Traditionally, the average lifespan of office design is upwards of 10+ years, but the forces that drive the workplace may shift as often as 6 months. For companies that pay a great deal of attention to fostering innovation and productivity in the office, the biggest challenge is to set up an office space that will adapt to a variable timetable of advances in technology, business objectives, and the evolution of the workforce.
Of course, no one can predict the future; what’s cutting-edge now can become obsolete in five years’ time. The key is to set up an office space that will evolve along with industry advances, rather than trying to keep up with them. Here are four basic steps to consider when designing an effective office plan that looks to the future.
Step 1. Be Savvy about Furniture
If you’re a small business, the temptation to go for the least expensive and/or most functional furniture is high. However, if you’re looking to future-proof your workspace, the focus should be on choosing the most “adaptable” furniture. Modular desks and seating that can be rearranged to fit together in a variety of styles and spaces will guarantee you will not lose money in the event of expanding your team or moving to another location.
Furthermore, with more and more studies linking employees’ wellness to engagement and motivation at work, office managers should not neglect the health benefits of office furniture. Ergonomic chairs that promote good posture, height-adjustable desks that can be set at a desired position, and other furnishings that encourage people to steer away from their regular static pose are your best bet.
Step 2. Accommodate Change
One of the worst things a company can do is lock in on a design and never change. Most companies designing their offices to go with whatever style is popular at that particular time, but that can often become old, stale, and completely uninspiring after a couple of years. The key is to articulate where your business is headed and proceed to making sure your culture is adaptable to new needs. Since you’re probably going to accommodate more than one generation of workers, you must consider the difference in their work behavior and the tools and practices they need for collaboration.
Step 3. Ditch Single-Use Spaces
With the soaring cost of office space, companies are becoming more concerned with real estate efficiency and are starting to design office spaces with multiple functionalities. For instance, executive conference rooms are not used solely for board meetings anymore; they can easily double as spaces that can serve for collaboration purposes or for focused work. Lunch and break rooms can be used for impromptu meetings and events, while touchdown benches can be used as lunch areas or as workspaces. Setting up and using all these extra spaces for work allows you to add extra workstations as your team expands.
Step 4. Plan for Mobility
An increasingly mobile workforce no longer pinned to the desktop computer is forcing companies to reconsider office design. To make sure your office space rapidly adjusts to the changing needs of mobile workers, it may be time to consider changing the layout, taking down walls and creating more collaborative spaces, as well as the furniture. Since workers from different departments may need to use the same workstation when they come into office, it’s necessary to purchase anatomically-correct desks and seating that adapt to their different builds and heights. Furniture manufacturers are becoming aware of the growing employee mobility trend and are offering furniture systems that are more functional, take up less space, and have integrated electrical and IT systems.
The future workforce will be made up of mobile and flexible workers who will seek out employers whose corporate behavior aligns with their own values. For companies interested in attracting and retaining talent, the biggest challenge will be to realize that skilled workers not only influence the way they work, but also have the power to determine how they operate in the workplace.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.