Modern workstations can come in a variety of configurations

Over the past decade we have witnessed a fundamental shift in the way work is conducted – facilitated by technology, the global workforce has become increasingly mobile, presenting a unique challenge for workplace designers.

A 2010 study conducted by Cisco of 2,600 workers and IT professionals across 13 countries revealed that 60% of workers believed it was unnecessary to be in an office in order to be productive.

From the employer perspective, a study of 2,000 US businesses conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2011, showed that one-quarter of those surveyed said they planned to use more remote workers in the future.

And this has certainly been the case – with a recent study at the Global Leadership Summit in London showing that 34% of business leaders surveyed believed that by 2020 more than half of their workforce would be working remotely.

One participant even reported that 99% of people are already working remotely, by taking work home with them on a regular basis.

This shows that a large majority of our workforce are undertaking their daily tasks outside of a traditional office environment – on aeroplanes, in hotels, at client sites, and at home.

The key for employers is figuring out the best way to support workforce mobility, by providing portable technology, embedding technology in the workplace and introducing business processes that will allow staff to work effectively wherever they are.

For workplace designers, creating a space that supports mobility, while also encouraging people to connect and engage when they’re actually in the office is the ultimate goal.

The distributed workplace

In his 2015 presentation entitled Sustainable Accommodation for the New Economy, Andrew Harrison of DEGW (a London based workplace research agency), introduced a distributed workplace strategy, dividing owned and shared working places into three categories: private, privileged and public.

Understanding the elements of the distributed workplace, and its need to accommodate all three working categories in both shared and owned environments – whether a city office (owned), dispersed organisation (owned), ‘figurehead’ organisation (owned and shared), or a city itself (shared) – is the key to providing sustainable accommodation to your workforce.

No matter how your workplace is distributed, it’s vital for businesses to invest in creating a “home-base” environment that all employees (including mobile workers) want to work in – a space they see as a haven from their otherwise transitory work lives – and in my opinion a thoughtfully and strategically designed workplace is the best way to spur enthusiasm and inspiration in the workplace.

For example, a mobile workplace may require more “unassigned” or touchdown spaces for employees who spend a significant portion of their day out of the office, or for transient workers or clients who are visiting the workplace.

The open plan office trend introduced by Silicon Valley start-ups, from Google to Facebook, has had a revolutionary impact on workplace design over the past decade, however, this collaborative space movement has come with its own challenges.

While open plan offices might be fun and engaging, studies – such as the California Management Review of Workplace Design – have shown that in some instances open-plan workplaces can leave employees feeling frustrated, dissatisfied, and can reduce workplace efficiency – so it’s important when thinking about your workplace design to consider the tension between the need to collaborate and the need for privacy to produce.

The most effective offices should provide a menu of spaces for people to choose from, to facilitate the best workplace practices.

Workplace design should also incorporate the many design variables that affect an organisation, including floor plan efficiency, space flexibility for future needs, and the use of appropriate technologies, while still providing space that supports the way that staff undertake their work.

A strategic approach

The best way to ensure a workplace is functional and effective for its users and their unique work styles is to take a strategic “top down bottom up” approach.

A stakeholder consultation process is essential in identifying the key needs and desires of those using the space. The best outcomes are realised by engaging in a thorough briefing process, whether that be achieved through interviews, surveys, workshops, visioning sessions, or all of these tactics, it’s important to investigate the key cultural themes of an organisation, how it works and how it sees itself before approaching design.

The type of space required depends on demographics, the work being conducted, the industry, and the kinds of personalities represented within the organisation – all of these elements influence the character of a workplace.

Interior architecture can also give cues about what types of behaviours are expected in a space – think about your brand and the kind of culture you want your workplace to represent when thinking about how it should be designed.

For businesses looking to adapt their workplace design for a mobile workforce call Hames Sharley to speak with our experienced team of interior designers.

To get you thinking, here are some of our strategic suggestions for improving your workplace design, to support an ever-changing, ever-mobile modern business.

1. Sit to stand

Sit to stand desks are very popular right now and can be a healthy alternative. We recently designed a prototype space for a large national organisation. It was identified during the briefing and engagement process that people in their processing roles felt that their workspaces were far too sedentary, so we installed sit to stand desk spaces, as well as breakout spaces for meetings. The feedback has been great, it’s improved their working conditions dramatically, they love the space, and it’s proving to be incredibly functional.

2. Agile workplaces

A great way to make collaborative spaces work for all users is to provide a number of different types of work settings in order to create a distributed workplace model. If you’re working in a big project team, for example, you might be more productive spending some of your day sitting with your team in a ‘project room’ to work through the problem with your colleagues. If you need to write a report on the other hand, you may want to sit in a quiet, private room to limit distraction. Providing spaces for specific purposes is a great way of improving workplace effectiveness.

3. Texture over colour

There are many theories about colour, but one person’s sunshiny yellow can be another person’s poisonous yellow. Colour is very subjective and fairly poorly understood. We like to use natural materials that bring their own colour, a timber floor can actually be quite orange, a woollen carpet will have multiple grey hues, while plywood brings brightness. The beauty of natural materials is that they create complexity in texture. We also avoid using organisational branding and colours in workplaces, as brands are likely to change more frequently than an office design.

4. Lighting up your life

The colour temperature of lights is important, they affect our mood and our circadian rhythms. Natural light is also critical – so it’s important to consider aspect when designing office spaces, which direction you’re facing, how much natural light will penetrate, and what mood you want to create.

5. Involve your people

We recently ran a project for a hands-on corporation whose staff really wanted to be involved in the design. So we came up with three different finishes schemes and invited the users to choose their own fabric for their sofas chairs and rooms. We gave them a number of fabrics to choose from that all worked harmoniously together and it really helped to create a vibrant space that was of their own choosing. Allowing people input into their own environment makes them feel like it’s their own. They love it and walk around saying “that’s my sofa”.

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