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Integrating Design and Policy in the Work Place: It's Good for Business

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October 10, 2016

As Millennials overtake the workplace—today they account for 34 percent of the work force; by 2025 they will comprise almost 75 percent—much has been written about their working styles and the resulting changes in office design. Because Millennials prize team work and a sense of community at the work place, offices have been reconfigured to include more collaborative, open spaces, while the average individual office space has steadily shrunk.

But what happens to productivity when employees have no place to hunker down and concentrate? Advanced economies’ main product today is knowledge, and knowledge workers—who make up an estimated 28-45 percent of the U.S. work force—need space to think. Examples of knowledge workers include lawyers, engineers, doctors, architects, professional service providers, software engineers and accountants—all of whom “think” for a living.

Knowledge workers prefer closed offices, but they communicate better in open ones. They tend to move around when they work. They both collaborate and concentrate. They work in the office and communicate with people close by.

These tendencies dovetail nicely with the design trend of providing a variety of choices among work spaces. Now offices are starting to incorporate more enclosed, private spaces like “huddle rooms” and “war rooms” where employees can spend time in focused concentration. To illustrate, workspace designer and manufacturer Haworth has been implementing spaces such as:

  • “Pub booths” where workers can speak privately face to face
  • A tech lounge with comfortable seating and multiple screens
  • A “solution pit” with a large conference table for group brainstorming and team work
  • An “idea center” with smaller tables and fewer seats for closer collaboration
  • “Personal zones” where individual employees can work alone, quietly
  • A “knowledge worker pit” where knowledge workers can sit in small group of individual cubicles or desks
  • An open hub
  • A presentation room
  • “Open huddle” rooms with screens around which a few chairs are arranged
  • “Phone booths”—small, glassed-in offices with doors, a desk, and a chair
  • Convertible offices—cube-like environments with movable walls for various configurations
  • “Touchdown stations” where 3-4 desks are arranged perpendicular to one another and separated by short walls.

Marrying the Physical and the Mental

Beyond these physical efforts to foster focused concentration, many innovative companies are changing their policies to ensure that workers take the time they need to think. These companies are taking steps like mandating time off or dedicating specific hours in the work day to “quiet time.” In her book Beyond Measure, author and TED speaker Margaret Heffernan insists that businesses should establish fixed alone time for employees, when no meetings are allowed and employees only focus on their own work.

Business ethnographer and Harvard professor Leslie Perlow maintains that employees need to recharge their mental batteries by taking mandated time off. In response to her research, the Boston Consulting Group—where the work often demands unpredictable hours and perpetual availability from employees—decided to conduct an experiment in which designated teams were required to “turn off” for a certain time period in the middle of the week. Each member of the team had to stop working, turn off their email and cell phones, and “do something fun and relaxing,” according to an article in theHuffington Post. If a client or colleague needed them, someone else was assigned to cover for them.

The experiment was so successful that it evolved into a project planning program that has helped to curtail the unpredictability of employees’ work schedules. The program has resulted in happier, more productive consultants who say they plan to stay with BCG for the long term.

Programs like these, along with offices designed to offer opportunities for focused concentration, are changing the workplace for the better. They often boost retention significantly—a compelling outcome when Millennials tend to switch jobs six times every ten years—and result in more engaged employees. Integrating the physical with the mental, design with policy, creates a better work environment—and better business overall.

Guest Blog by David Stella, Creative Director, Office Images, Inc. David can be reached at 404.832.5988 or dstella@officeimagesinc.comDavid brings a fresh perspective to the office furniture industry and the workplace. With 20 years of experience in both interior design and project management, David strives to provide solutions that meet the business needs, utilizing his many areas of expertise within projects – offering solutions that exemplify ‘out-of-the-box’  thinking. David approaches challenges with enthusiasm and perseverance providing constant communication with the project team.