Well-designed offices find favour as employees
give the thumbs-up to open floor plans and tighter, low-slung cubicles.
Steve Andrews, of the Town of Markham, recently
moved into a new office space with cubicles last November with 100 of his fellow employees. However, he knew that their
personal work space would be affected, and it was planned that way.
Andrews states that when people’s
paycheque or their personal space is affected they will react.
Andrews overlooked the redesign of 20 000
square feet of additional office space. The goals were to ease crowding at its Civic Centre, and to bring together
staff from the other offices.
Andrews hand in mind a long list of criteria when redesigning the new office,
and that list did not include space efficiency and cost savings.
The workstations in the new space measure
50 square feet, 33 per cent smaller than the 75-square-foot cubicles at the Civic Centre. “Our people were a little skeptical
because they didn't want to lose what they had before,” he says.
Andrews says, cubicle size was given
less importance once employees realized how open the overall design is.
The latest thinking in office
design is an open floor plan with few private offices, compact workstations with low walls so that there is better
air circulation and more natural light for the entire floor, and common areas where comfortable seating and wireless Internet
access get people out of their cubicles and collaborating on projects.
“Now that we've moved into the
space, they really love the openness,” Mr. Andrews says. “They feel very much that it's a real team environment. They don't
miss the perceived privacy aspect and they love that it's so bright and lively in the office because of the light that comes
through. It's a real kind of dynamic that's been created.”
The intentions behind the new office space design
were to reduce capital and operating costs, to create pleasant workplaces that will attract and retain talented
“This is a pretty severe economic downturn, and we're going to see people reacting to
that,” says Peter Icely, president of the Canadian region of CoreNet Global, an association representing corporate real
estate executives and service providers.
“I think they're going to look at everything, including their space and
their staff. Certainly, in an economic downturn companies find they can use spaces more efficiently. It allows you to reduce
your real estate costs.”
In order to help employees work better and smarter organizations are investing in
efficient workplace designs, Mr. Icely adds. “Twenty years ago, they built spaces, and people had to fit
into those spaces. Now, we design workspaces around the way people actually work. The workplace becomes an
asset to enhance productivity, like a computer.”
That modern workplace often means less, but more
efficiently designed, square footage.
“Floor plans are becoming denser and businesses are now able to
function more productively in an office environment with less overall real estate,” says Steven Cascone, director of design
for office design and consulting firm Mayhew and Associates Inc. of Toronto, which undertook the Markham office redesign
The trends for how offices are designed is to have homey touches, for instance, lounges
with comfortable sofas and chairs and eating areas with access to WiFi, in order to attract workers in their twenties who
were used to group work in college or university.
When Mayhew's designers were working on the
Markham project, they customized all of the new workspaces to job functions that range from managerial to engineering
to general office staff.
Originally each of the Markham employees’ workstations took up about 200 square
feet. The new Markham offices take up less than 185 square feet of space for each space, and that includes
workstations, enclose offices, hallways, foyers and other common areas. Yet the new space has a more open feeling, Mr.
Andrews says, because there are fewer filing cabinets and none of the cubicles has overhead storage bins, which tend to block
Markham has clued into a key factor that is dominating office design these days, and that, Mr. Cascone
says, is flexibility.
“People are changing, work habits are changing, businesses are changing,”
he says. “The space should be as fluid as their business.”
Although this workspace may allow employees to work
more efficiently and smartly, it may not be the case for all employees. Open office spaces may not be ideal for
Open office spaces with lower cubicle walls may be a distraction to some
employees. For example, lower walls mean that noise will flow through the office space more readily. It
can affect an employee’s performance if they are somebody who values the absence of
As well, some employees enjoy the privacy they get from more closed office
Employees should be incorporated in the decision-making process of office redesign, when
it is possible.
Top 10 FEATURES wanted by clients:
Access to natural light
2. Better air quality/circulation and temperature control
3. More meeting
4. Open areas that accommodate employee collaboration and teamwork
5. A greener, more
sustainable office environment, such as reusable interior architectural wall systems, materials with low VOCs (volatile
organic compounds), materials with high recycled or biodegradable content, and products with “Cradle to Cradle” environmental
6. Increased flexibility of furniture components, such as mobile tables, furniture systems
consisting of a limited kit of parts, etc.
7. An aesthetically pleasing environment that would attract and retain
highly skilled labour
8. More staff amenity spaces, such as lounge areas, cafeteria and fitness facility.
9. The ability to work away from an office or workstation through wireless technology 10. Incorporation of
outdoor elements within office space, such as living walls
Trends in office design
•Alternative work strategies, such as the ability to function away from the office, or the use of shared work
•Smaller individual workstations
•Increased meeting and collaboration spaces
“greener” office environment
•More flexible work areas, such as a formal meeting room that can be reconfigured
into a training room or other purpose