As with their homes, office dwellers can always make a wish list of what they want for their space: ergonomically enhanced furniture, softer carpeting, better views, and closer access to shredders and coffee. The desires are endless, yet space is finite. Even the most modest units are subject to tenant improvements through the efficient use of square footage. Rather than creating more space, these upgrades can find more space by re-envisioning and reconfiguring the unit, which helps employees work more efficiently and comfortably while at the office.
Be Malleable with Your Preferences
The old adage about fitting a round peg into a square hole remains true. Your office suite is bound by walls that define its dimensions. Imagination is a wonderful capacity, but realism is equally beneficial. One thing going for tenants is that the building architects design units to be nimble—i.e., within the actual boundaries, changes, and improvements of commercial property are achievable and even encouraged. So, the best cases are when tenants move in with a clear understanding of how they want offices to function and to what end.
For example, offices and cubicles were once exclusive and dominant, but the modern designs recognize the importance of more physical interaction between all levels of employees. Consequently, units may place a central meeting area at the core of the space, with individual work areas situated concentrically around it.
All Space Can Be Common
The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic reveals changed attitudes about a business as a place, and about the idea of “going to work.” Many became comfortable working from home, although there were drawbacks to this from a management perspective. Drawing employees back often involves the compromise of the office serving as a headquarters more than a home—i.e., a place where they report for specific purposes rather than a place where they nest for eight hours. The reason for coming together at the same location is to improve personal dynamics, boost morale, and, most importantly, exchange ideas and coordinate their execution.
Time spent in such an atmosphere is beneficial, but it need not be static. Work areas that are shared according to the needs of the day are less apt to be used for reward and punishment. Instead, bonds can be formed with colleagues who would otherwise occupy offices far down the hall. Another big plus is that personnel do not feel stuck in one place to perform their duties. Common areas can include drop-in desks adjacent to meeting tables, where conferences can convene on short notice and without long agendas.
Square Footage Without Foot Traffic
As doing business increasingly turns more virtual, office designers are rethinking the reception area—you know, the gigantic desk with an equally massive PBX telephone console. Oh, there are also those uncomfortable chairs that line the walls, where visitors wait for appointments. At many companies, those chairs are gathering dust, and calls are going directly to cell phones. When there are face-to-face meetings, busy associates can phone ahead with their estimated time of arrival rather than cooling their heels in a waiting area.
While the traditional model still works for some businesses, other enterprises have seen fit to make the space available for other functions. Some of the redesigned front rooms are being converted into a sort of break room for guests, where they can grab a coffee or a snack if they arrive early for their meeting or if the host is running late. Modern offices often have transparent partitions instead of walls, so the visitor can see the person upon arrival.
Not All Space Is Mixed-Use
This begs the question: what good is the office design if some area is not purposed for a specific function? Break rooms and kitchens are one example, although they, too, can serve as meeting areas. What about key personnel who need to keep files and their own technology on-site? In fact, some parts of the office must be dedicated. This reality, however, does not mean that this space is immune to streamlining and reorganization. Such decisions are based on need and physical capacity.
Saving Space Saves Trees
People have been hearing about the paperless office for decades, but somehow, the paper keeps piling up, while filing cabinets encroach everywhere. Forward-thinking architects realize that if you build for paper, it will come. Therefore, they design offices without accounting for copying machines and printers at every workstation. The result is a feeling of openness, even in small quarters. Of course, certain legal documents and other records require a hard copy. Yet the digital revolution is finally here, and office designers are recognizing the value of cloud storage and electronic document management.
When Things Are Looking Up
Probably the biggest waste of valuable real estate in a traditional office lies over the heads of the labor force. Designers are now thinking less in terms of square footage and more in terms of cubic footage. If a building allows, higher ceilings can make way for tiered spaces, complete with lofts and balconies. These components can serve as private workspaces, storage compartments, or additional meeting areas. Utilizing height turns area challenges into opportunities of volume. Incorporating this third dimension helps to retain an open atmosphere without making unreasonably hard sacrifices.
With the dominance of Zoom meetings and videoconferencing, contemporary office designs are integrating large screens and monitors with meeting rooms and open areas. The flip side of these devices is a facility outfitted with camera technology to complete the communication loop. Other tenant enhancements include greater use of plants and greenery that can improve mood and overall health. In addition, lighting is conceived for that same goal—i.e., creating a more welcoming atmosphere and regulating circadian rhythms. These improvements to the office space stimulate better performance and make for happier, healthier, and more reliable occupants.