Open and collaborative workspaces have been the hot topic of client meetings for over a decade. With millennials entering the workforce, many companies felt the need to create a less formal, engaging environment by knocking down walls and flattening out hierarchy. When competing for talent, a vibrant, exciting workspace is key, after all. And, with the rise in Denver’s cost per square footage and the freedom of mobile technology, you can see why this layout has flourished.
The open floor plan, however, is not ideal for every business model, team or employee. We now are seeing the pendulum swing back toward center, where it feels just right for a lot of companies. As a commercial real estate professional, how do you find and help create spaces that balance the needs of workers who crave privacy while still appealing to those who want collaborative and informal places to connect with coworkers? You listen.
• Active listening. Seeking input from all levels of staff – from the C-suite to the administrative assistants – is essential to building a solid foundation for your project. While choosing and creating a client workspace may put you in the role of “therapist,” the most successful projects are the ones in which each team member feels they have had the chance to discuss their needs. Once you have collected feedback, ensure that your plan is meaningful and holistically supports the goals of the client. Recommending the trendiest building or style, for example, is not helpful to anyone if it doesn’t fit the company’s overall culture.
Generational differences often affect that culture, and a familiarity with these distinctions is critical for guiding a company toward one space or another. The baby boomer generation, in their experience, growth and development, see getting the bigger office as a badge of honor. Putting them in an open, flat-structured environment could feel like regression or punishment to them. In contrast, millennials, members of Generation Z and even Generation X, don’t see shared, open space as failure to rise.
Coming to an agreement on how to balance open and private spaces can be challenging to navigate. Help your clients acknowledge the role each position plays and the optimal environment needed for each team to thrive. An open floorplan is not an all-or-nothing proposition. If the finance, legal or human resources team requires privacy or the business’ structure calls for a separation of the C-suite, then separate, private offices or work areas may make sense. Handling all of these touch points delicately is a challenging, but necessary balancing act for most companies.
• Thoughtful space planning. Encourage clients to be thoughtful about space selection and planning up front. Putting a team of professionals in place before a space is selected could make a difference in which property a company ultimately chooses. Working simultaneously with architects, furnishing companies and designers will help clients strategically select the space that is right for them.
For example, a furniture company could help reduce its footprint by efficiently programming the space while incorporating sound-absorbing furniture to create privacy rather than walls. Or, an architect could conceive of creative structures like “huddles rooms” or “phone booths” that maximize space and privacy, while reducing the number of true offices needed. A designer could recommend design elements that could cut down on distractions and allow easily disrupted employees to focus on heads-down work.
With the rising prevalence of mobile technology, the type of space employees need is always evolving. Now, instead of wanting designated offices or desks, many employees prefer to have shared touchdown spaces: a place to charge their computer and phone. A recent trend has employees storing what they need to perform their duties in a locker or a mobile pedestal that they move to their new workspace each day.
• Creating neighborhoods. One trend that has taken off is creating separate “neighborhoods” within an office. Not only can neighborhoods balance the generational or work-style divide, but also they can provide a framework for each department to create its own culture within the company. An accounting team may choose a more individualized work environment for heads-down work with a large central meeting table at which their employees can easily share ideas, while the marketing department may want a more open team environment with tools such as mobile glass boards and interactive multimedia tools for brainstorming. Either way, most neighborhoods include collaborative spaces so they can “cross-pollinate” with other disciplines.
It is safe to say that the open and collaborative workspace is here to stay, but it has evolved over time to be more inclusive of everyone’s needs. As commercial real estate professionals, clients look to you to find the perfect space. Armed with the right information about the people you are trying to accommodate, their workstyles and their preferences, you can all but guarantee you will do just that.s
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