How Science Is Influencing Office Design

Another recent Wall Street Journal article, “How Neuroscience Is Optimizing the Office” (John Medina and Ryan Mullenix, May 1, 2018), shares the findings of an award-winning architectural firm and a molecular biologist who team up to research the office environment.  While some of their findings may seem self-evident on a more general level, the idea of taking similar concepts that we know to be important personally and applying them to the work environment is encouraging many office designers to take a fresh look at certain decisions and selections.

Noise Can Lower Productivity

One of their biggest findings hinged on the impact of noise in the working environment.  Voices that are over a certain decibel level and even those that may not be but are engaged in “halfversations” – where a person hears only half of someone’s conversation (if that person is on the phone, for example) – are especially distracting and damaging to overall office productivity.  To combat these noise nuisances, the authors suggest “sonically diverse environments” to keep collaborative work spaces working, but more private or traditional desk areas quieter.

There are a lot of options when it comes to sound masking efforts in the office.  Some furniture pieces have sound masking features that are built right in and can either be employed or stowed when not needed, allowing private conversations to stay private.  Sound masking panels are also a great way to add color and emphasize your branding while keeping overall noise in check.  Another great option focuses on the importance of soothing background noise.  LogiSon® Acoustic Network is an award-winning sound masking system that reduces noise in office environments and works especially well in wide open spaces with higher ceilings.  This system distributes a soft ambient sound throughout a facility, masking frequencies in speech, which helps to increase privacy and reduce disruptions, while also covering incidental noises that can affect comfort and concentration.  The sound can also be customized for different areas throughout an office depending on the needs.

...But Open Offices Help Creativity Spread

Although noise is of special concern in more open spaces, the authors did note that these types of spaces – which many businesses have been outfitting with benching systems and a range of alternative seating options in small group clusters – foster more creative thinking.  Colors also have a big impact on the office environment, but for some reason – as much as we might add it to our homes – the emphasis on color becomes seemingly forgotten once we step into an office.  Adding specific colors – “blue for stimulation, green for focus…orange for decision-making” – cannot only help motivate and enhance employees’ efforts but can also be strategically aligned with a company’s own brand, allowing for the visual reflection of the company directly in the office, and offering a striking difference from your competition, which current and prospective clients will notice when they come to visit.  And now that so many furniture pieces come in a range of color options – including sound masking panels, storage doors, and chairs – it’s easier than ever to incorporate these colors throughout the environment.

For many, a focus on a healthy lifestyle is important, but only recently is this being carried over into the office environment.  Yet helping to keep employees healthy is not only the right thing to do, but also makes sense from financial and overall operational points of view.  Office design can help be a part of this too – incorporating more open spaces that encourage walking back and forth to talk with someone and creating other spaces within the office specifically designated for employees to take a stretching or yoga break (for example).  Adding a variety of sit-stand desks is also a great way to make sure your workforce has the option to move around more throughout the day, even on the busiest of days.

A more focused workforce is a healthier and more productive workforce.  Select furniture pieces, designs, and technologies can help enhance the workplace environment to achieve these goals.

Unassigned Seating: Coming Soon to an Office Near You

Earlier in the year we talked about new trends in corporate work spaces with specific mention to “hoteling,” or the idea of replicating a hotel lobby – creating an open floor plan with different types of seating groupings – a sofa on one side of the room, round tables with chairs on another, high tops and bistro seating in one corner, and booths in another.  Noticeably absent in this type of work environment are individual desks – and according to a recent Wall Street Journal article (“Don’t Get Too Used to Your Own Desk,” Sue Shellenbarger, May 15, 2018), this is a trend that more and more bigger corporations are applying.

New designs in office furniture certainly make these work landscapes not only possible, but potentially more productive too.

Benching Systems

Benching systems are open-concept workstations generally used for quick “touchdowns” (employees coming into the office for a limited time).  Although benching systems offer minimal privacy, they are designed specifically with collaboration in mind.  And with their clean lines and built-in wires that stay hidden, they look good too!

In an unassigned desk setting, benching systems work well as a main staple with a combination of full-panel work stations (semi-private spaces that include some acoustic considerations through the use of paneling and tack boards, feature storage options such as upper hutches or lower filing cabinets, and provide increased work surfaces) and even private office spaces (whether previously existing as a result of the original construction, or created by using floor-to-ceiling panels that offer an enhanced adaptability of any space).  These different settings allow employees the option of where to work based on what they’re working on – and whether they need a small, quiet space of their own or are looking to brainstorm and collaborate with their co-workers.

Preparing Your Workforce for Change

If your organization makes the decision to forego individual desks, the article suggests that you be ready to allow for some time for employees to get used to the new working arrangements, and environment.  Implement training so that people can discuss and understand the ground rules of these new shared spaces (which might cover issues such as noise levels and cleanliness, for example).  Also recognize that while some employees might take to the change right away, others may need some time getting used to shared spaces – and some might never fully embrace the change.

One of the side benefits of unassigned seating is a decrease in paper usage.  With no individual desk filing cabinet, or specific desk on which to pile things up, more employees tend to shift toward digital storage, which not only reduces the need for space, but also reduces printing and paper costs.

Speaking of space, companies that have shifted to this approach have realized significantly less need for square footage.  Filing capacity is one of the reasons; also, many people in this situation also have the option of working remotely, and more employees start taking advantage of this opportunity.

With the variety of seating options and office furniture available today, companies that decide to go the route of unassigned seating can be better positioned for success based on their furniture choices.  Talk to us at Office Gallery about all of your workplace questions, and we can help design a space that makes sense for your organization.