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The Office Design Balance

The Office Design Balance

November 13th, 2014 by

Today, many of us spend the bulk of our time at the office, and we want that time to be not only productive but also pleasurable, inspiring, energizing, and at times, even calming. A growing body of research reveals that office design has a huge impact not only on employee job satisfaction but also on productivity. By pairing this research with some of the latest trends in office design, our designers create inspiring workspaces based on our clients’ needs.

One size doesn’t fit all
Every corporate design project is inherently different, and while you want to work with a design partner who brings well-established systems and procedures to the table, you certainly don’t want to take a cookie-cutter approach. Ever.

When we begin a project, our first goal is to identify what our clients need to achieve within their space. Our process to accomplish this not only helps us better understand our clients’ vision but also gets them to focus on exactly how their space will tick. The details of the space start to unfold through purposeful questioning:

Redefining offices
Just as 21st-century school designs integrate spaces that cultivate collaboration among students, and senior living environments provide opportunities for residents to interact, more companies both large and small are fostering ways for employees to work as teams. Consider, for instance, Herman Miller’s approach to last year’s NeoCon conference. The annual event is THE opportunity for manufacturers to show off their new products to designers. Herman Miller made the strategic decision not to display any new furniture but instead to introduce a new way of thinking about office environments.  Known as“Living Office,” the approach involves redefining an office into areas that promote the kind of interaction (or lack thereof) needed for specific tasks that take place in the work environment.

The full concept of “Living Office” might not work for every company, but the roots from which it derives are a common thread from which everyone can learn. “Offices need to attract, nurture, enable, and retain the talent that will drive innovation and execution, and bring an organization’s strategy to life,” as they explain on their website. “Work has changed,” the tagline reads, “but most offices haven’t.”


UMBC’s newest incubator office space, the CyberHive

When we designed “CyberHive,” an incubator office space at bwtech@UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County Research and Technology Park), we wanted to create a sense of community and interconnection among the individual startups that inhabit the space. We integrated features like semi-transparent, textured glass walls that provide both privacy and a sense of connectivity, and we combined features to reflect both the individuality and commonalities of each business.

Benefits of a well-executed corporate design
Studies show — and our own experience confirms — that a well-executed office design can do a lot for your company’s retention and productivity rates. Employees want to feel part of something. If you invest in them, then they’ll want to invest in your company.

As best-selling author and career analyst Dan Pink explains in one of the most-watched TED Talks, “The Puzzle of Motivation,” the 21st-century work world requires high-level cognitive skills like analysis, conceptual and critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Fair pay is essential, but equally if not more important, Pink says, are intrinsic motivations like self-direction, autonomy, engagement, and purpose.

So, consider: how will your employees use their work space? What would make them happy? Ask your employees for input, and you’ll have a better working environment with higher levels of creativity and productivity, no matter the industry. Your employees will feel more excited to come to the office each day because they’ve contributed to the look and feel of the space. Their sense of involvement will lead to greater motivation at work.

A balanced approach
Of course, it’s up to the employer to decide how much employees are involved in the design of a new space. But keeping employee interests in mind can create a nice balance and sense of belonging.

We often find that employers are reluctant to enlist their employees in the design yet want to be mindful of their thoughts about the new space they will occupy. For instance, opting for a glass wall system for private offices, especially when the offices are located along the exterior perimeter of the space, comes with a number of benefits. Glass walls provide a clean, contemporary design and allow natural light to infiltrate the whole office.

Maryland Capital Management

Maryland Capital Management’s contemporary office design

However, they can also create privacy concerns for the occupants of these spaces, who sometimes feel like they’re “on display” or working in a fishbowl. By strategically placing a band of frosted or patterned adhesive to the glass, you create a solution that doesn’t compromise the design intent and alleviates privacy concerns.

520 Park Ave Leasing Office

The lobby and leasing office of 520 Park Avenue

Larger organizations tend to use questionnaires or interviews to get their employees’ feedback. This is an extremely useful tool because employers can identify the overall trends for their office and work off of these as much, or as little, as they desire.

Planning for growth and change
People have a tendency to become attached to where they work and, more specifically, to their own personal work space. Just like any move or change that happens in life, companies should anticipate that their employees will be affected in some way due to large or small office relocations. The longer employees stay in a job, the more comfortable they get with their surroundings, and the harder it is to accept change.

Chances are that at some point during the life of their company, employers are tasked with the arduous process of relocating or reinventing the space from which their employees work. As designers and architects, we use our keen design abilities and experience to determine how best to approach the individuality of each company’s future office. As your company embraces growth and change, a key point to keep in mind is the office design balance — a space that defines a company and the people who work within it.

If you’re interested in learning more about office and corporate work environments that balance design with productivity and functionality, Marks, Thomas Architects can help. Reach out to us to start a conversation.