By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Businesses today have greater motivation to align their workplace design with operational excellence. The 9-to-5 work model has long been on its way out, but recent global events have likely made it history.

How can companies reshape their space utilization to support rapidly evolving work modes? By designing agile workspaces that can pivot quickly. Savvy businesses are adopting a sense of design urgency that reframes their workplace as a strategic asset.

The importance of workplace design

Workplace professionals have an economic incentive to get creative with their spaces. It’s not only sweeping impacts such as COVID-19 and natural disasters that put a spotlight on property costs. Commercial leases represent a major investment, anywhere from $158 per square foot in Minneapolis to nearly $600 per square foot in Washington, D.C. Tech giants like Twitter and Facebook are also reevaluating if distributed teams are a better way to recruit global talent. Businesses are feeling the pressure from all sides to optimize their workplace layouts.

There will be a time in the near future when buildings aren’t standing idle due to social distancing—now is an ideal moment to reimagine your workplace design.

In a post-pandemic world, companies will have the opportunity to reevaluate all facets of their operations. Space utilization should be at the forefront of those conversations. Even though some people prefer to work remotely, the majority are eager to come back to the office. Many employees are more productive and satisfied when they can collaborate and share ideas in person. And most want the best of both worlds—be in the office to collaborate but have the flexibility to work from home when the plumber comes to fix a leaky pipe.

“Strategic uncertainty can feel like slogging through mud. Even so, companies often succeed or fail based on their managers’ ability to move the organization forward precisely at times when the path ahead is hazy,” according to Lisa Lai of the Harvard Business Review.

Design urgency starts by aligning business objectives with space utilization. But do leaders know what those objectives are? Are they looking to enhance productivity, increase collaboration, inspire visitors, attract talent, improve retention, showcase your brand, or simply house people? One or any combination of these goals determine the urgency needed to shape your design.

“Without clearly articulated goals for collaboration and productivity, an office redesign will hit roadblocks. Your business goals should be organized and qualifiable, which is why making decisions based on data is key to achieving improved work culture and team collaboration,” according to the Propmodo article Smart Office Design Starts with Proven Data—And Not Copying Google.

Your future workplace: 10 proactive ideas

Your workplace should be like Madonna or Coca-Cola—always reinventing itself. A dynamic floor plan makes it easier to adapt to evolving business needs. Otherwise, a static layout could be at odds with your strategic objectives.

“One of the fundamental challenges of the modern open office (or really, the office in general) is that it prescribes the use of space instead of providing a spatial canvas for employees to use as they see fit. There is no flexibility,” according to Propmodo.

Start by identifying square footage that can be repurposed to serve a wider variety of uses. Creative ideas can include:

  1. Consolidate square footage so a portion can be turned into sublease space
  2. Create multifunctional spaces, especially for collaboration
  3. Add more breakout spots with open layouts to encourage huddles
  4. Evaluate the need for private offices or if they be can booking-only options
  5. Repurpose cafeterias into hot desks or hotel spaces outside of lunch hours
  6. Transform cafeterias into a temporary town hall space by including A/V equipment and moveable stadium seating
  7. Free up dedicated desks and offices that are used infrequently by traveling staff
  8. Use shared seating for part-time employees; have teams split time between remote and on-site work in alternating shifts
  9. Allow a portion of your workforce to work from home
  10. Lease large kitchens and board rooms to outside companies for social gatherings, meetings, and other events

How do you know if any of these modifications will work? Design urgency doesn’t mean acting impetuously and throwing spaghetti against the wall. All layout decisions should be based on usage data and utilization trend analysis to ensure new workplace strategies are the right fit.

You also don’t need to make sweeping changes all at once. It’s better to introduce a new layout in one department and measure outcomes before iterating across the entire company. For example, one team may benefit from small huddle rooms while another team actually needs large conference spaces.

Design urgency and flexibility allows your company to maximize your workplace despite impacts from market shifts, pandemics, or unforeseen change. Whether it’s an expiring lease, a new business direction, or a change in workforce needs, design urgency with space utilization in mind should help your company move forward, not hold it back. It’s all about designing for now and the future.

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