If you’re working in a place that embraces endless rows of cubicles decorated in part with nametags of the employees whose belongings fill the desk drawers and cover the walls, you’re becoming part of a minority.
Many companies today are embracing a new approach to corporate office design that takes employees away from the old days of going to the same desk every day for eight hours, where they do the same work and head home with no variety whatsoever and gives them an opportunity to try something new.
That means no assigned seating and multiple areas around the office that foster collaboration, brainstorming and other creative thinking.
“We’re in a moment of reimagining what our institutions are capable of,” said Margot Douaihy, moderator of a panel discussion at the 2018 AVIXA AV Executive Conference in Tampa, Fla., that focused on strategic partnerships in the corporate market.
Kay Sargent, senior principal and director of workforce at HOK, says thinking about new designs for their own corporate headquarters will help them design better projects for their own customers.
“When you’re designing for the future, you have to understand what’s coming,” says Sargent. “Clients have awoken to the fact that change happens constantly. Location, location, location is now flexibility, flexibility, flexibility. If we do anything to make people unsuccessful, it can really cost that company money.
“Experiences don’t have to suck. We can use technology to improve experiences. We’re not doing that enough. IT, facilities, real estate and HR need to sit down at the table to make smart decisions,” she says.
About 80 percent of company expenses go to its people, says Sargent, while only about 10 percent is dedicated to corporate real estate, meaning company leaders should always ask themselves, “How do we create compelling spaces where people want to come?”
Katherine Williams, senior VP of workplace strategy for JLL, says remote working and shareable spaces have transformed the office environment but not everyone has embraced the changes.
“You get a job and you’re back in kindergarten with a desk with your name on it,” says Sargent with a laugh. “We need to design an office like a family home.” Activity-based working is an approach that means designing an office in a way that will “empower people to choose the right space,” she says.
“If you don’t design a space that’s tech-savvy, people won’t use it,” says Sargent. “You should fire any designer who comes in talking about what’s new and trendy. If they’re not asking you 1,000 questions to tailor a system for who you are, they’re doing you a disservice.”
“We’re designing spaces that make it impossible to concentrate,” she says. “You should also design a space for low and even no tech.” It takes 15 to 20 minutes to get into deep thought but we’re distracted by technology every seven minutes at the most, says Sargent.
Williams knows there’s still some work to be done, if you’ll pardon the pun, when it comes to having some CEOs utilize the technology that’s available to them.
“You really need to leverage desktop video to help with relationships,” says Williams.
For all the talk of and reliance on technology, Sargent prefers simplicity.
“Half of the tech, people don’t know how to use,” she says. “The auto industry is kicking our butts. Why aren’t we talking about autonomous offices?” Sargent says it’s important to leave room in the so-called office of tomorrow for those who are pretty happy with the offices of yesterday.
“Your option to sit at the same desk and do your work every day shouldn’t preclude people who don’t want to do that,” she says. “The way your space is designed should be a reflection of your culture.”
If it’s not set up that way, says Williams, “it doesn’t feel genuine. Change management is such a key piece of this.”
“We’re creatures of habit, but too many managers still manage by presence, no performance,” says Sargent. “For companies where it does align with their culture, it’s amazing to watch.”
Before making major changes to your office, corporate leaders should make sure to put together a webpage that answers most of the major questions employees will have about them, says Sargent.
“The first time you talk about changes, the only thing people think about is ‘me.’ You have to put a stop to the rumors. People will say crazy things and it’s like toothpaste—once it’s out, you can’t put it back in,” she says.
As technology becomes even more ubiquitous, “there’s going to be a point where we’ll wonder why we lugged all our stuff around with us,” says Sargent.
Voice -based technology “has to get to a more sophisticated level” before it’s reliable enough to be a regular part of corporate culture, says Sargent.
“We have to consciously decide where we draw the line,” she says.