From the assembly line to the cubicle jungle, workspaces have existed in some form or another throughout history.
Their evolution reflects changes in the way we work, as well as developments in design and technology. Modern workspace design is focused on customisation, based on the unique needs of an organisation. “The workplace is now an integral part of organisational strategy, no longer a dull inert backdrop,” says occupier advisor Emil Joubert from Counsel.
“People are looking for flexibility to accommodate the various aspects of everyday work as well as the ability to change as business changes by expanding (and) contracting quickly and inexpensively. Other key considerations include optimised collaboration and knowledge sharing as well as an increased focus on employee wellness.”
Modern offices are now modifying space depending on their needs. For example, the inclusion of touch-down spaces for short-term activities requiring no collaboration, study booths for short activities demanding concentration, and privacy and team rooms for frequent internal communication.
Joubert says workplaces that offer little choice for employees are becoming redundant. “Highly constructed, in flexible environments with single-person offices or open-plan workstations with high partitions, limiting access to natural light for everyone else, are losing popularity. These workplace settings offer few opportunities for collaboration and do not encourage the growth of a strong and engaging corporate culture.” Office furniture is also evolving with desks, for example, featuring adjustable heights for standing and sitting.
“If you want your people to become more effective, you should encourage them to become smarter about how they work,” says Joubert. “People should make conscious decisions about what task needs to be accomplished and then decide what workplace setting is best suited. Treat people like adults and work out more e ective performance measures compared with “presenteeism”, the belief that if you can see people at their desks, they must be working.”
Another big innovation in workplace design is technology integration such as the emergence of video conferencing through Voip, collaboration settings with easy or automatic device connection, and automated room booking systems. “Organisations are realising that the quality of the workplace enables the achievement of organisational goals,” says Joubert. “Because all organisations and their goals are so different, the question for designers now is how to develop the optimum environment for each organisation.”