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What does your office look like?

Kim Ciesynski

When the word “office” is mentioned to you, what do you envision? Is it a dark, wood-paneled room with a big imposing desk, and a view from a window in the back? Or is it rows of symmetrical Dilbert-like cubicles under fluorescent lighting, all identical but for a poster or two?

In reality, the term office has less to do with location and more to do with function in today’s world. With advances in technology, telecommuting has become more widespread; in fact, new terms have even been created to describe this new work experience. “Hoteling” is one expression used to describe the practice of providing mobile workers with temporary workspaces. It refers to the use of office space on an as-needed basis, like a hotel room. Another expert refers to them as “touchdown spaces”, a place where mobile devices can be connected, if only for a short time.

As today’s employers are well aware, there are many good reasons to allow employees to telecommute. It can be cheaper and better for the environment (utilizing less gas to drive to work), allow employers to attract the most qualified candidates, and also allow employees flexibility which in turn can make them more productive. Many diverse businesses now offer this alternative, including law firms, real estate offices, and even many government agencies. According to Ben Bailey, a project manager in Reno for Intuit, telecommuting is a win-win scenario. He notes, “I have been able to take advantage of this several times for home repairs in the last year. This is effective for both Intuit and me, because it allows me to feel empowered and productive even if I can’t get in the office, and Intuit doesn’t lose productivity from me for a day.”

From a design perspective, this office-space evolution presents new challenges. In addition to the more traditional concerns that relate to office design, such as workflow and ergonomic analyses, sound-proofing and lighting, there are many new design aspects that must be considered. Additional factors in this new office reality include the incorporation of tangible items like docking stations and office furniture. New technology-driven items such as network connections and security issues must be addressed as well. Getting the right experts involved at the right time in the design process is critical. According to Steve Purcell, general manager of WorkSpace Ltd. in Reno , “Much as the PC has gone from a big footprint in a workstation to the hand held tablet form that many are using now the footprint of a workstation decreased dramatically. Office furniture experts are can provide the most current solutions to assist our clients in meeting the challenges they face in the rapidly changing technology environment.”

As the term “hoteling” indicates, workspace at an office may not be constantly occupied, which means that an individual’s workspace does not necessarily need to be as large as one that is occupied eight to 10 hours each day. The fluctuations in office staff will also drive the need for more common areas and meeting rooms more shared space will be required for those occasions when face-to-face contact is necessary. Effective office space will therefore contain smaller boundaries for individual spaces and more space allocated to collaborative activities. Overall, however, this may reduce the square footage required and may make rent more affordable for some companies. The evolution of office space requirements can also bring about other changes. For example, lowering cubicle walls and removing barriers can stimulate more employee interaction and collaboration. Companies can utilize the open office space left from reduced individual workstations to create informal meeting areas. This open space has become more valuable as workers are no longer tethered to their actual desks. Another possibility is to create a conference room in the middle of several workstations, which mimics how people truly interact. Team members are just close enough to overhear each other and they can brainstorm regarding different project ideas within each station and in the middle space. In this case, space planning can restore that feeling of the entrepreneurial garage without sacrificing privacy.

The change in workspace requirement also allows employers more options in choosing the office place itself. With conventional office space costing an average of $4,000 per year per person, companies are turning to options that do not include conventional office space. Smaller, older buildings located in commercial districts can be attractive options for conversion into commercial space. A remodeled home may be a more affordable option than a traditional office space and be more functionally appropriate in the new techno-centric business model. Any savings of this type can make a big difference for smaller employers, as we approach year three of the current recession.

For a very small business, it may be possible to utilize only a home office and eliminate the need for additional office space altogether. Whether a home office is utilized as the only place of business or a part-time place of business, it is essential for those who work from home to be as productive as possible in their home environments. The main disadvantage to working at home is the difficulty in delineating space which can be alleviated with an efficient home office design. The same concerns apply now in the home office as they do in the traditional office, including ergonomic considerations and lighting, as well as the more modern office concerns such as docking stations and network connectivity.

Will offices be replaced entirely? Most likely not in our lifetimes, but the evolution is constant. According to Jeremy Nork, a partner in the multi-state law firm of Holland & Hart, “In the past, everyone took pride in the size of their individual office, but that is not the case now; in fact, we have recently re-built two of our offices from the ground up, with smaller individual offices for everyone and an emphasis on more usable common areas.” Technology is definitely leading this trend, even for business in our area.

Kim Ciesynski is a Nevada registered interior designer and owner of Spaces Design and Planning. Contact her at 775-626-2212 or kim@spaces-design.com.


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