The way we work has changed dramatically over the last generation or two. Your grandfather’s office probably had four walls and a door, and was sized per the hierarchy of the organization. Entry-level employees would toil away in the middle of the office, possibly in a high-walled cubicle, while management claimed the offices with windows. The most senior staff member held down the corner office with the best light and views.
Your grandfather wouldn’t recognize today’s office space. The way we work today is more collaborative, more horizontal, and more employee-centric. Technology has changed both the pace and the nature of business, which now requires a high amount of cross-disciplinary collaboration and problem-solving. The 40-hour work week used to be the norm; now, employees are connected 24/7 and working at multiple locations and on flexible schedules. This new paradigm is impacting workplace design in significant ways:
- We use fewer walls. Walls and doors tend to isolate individuals from their teams (inclusive of management) and discourage open collaboration, so we’re trending towards more shared spaces. These shared spaces range from “telephone rooms” to group collaboration spaces of all sizes and configurations. These rooms are often supported with integrated technology systems such as flat panel monitors, CPUs hooked to the main server, or plug in capability for laptops.
- We support all types of workers (and all ages). Businesses reap many benefits from the organic up-and-down mentoring which occurs in a multi-generational modern work environment. Millennials know how to manipulate technology. Baby Boomers have the wisdom of experience regarding business skills and client relationships, and the Gen X’ers in the middle manage the expertise of both. Workplaces which accommodate diverse styles might blend quiet and active zones, and provide spaces for “creative collisions” across all groups to encourage spontaneous interactions and more opportunities for authentic relationship building.
- We balance spaces for collaboration and for solitude. Some tasks require uninterrupted thought; some people re-charge better in solitude, and some re-charge better with interaction. Providing spaces which allow employees to control their environment can be critical to concentration and individual productivity. Designing for a mix of active and quiet spaces helps employees tailor their workspaces to different types of tasks, and allows people to shift modes as needed through the course of a project.
- We blur the boundaries. The furnishings in shared, open collaborative spaces are often more comfortable and less traditional than in offices of the past. Seating can be gracious and more comfortable than at an individual workstation; design elements may tend towards the residential rather than the corporate. Height adjustable work surfaces, sofas, coffee bars, and touchdown stations, and indoor/outdoor work spaces all contribute towards a flexible environment which supports every employee.
Shifting from traditional enclosed offices to a more open office environment can feel like a big change for some clients; we often spend time educating people about the benefits of lowering partitions, providing a wide variety of workstations, and incorporating more “shared” and less “assigned” spaces. Offering employees choice and control over how and where they work boosts engagement and performance. The time we spend debunking the “noise and privacy” myths is well worth it, and leads to real benefits in terms of productivity, collaboration, and employee wellness.
Cindy Benjamin has been a project manager for the last thirteen years. To each project, Cindy brings focus to the detail, team organization and technical knowledge. She has worked on a wide variety of project types including medical, higher education and religious. She enjoys a challenge and likes giving the attention to detail required for complex programs including mixed use projects. She has a particular passion for renovating existing buildings, respecting urban context and stitching together patterns in built environments.
Cindy is active in giving back to her community and devotes her time to several organizations. In 2009, Cindy was awarded the Young Professional of the Year Award given by the Greenville Chamber and is a past Greenville Chamber Board Member. Cindy coordinates volunteer activities with an in-house team at LS3P. She is a past Board Member for Safe Harbor, an agency working to overcome domestic violence, and a member of the Greenville Chamber Leadership Development Executive Committee. Most recently, Cindy is the project manager for Highbrook Investment Liberty Square lobbies & tenant upfits, FRI Investors Wells Fargo tenant upfits, Greenville Technical College – Center for Manufacturing Innovation, and Tri-County Technical College – Student Success Center and the Clemson University MBA upfit at Greenville One in downtown Greenville.