It may surprise some readers, but just like fashion and music, workplace designs can go in and out of style. The open office floor plan was the 'hot' office trend of the 2000s. In an attempt to build a more collegial atmosphere, organizations replaced rows of cubes - and other setups designed for privacy - with open workspaces. And with the rise of laptops and cell phones, employees did not need to be confined to a single office, let alone a single seat.
But like anything 'trendy', eventually, the open plan workplace went from "gotta have it" to "make it stop." In the last couple of years, there has been pullback around truly open workspaces, and employers have learned how to better balance the best of both worlds.
While a collaborative or open work environment may stoke creativity, improve communication, and allow for significantly better access to colleagues and peers - it does come with its drawbacks. We are recognizing that open workspaces may actually inhibit productivity because of the lack of privacy and quiet space. This is a problem because privacy is becoming increasingly important to employees as the line between work and life continues to blur.
So what will your future office look like? This trend is clear: a combination of both collaborative spaces and private spaces is the design of the future. Companies need to create flexible, adaptable spaces that allow for both open collaboration and privacy as well as for a workforce that will become increasingly mobile.
Another trend that certainly won't be disappearing anytime soon: flexible seating options, such as soft seating and adjustable height workstations. These create work areas that are not only adaptable but also beneficial to your health.
Creating a Flexible Workspace Doesn't Need to be Complicated... or Expensive
No matter the budget, there are always options if your organization is interested in updating its office space, regardless of whether it requires renovating from a cube farm or an entirely open office. There is no need to start from scratch when changing an office floor plan.
If an office consists of primarily private workspaces, you might see an area once dedicated to cubes become modernized by installing gathering tables to create a collaborative space. If an office consists of predominantly open spaces, there are modular panels and tables and desks on wheels that can be used to restructure and rearrange the area as needed.
This creates an adaptable environment that allows for both collaboration and privacy and empowers you, the employee, to select the work environment that best suits your needs that day.
You can also "casually" divide your workspace by using less obtrusive desktop dividers or even plants to create separate spaces. And who doesn't mind having a little more greenery in the office?
When designing an office with a remote workforce in mind, companies are considering options that allow for an influx of remote workers. For instance, one design option you're likely to see more and more is the docking station, a modern alternative to the traditional cube.
Docking stations and modular workspaces let employees come and go with their technology however it suits them best, and help employees easily transition from mobile to in-office. Another effective option is a bullpen area that can be used as a check-in point for a remote workforce when they are in the office.
The Workforce is Constantly Evolving - Don't Expect Your Office to Remain Static
I know that employers will pour a lot of effort and stress into creating an ideal work environment, but it's not a perfect science. Creating a balanced work environment is what matters. Companies that embrace this combination of the private and the collaborative and that utilize both open and personal spaces, provide employees with autonomy to choose their ideal work style - rather than forcing them to conform to one that may actually diminish their output.
When employees have the power to work the way that best suits them, it creates a positive atmosphere that reflects outward and manifests itself in greater brand awareness and more interest in the organization from top talent.
And while a flexible workspace may be the trend of the (near) future, there is a reason to believe this trend may go out of style as well (just like so many boy-bands). Trends come and go, and while an adaptable workspace may be suitable for the next ten years, who knows - we may be a fully remote workforce in twenty.
Work can happen anywhere, and as the line between work and life continues to blur, companies need to keep evolving and embracing the best ways to engage employees and keep them productive and happy!
The key is for employers to be willing to adjust and for employees to be willing to speak up - because if the office workspace is not evolving to fit the needs of the people working there, what purpose is it really serving?
About the Author
Chris DeMeo is a workplace expert and senior executive with Staples Business Advantage, the world's largest business solutions provider. With nearly 20 years of experience leading national initiatives for Staples, Chris possesses a unique ability to lead, collaborate and deliver side by side with employers and partners as it relates to creating productive and collaborative office environments and meeting the workforce's evolving needs.