Trends in the workplace are changing at an increasing rate – open plan, private, hoteling, third space. Office space can really be reduced to three basic types of work, space for focus, space to think and space to meet.
When an organization hires an architect, interior designer or workplace strategist to plan an office, most people assume that they will be losing their private office and will all be working in cubicles. The reality is that the private office is not going away. In many professions, the private office is a very important. But, there are nuances to its use and configuration. In essence, an office is a room. A private office might be used by an individual for years or for an afternoon. How we think about space is a very important part of understanding how much space is actually needed for an organization. Through flexible scheduling and sharing of space, “office hoteling”, we can maximize the efficiency of office space for individuals who do not need dedicated space. Think, “I need an office, but do I need it all the time?”
Furniture and its configuration is a very significant variable in the equation. Based on length of occupancy and intended use (focus, thinking or meeting), different types of furniture solutions should be considered.
Let’s look at a typical 120 square foot office, 10’-0” x 12’-0”. There are many configurations possible, configurations that should relate to the three basic modes of work. Not all offices need to be alike.
A typical office contains a desk, chair, storage/ bookshelves and maybe a guest chair. This office is fully functional for a variety of modes. Introducing a modular furniture system could allow for a lighter, more contemporary feel. This is a basic office and one can easily understand how focus can happen here. Focus could be reading, answering email, anything that a person does individually.
Work, especially creative work – writing, engineering, planning, design, etc., requires a place to think. Many studies have shown that thinking doesn’t usually happen at a desk. Adding lounge furniture to the more typical office creates a comfortable space to think in a private setting. Workplaces are exploring the fusion of home and work, soft furniture is making its way into private offices again. Stepping away from the desk in into a cozy chair in one’s office can change perspective.
Third space, the workspace between office and home, is public collaborative space – the café, open meeting areas, etc. But, the growing need for more private collaborative space is affected the office.
If we reconfigure the private office with one large table, possibly counter height, and a few stools, add a video screen on one wall with camera and speakers, we can create a “meeting office” for one person, a small group, and the option of sharing data or teleconferencing. This is a hybrid office/conference room.
By sharing office space, assigning it and not dedicating it to individuals, significant space reductions are possible. An organization, however, may need dedicated space, and that should be carefully studied and understood, as should the culture of the organization. If flexibility is possible, fewer empty and fewer number of offices will result. Along with flexible assignments comes the opportunity to provide multiple types of the offices discussed here and allow users to select and book the room type they need for that day or hour. This may be accomplished through a programmable room signage system, or a simple sign-up sheet on the door.
The private office is not going away, but how we use it is changing. The benefits of sharing space is greater efficiency as well as space that is more finely tuned to the needs of its users.