Workplace Design To Support Work

Facility executives can have great impact on productivity through workplace design.

By Joe Flynn, CFM, LEED AP and Jenna Meyers, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP
From the June 2017 Issue

Workplace strategy focuses on marrying three important aspects of the modern workplace: 1) applying better space utilization metrics, 2) optimizing real estate costs, and 3) updating an office space to mesh with current design thought. However, none of that really means anything unless a workplace is designed correctly. Simply put: workplace strategy is first and foremost about people. A company can have the most streamlined business model and the coolest looking office, but if the space isn’t uniquely designed to suit their employees and the way they work best, then odds are, the company won’t be operating at maximum productivity and efficiency.

This workspace occupied by the IT, finance, and administrative groups of a worldwide financial services firm in Boston, MA was designed by Margulies Perruzzi Architects. The new 100,000 square foot space includes design elements that address the need for increased collaboration and greater visibility. (Photo: Warren Patterson Photography)

While the design solution for the ideal workplace will vary by industry and company, research shows that the design challenges remain constant. For a workplace strategy to be successful in any industry, businesses must focus on these critical aspects to:

  • Inspire creativity with collaboration and technology, support for mobile work, and quiet space;
  • Attract and retain talent by creating community, supporting social interaction, and promoting wellness; and
  • Enhance mission engagement by crafting an image and increasing brand awareness.

Boston-based Margulies Perruzzi Architects (MPA) unveiled new workplace strategy research to help businesses envision and leverage their workplace to inspire tomorrow’s talent. Here’s how facility executives can leverage real estate and workplace strategy to accomplish these goals.

Inspire creativity. While the office is an important physical asset, companies should consider the workplace as another tool to help workers do their job. We know that place impacts mood, so it makes sense that an inspiring workplace designed to meet the functional tasks of workers will improve creativity. Collaboration and technology, support for mobile work, and the creation of quiet space all contribute to a work environment inspired by creativity.

“Collaboration” simply means “meeting.” Some believe increasing worker interaction will increase innovative thinking; indeed, creativity is often a collaborative process. How do facility planners create interesting, perhaps even fun, ways to redefine the traditional “meeting”?

While open area collaboration sets the stage for more spontaneous knowledge sharing, its placement and accessibility to workers play critical factors. Careful consideration to the way people work needs to be achieved before identifying how much open versus closed collaboration space is needed.

Collaboration space, whether open or enclosed, needs to be supported by technology to be truly successful. If collaboration space is highly functional from this perspective, it will trigger spontaneous team gatherings and be used as intended. The more responsive a company is to technology, the greater it will support workforce productivity.

With advancement in handheld tools and cloud computing, workers can be productive anywhere. Advances in mobile work technologies allow people that work remotely to collaborate with each other. The line between “office” and “home” continues to blur as technology provides capabilities to work remotely.

When employees have control over how and where they work, they choose space most productive for the task at hand. By creating open, inspiring areas that support collaboration as well as designing quiet spaces for concentrated work, the workplace can drive sharing of ideas, employee engagement, and a fostered sense of community.

Attract and retain talent. Competition for the best talent is fierce. Forward-thinking organizations are re-evaluating their workspace by providing amenities and resources that support well-being and a sense of community, in order to reduce stress and employee turnover, increase teamwork, and strengthen the company’s vision and values.

Creating a sense of community with spaces for people to gather, eat, meet, learn, and play leads the top five ways to improve employee engagement, according to Herman Miller’s “Workplace Trends U.S.” In today’s workplace design, there is an effort to cluster these activities together to create a central hub or common area that can serve both business and social activities.

Supporting social interaction between employees is a top selling point for new talent and can help spark ideas, increase employee engagement, and create a sense of well-being. Spaces that reinforce interaction, such as corporate cafés, fitness centers, game rooms, and outdoor seating areas, are fundamental mechanisms for enhancing the social culture.

To further attract and retain talent, companies are focusing on promoting wellness in the workplace. Companies recognize that healthy workers perform better and are more productive, and there’s an effort to provide workers with exercise, movement, and relaxation during the workday.

Enhance mission engagement. The design of a corporate workplace delivers a message—to employees, vendors, customers, and the public—about a company’s values.

Workplace design can help a company craft an image and help it attract the types of employees and customers it’s looking for. Even in leased space, the choice of building and its amenities become part of the image associated with the tenants.

The workspace is an important physical asset within which a high degree of ingenuity and productivity is enabled. Increased brand awareness within the workspace serves as a reminder of the overall corporate strategy and contributions of employees. A workplace in which everyone is aware of the company mission through various types of media helps create an engaged workforce.

Workplace Strategy in the Professional Services Industry

There is a great shift in thinking about how the qualities of a work environment affect the productivity of those who inhabit it. Professional services firms in law, accounting, financial services, and consulting are striving to create environments that inspire a much greater degree of productivity and innovation.

With the specific intent of creating solid benchmarking data, MPA maps the design trends of all its clients within the Greater Boston business community. The firm’s research has gleaned some useful facility management data about the professional services industry:

  • Space metrics: Law firms still extensively use private offices, while other professional services sectors are in line with shifting industry standards toward less square feet per person. High performance workspaces in other sectors offer 150 square feet per person; MPA found that its professional services clients average 232 square feet per person.
  • Workstation standards: Although professional services firms are reducing workstation size, it is at a slower rate than the industry standard. Only 27% of MPA professional services clients are going compact with 6’x6’ cubes or benching.
  • Collaboration spaces: Professional services firms have 22% more large meeting spaces than industry average (2.2 compared to 1.8 per 100 employees) to accommodate large functions (e.g., reviewing financial findings with multiple partners). In general, accounting firms need fewer meeting spaces than other sectors.
  • Private offices: While financial services firms are following industry trends toward reducing private offices, accounting and law firms still rely on private offices, primarily to preserve client confidentiality. The average private office ratio (as a percentage of total seats) for MPA clients in professional services is 32%, compared to 21% of MPA clients across all sectors.
  • Transparency: While confidentiality is critical, today’s rising talent increasingly seeks workplaces where transparency unites the workforce, removing barriers to collaboration and mentorship.

No two law, accounting, or financial services firms are alike. The right workplace design solves the unique challenges — and supports the unique strengths — of its workplace culture.

productivityFlynn is a senior associate and workplace strategist at Margulies Perruzzi Architects (MPA), and Meyers is a senior interior designer at the firm. productivity

Consistently ranked as one of Boston’s top architectural and interior design firms, MPA services the healthcare, corporate, professional services, research and development, and real estate communities.

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  1. You should speak to office lighting, a very important component to workplace productivity and health.

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