Collaborative work areas favourite with office designers

Designing the modern-day office means trying to find the right balance of open and private work spaces.

With today’s younger workforce being more mobile and more technology savvy, where they work and how they work also must fit into the office design equation.

“Collaborative spaces have been on trend with many options where employees can sit to do their work — lounge spaces, meeting rooms or open-office forums,” said Pam Tower, a member of Interior Designers of Nova Scotia and president of Tower Interiors.

“Collaborative spaces are necessary for brainstorming and idea generating. Engagement is high where employees feel they can openly express and share their ideas. The younger generation has a need for more social interaction.”

However, she said that recent studies have revealed that people also require privacy to focus and concentrate on the tasks at hand so “there has to be a balance between open office spaces and individual private spaces.”

Ergonomics, new technology and being ‘green’ are also among the many factors that must be considered in today’s office design.

Ever changing technology, for example, has been widely embraced by the younger workforce, which has allowed them to be more mobile. Workspace design must reflect that change.

“Modern technology is more portable,” said Tower. “We don’t have to be tied to a desktop computer, so an important aspect of design is a need for more plug-ins for charging devices.”

Also part of the design process are elements that cater to the physical well-being of employees.

“More attention is being paid to having a fully-adjustable chair, monitors on flexible brackets, adjustable height desks and options for places to sit within the office,” said Tower.

And while ‘being green’ has become a buzz term in many sectors of business and industry, it is trending in office design as well.

“We are designing for recycling within the office space,” she said. “We encourage clients to use recycled products and we choose finishes with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds). We specify LED lighting and maximize daylight and we use sensors on lighting so the lights will turn off when not in use.”

Dramatic workplace changes at Royal LePage Atlantic

Royal LePage Atlantic, Halifax, has incorporated many of the modern office design features in the redesign of its office on Bayers Road.

The office has approximately 210 agents of which about 145 are mobile and flow in and out and about 65 who require a dedicated space. There are also 20 office staff so there was a requirement for an office plan to accommodate everyone, said regional manager Matthew Honsberger.

“So we created two unique areas,” Honsberger said. “The first one, and probably the most impressive one, is our agent café. We built a Starbucksy feel café in the middle of our office where agents can drop in, sit with their laptops, and do their work.”

It is also a social space where they can collaborate with other agents plus it functions as a meeting space, a place to host events, a real multi-purpose space but looks a lot like a Starbucks or a Second Cup, said Honsberger.

Adjacent to the café space, the office has what is called a drop-in centre which is comprised of work stations. It is where agents can come in, move a mobile filing cabinet to a vacant station and use that spot for the hours they need, said Honsberger.

On the technology side, the office has added charging stations and boosted the signal to create a very powerful WiFi area.

“Our agents all need to be able to come in with their iPhone only and be able to print to our printers so we can accommodate that as well,” he said.

Honsberger said since the design changes were made over a year ago and there has been a “dramatic change” in the working atmosphere as a result.

With an expanded area “we now have this big spot and have three or four core groups that sit together every day and chat. It is a totally different environment,” he said.

He also noted the ways people use the office have also changed. Instead of finding space outside the office for seminars and other events, agents are now booking the office space for these functions.

Ernst & Young’s Workplace of the Future

Ernst & Young relocated to the RBC Waterside Centre on Hollis Street in Halifax and completely transformed its office moving from a traditional, corporate style of various-sized offices to a more open concept.

“People coming into the office enter a virtual reception area and walk into what we call the hub,” said Sonya Fraser. “It is an open space where employees, which number between 120 and 130, can eat, socialize and collaborate.”

Then there is open space and work areas.

“I am a managing partner in Halifax and I do not have an office. None of us have permanent office space. It’s all open,” Fraser said.

Employees sign into a work station for the day and this open concept allows staff to interact with a variety of colleagues.

If there is a requirement for privacy there are office spaces located in the centre of the floor as opposed to being on the outside, said Fraser.

“This allows for a ton of natural light. It is very bright and vibrant,” she said.

There are also collaboration rooms, individual offices and even smaller, quieter areas if required. Even the cubicles are non-traditional with lower walls and all equipped with all the latest technology. There is also a treadmill space. If a person is on a conference call they can walk during their discussions.

Fraser said the modern design changes, dubbed the ‘Workplace of the Future’ and being introduced to Ernst & Young’s offices globally, have had a positive impact on the working atmosphere.

“It is more collaborative,” she said. “There is strong energy in the office and the numbers will tell over time, but I think it helps contribute to our growth, so it has all been very positive and there is a very strong vibe there when you walk in.”

Credits The Chronicle Herald

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