• By Benedict Dubbs, AIA LEED AP

Redefined workspaces - It ain’t your father’s office anymore

Today’s workplace is being redefined due to: a depressed world economy, extended employment of baby boomers, preferences of the X and Y generations, longer workdays, and technology. Gone, for the most part, are high walls that formed an impenetrable perimeter for office workers. Today most offices have been moved to the center of buildings, letting natural light penetrate deep into the space to transform the workplace environment.

The increased awareness of “green” design principles positively impacts the environmental quality of contemporary work spaces. The exchange of ideas, and gathering large amounts of data at an ever-growing pace, is the focus of many contemporary office workers. While there are still numerous tasks which are primarily “head down,” industry leaders such as Google make use of entire lengths of walls as brainstorming canvases, which can be photographed and emailed to colleagues around the world. This morning’s idea becomes this afternoon’s new policy, product or service.

Modern corporations must compete on the global stage for the best and brightest new employees, while maintaining the intellectual capital of their senior workers. Today’s graduates from top universities are already acclimated to new digital, fast-paced wireless technology and they are seeking employment with companies that have incorporated this philosophy into their work environments. Employment, productivity, satisfaction and overall well-being are all influenced by the modern work environment. Amenities such as on-campus health clinics, fitness centers, health-conscious food venues, dry-cleaning, and daycare are just a few of the programs and services provided by many progressive corporations.

The world economic downturn has refocused corporations’ attention on their real estate portfolios. Industry leaders are evaluating options to maximize the usage of every square foot of interior and exterior spaces throughout their campuses. Today’s modern workspace is a mix of high-walled executive offices, managers’ offices, workstations, call centers, intern workspaces, hoteling spaces, breakout rooms, conference rooms, private rooms, mothers’ rooms, and a variety of other teaming areas. These almost limitless variety of work, private, and collaborative spaces require more square footage per employee. But due to new ways to stay connected, employees moving within buildings, and working outside of corporate facilities; companies can reduce their overall square footage without minimizing employees work area. This streamlines operational costs and maintains a competitive advantage.

Today’s “office” will continue to change due to Cloud Computing as tablet PCs or iPads are utilized better and employees will be increasingly working from home or other satellite locations. They will only use the office as a “touching down” environment for face-to face meetings, training and other requiring personal interactions. The authors of the book Corporate Agility predict that workers will spend 30 percent of their time in a variety of “third places” (small facilities for everything from meetings to copying), 40 percent of their time in their corporate facility, and 30 percent in home offices.

It is staggering to think of the vast changes that have occurred since our father’s generation first began working in an office environment. But while we cannot predict future configurations of office buildings, one can only speculate about what might lie ahead for future workers. We know that these spaces must continue to change if we are to recruit new talent, retain existing experienced workers, and reap the benefits of new technologies.

Benedict Dubbs, AIA LEED AP is principal of Murray Associates Architects P.C.

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