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The Importance Of Balance Within a Workspace

The Importance Of Balance Within a Workspace

Posted In // Design Tips

The ebb and flow of collaboration

Many people still aren’t quite sure about the open office. However, it’s become the leading model for workspace design because it offers a direct alternative to the cubicle farm. By opening up the environment, interaction and engagement are enhanced.

Keep in mind that collaboration is not actually one task: usually a project conducted with a business team requires an ebb and flow of public and private processing.

“People need to focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas or process information,” according to an office space report in the Harvard Business Review. “[T]hen they come together as a group to build on those ideas or develop a shared point of view; and then they break apart again to take next steps.”

Farewell, cubicle farm

Really part of what happened in the 80s and 90s is that the culture changed: in the last two decades of the 20th century, people grew increasingly negative toward cubicles after initially asking for them.

In 1980, workspace design researchers determined that the vast majority of people – 85% – said they wanted quiet areas where they could focus; but only 52% had access to those settings. Companies responded by investing in cubicles, often with high partitions to resemble personal offices. In the late 90s, though, there was a general sense that cubicle isolation was overkill: only 23% craved additional privacy, while 50% were in favor of office space that allowed easier access between employees.

“How can two opposing ideas—the need for collaboration and the need for privacy—be realized in a single design solution?” said commercial furniture and design specialist Barbara T. Armstrong. “One word: choice.”

Armstrong actually appreciates both sides of the debate: She loves the collaborative potential of an open office. However, like many people, she thinks the atmosphere is terrible for focus on independent work such as writing or anything that isn’t explicitly interactive. The primary issue is possibly sound rather than visual distraction, as implied by a 2012 New York Times article on office noise pollution.

Balance: Why it makes sense

People said they wanted more independent space; and the business and design worlds over-reacted with the cubicle farm. People then said they wanted more interaction, and it’s easy for businesses to neglect the past and rubber-band back to another extreme. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Open space, by itself, is not the answer.

Seven out of ten US employees are currently working in open offices. Open offices are easy to sell because it means you can significantly reduce the amount of space you need per worker. Between 2010 and 2013, the average amount of square feet per person dropped from 225 to 190 – a 16% reduction (International Facility Management Association).

Now everyone is in favor of collaboration, and everyone has been aggregated together for enhanced interaction. Plus, BYOD policies and the cloud mean that everyone is accessible from anywhere. The proportion of employees who have difficulty focusing in their workspace went up 16% between 2008 and 2014. That’s not as much of a problem if there are alternatives, but 13% said that there weren’t isolated settings for them to perform independent work.

Sophisticated, balanced space planning

Striking a balance with your office design can be extraordinarily challenging. That’s why it helps to have an expert partner for guidance.

At Beaux Arts Group, we do more than sell commercial furniture. We understand space, with fluid areas to meet the workplace needs of today and tomorrow.
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