How do you design professional office spaces so that they stand the test of time?
The way people work is changing, and office spaces must adapt to avoid becoming outmoded in just a few years’ time. In this article, we run through various steps you can take to make sure the design of your office stays relevant as working habits evolve.
An average working day has never been so varied. Remote work in the morning, lunch with colleagues on the sofas at work at midday, video conference in a meeting room in the early afternoon, then time to focus on some work in the open plan area to round off the day.
The evidence is clear: the way people work is changing. Not only this, the activities performed by employees and the operational needs of teams are evolving too.
Yet for some, this observation is also a cause for concern: if working habits keep on evolving, how can we design office spaces that are able to adapt to these changes? Will workspaces have to be updated again and again? This is a major issue for companies, both in financial and organisational terms.
In this article, we propose seven ideas for designing workspaces that can adapt to changes in the way we work.
Creation of dedicated ‘project rooms’
Imagine that several employees from different departments are called upon to work on a specific project. This is a common occurrence in all companies, but can be a real headache when it comes to managing the layout of meeting rooms and workspaces. Will everyone’s office have to be moved so they’re next to one another? Should the team take over a meeting room that’s already fully booked most of the time?
Project-based management is an essential component of day-to-day business. That is why providing specific spaces dedicated to particular projects will enable your office space to adapt to the actual needs of your team. By adapting the ergonomics of the room to these needs (whether that’s in terms of the furniture, shelving, office equipment etc.), you will be able to create functional spaces that provide the necessary momentum for their projects to be a success, without causing any inconvenience to other employees.
Flexible furniture for professional office spaces
‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ This quote from Leonardo Da Vinci also applies to workspace design. If you want your office furniture to remain functional in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time, keep it simple! “When it came to designing the Brussels offices of https://www.buroconcept.be/references/credoc-designandbuild-office/Crédoc, we realised that the occupancy of the workspaces varied substantially from day to day. So we found these tables that have legs in the centre, which means that four people can sit round them most of the time, but they can also fit six people on busy days. Simple, yet effective’, explains Christine Rilaerts, Administrator at Buroconcept.
This example illustrates a key concept in office design: simple but functional office equipment can be used for multiple purposes. Furniture designed for a specific purpose, on the other hand, doesn’t provide this option. This is a fundamental consideration when it comes to remaining flexible in adapting to changes in the way we work.
Modular units in the workspace
Partitions or open plan? Private offices or meeting rooms? These are real conundrums when designing a workspace.
After all, the response is often ‘it depends’.
So how can you ensure that the choices you make are still the right ones for years to come? One solution is to install modular units in open-plan spaces. The units can be equipped with all the necessary office furniture and connection points.
These modular spaces can be transformed into a meeting room, an acoustically insulated workspace or even a private office. Modular units were used in the VK Engineering project in Brussels, where they feature alongside open-plan areas. The objective of this was to keep the office layout flexible without having to rely on specialist techniques, in particular thanks to the fact that these units can be moved around at a later date.
An intuitive layout that is easy to understand
If your workspace often has to change in order to adapt to the needs of different teams, then the function of each element must be clearly signposted using pre-defined codes.
At Buroconcept, we include such signposting in our office designs. ‘When things are always changing, employees have to quickly get used to new environments. When designing an office space for Solar Concept in Brussels, we used codes to indicate the different types of meeting room. For example, different light fixtures were used in each workspace, and the doors into meeting rooms were decorated differently depending on the capacity of the room or the available furniture. In addition, each space is designed to be highly intuitive and intended for a specific purpose,’ Christine clarifies.
Use of modular furniture to create functional spaces
What if your office furniture could be adapted to the changing operational needs of your teams? That is the concept behind modular furniture. It includes shelving units with interchangeable drawers to create larger compartments, armchairs that become storage units for office equipment, and desks that can be transformed into seating. Many furniture manufacturers now offer this type of solution. Although more expensive to purchase, the modular nature of this furniture means it will always meet your teams’ needs as it can be adapted to their operational requirements.
Meeting the needs of your teams
In order to stand the test of time, professional office spaces above all need to continue being used. There is no point investing in meeting rooms or office equipment if all they do is sit there gathering dust.
However, convincing employees to return to the office is no easy task for employers, as they are being asked to return to an open-plan space when many of them would rather stay at home.
That is why office spaces need to be designed with the people who work there in mind, offering them something they do not have access to at home. That includes their colleagues, of course, but also functional spaces that meet their needs. A meeting room, an open-plan quiet area where they can go when they need to concentrate, small rooms laid out in a way that makes them usable for video conferences…offices must be a functional space that helps employees save time doing their job. Whether it’s good acoustics in quiet areas or custom equipment in meeting rooms, these elements can bring numerous benefits compared to working from home.
Flexible workspaces with a reservation system
The term ‘HWOW’, which stands for ‘hybrid ways of working’, describes the notion of combining working from home with working in the office. It is an expression of the fact that workers’ activities are becoming increasingly varied. However, this variation means that managing workspaces has become more complex. Going to-and-fro between open-plan areas and meeting rooms inevitably causes some complications, especially when most employees in the company are doing the same thing. That is why it is important to consider using a reservation system for workspaces. This can be done, for example, by setting up a reservation platform and implementing rules on occupancy.
Finally, it is important to remember that the smaller the space is, the more limited its reservation capacity will have to be. ‘This is a principle that must be applied when creating workspaces that can adapt to employees’ activities,’ explains Christine Rilaerts, Administrator at Buroconcept. ‘In the case of hybrid working, employees don’t know in advance what they will be getting up to on a given day. That is why small workspaces need to remain flexible: there needs to be spaces for making phone calls without disturbing others in the open-plan area, a freely usable quiet area for when employees need to sit down and concentrate on more complex tasks… so it’s important to have some areas that cannot be reserved. They should also be subject to occupancy rules that can be laid down in a set of guidelines.’ The idea is to ensure that the smaller a room is, the harder it is to reserve.
This article provides a number of options for designing and organising workspaces so that they remain flexible in the face of changes to the way people work. But there’s more to it than that: management also plays a pivotal role in ensuring a professional office space stands the test of time and adapts to the needs of employees. For this to happen, managers must trust in their teams and allow them to voice their needs so they can be reflected in the design of their workspace.