cases even been reversed, those same executives are now rethinking how to make better use of the space they have. (And 42 percent said they expect their real estate portfolio to grow over the next few years.)

Much of the office space companies own or lease is underused more than half of a typical workday. Today, office workers spend 80 percent of their time collaborating, up dramatically from 50 percent just a decade ago, according to a recent Gartner study.

Progressive employers are providing open office plans with activity-based work settings to promote collaboration and connect employees, who can select a different type of work setting—huddle room, project room, quiet space, social hub—on a day-to-day, or even hour-by-hour basis. While open workspace might work best for a collaborative project, an office or conference room may be better for concentration or confidentiality, such as developing a presentation, writing detailed documents or a one-on-one coaching session.

“Too many workplaces have decision-makers that are living in yesterday and not designing for tomorrow ... The key is to design workplaces with technology in mind. To get workplace programs right, you have to follow technology and mobile workers."

Dan Johnson, Global Director of Workplace Innovation for Accenture, the global management consulting firm.

Because 65 percent to 75 percent of most meetings involve only two to four people, activity-based work environments have smaller rooms—and more of them—and the ability to enhance collaboration with technology tools like whiteboards, WIFI and digital displays.

“Too many workplaces have decision-makers that are living in yesterday and not designing for tomorrow,” said Dan Johnson, Global Director of Workplace Innovation for Accenture, the global management consulting firm. “The key is to design workplaces with technology in mind. To get workplace programs right, you have to follow technology and mobile workers.”

He points to Microsoft, which in 2009 set goals to reduce individual workspace from 31 percent of total space to 18 percent, and to increase collaboration space from 24 percent to 35 percent. The tech giant added more collaboration space, open space and formal conference rooms.

The business benefits are real—and significant. Microsoft’s open, collaborative workplace near Amsterdam now generates among the highest sales revenue per head out of any Microsoft office, an Accenture study found. Employee satisfaction, productivity and collaboration have all improved—and real estate costs are down 30 percent.

“If you’re not thinking about how your workplace can attract and retain top talent, drive innovation, enable worker productivity and reduce corporate real estate costs, you’re already light years behind,” Boucher added.

Workplace productivity: five ways workplace strategy influences productivity

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