What We're Saying

Choosing Choices for Your Workplace

This is why options in the workplace Are some of the best benefits you can offer your staff.
IA's office in Portland. Photo by Christian Columbres.
IA’s office in Portland. Photo by Christian Columbres.

A standard list of employment benefits for most companies often includes the usual suspects: Competitive salaries, retirement plans, dependable insurance plans, travel stipends, and bonuses tend to appear on the list. But today’s workplace offers more than the employment package your parents  valued. Choice in the workplace is extolled as one of the greatest benefits an employer can offer staff.

One of the biggest complaints of any workplace boils down to lack of control,” says Diane Rogers, AIA, WELL AP. “Being able to select when, where, and how you work is imperative to getting the most productive, creative and satisfied employees.”

What Does “Choice in the Workplace” Really Mean?

The media has covered the advent of choice in the workplace extensively. Fast Company has called it activity-based working, while Inc magazine calls it flexible work options. What these themes address collectively is a shift in the nature of office work, which has resulted in a notable shift in corporate culture.

Rapid 7 in Boston. Photo by Robert Benson.
Rapid 7 in Boston. Photo by Robert Benson.

“The transformation to the ‘modern office’ can be better understood through the change agents of ‘I’ to ‘we’ spaces and planning approaches,” explains IA Workplace Strategist Kelly Funk. “The types of spaces we recommend to clients are based on a lot of factors: Their culture, existing workplace, business needs, budget, and vision for the future, always through the lens of technology and the way they define work-life balance.”

How Is ‘Choice’ Manifested in Physical Space?

For an office that has to accommodate multiple tasks by various departments, a range of different spaces is crucial. Take Rapid 7 in Boston, for example. IA Senior Designer Anna Dockery oversaw the development of 14 private offices, 226 open office workstations, 155 collaborative conference seats, and a 6,000-square-foot amenity space, all in an office of 46,000 square feet for a staff of 240.

Rapid 7 in Boston. Photo by Robert Benson.
Rapid 7 in Boston. Photo by Robert Benson.

“We have different types of workers: Finance people prefer quiet space, sales people thrive in open, energetic, spaces, and our developers prefer darker heads down space—and we’ve got everything in between,” explains Chistina Luconi, chief people officer at Rapid 7. “Having different spaces that meet the needs of the various teams, while weaving our corporate culture into the overall space to help it feel like “one company.’” She adds that while retention numbers haven’t changed significantly after move in, “many of our people are very happy about this location.”

What Does an Office with Choices Look Like?

There are a number of new spaces cropping up in today’s workplace that go far beyond the private office, the cubicle, the conference room, and that creepy corner that holds the water cooler. IA’s Funk highlights a brief cross section of spaces that did not exist at the advent of the commercial office building.

  • Phone booths/rooms
  • Lounges/”Hubs”
  • Cafes/coffee bars
  • Tech shops
  • Quiet rooms/“quiet cars”
  • Informal meeting spaces
  • Team/project/scrum rooms
  • Touchdowns
  • Huddle rooms
  • Micro kitchens
  • Yoga/meditation rooms
  • Break-out spaces
  • Wellness rooms/centers
  • Nap pods
Rapid 7 in Boston. Photo by Robert Benson.
Rapid 7 in Boston. Photo by Robert Benson.

Choice in the office doesn’t have to be exhaustive: It’s about finding the right environment that best supports the task at hand. “Variety provides a true benefit to staff with a physical and mental ‘break’ from the traditional (and dreadful) this-is-your-desk-sit-in-it-all-day-and-work historic work approach,” says IA Design Director Patrick Chatfield. “It enhances employee attraction and retention, and arguably better/more efficient work.”

For the award-winning design of Whitepages in Seattle, Chatfield and his design team oversaw the creation of five types of work areas. In the open office, each staff member is assigned a sit-stand mobile desk, a storage pedestal, and a task chair. “The open office actually offers an infinite number of variations, due to workstations being height-adjustable and mobile,” Chatfield says. “Staff is able to move, rotate, raise and lower, and relocate their desks as they see fit, in order to accommodate their individual or group work modes.”

AV-powered conference rooms configure for small, medium, and large configurations, dependent on group size. Phone rooms offer privacy for individual or one-on-one work sessions. A Great Room, a large, all-hands room offers power-integrated bar-height picnic tables, window seats, and lounge seating can be arranged for town hall meetings, talks, and seminars. And lounge areas along the perimeter of the floor provide views of the office suite in a more casual, living room style.

The Great Room at Whitepages in Seattle. Photo by Sherman Takata.
The Great Room at Whitepages in Seattle. Photo by Sherman Takata.
How Choice Affects the Bottom Line

Employers who offer choices to their  employees are also providing tangible wellness benefits, and protective measures that ensure healthy environments. “Being able to select when, where, and how you work is imperative to getting the most productive, creative and satisfied employees,” Rogers says. “Instead of hearing statements such as ‘I sit next to a loud person, so I have a chaotic acoustic environment,’ your workplace should inspire comments like ‘I select a quiet corner on days when I have focused work to do, and choose the active zone when I’m doing a lot of collaboration.’”

According to IA Managing Director in Portland, Richelle Nolan flexible office design also includes measures that protect and promote a healthy environment. “As people move through their workplace, they must be able to conveniently alter their environment to fit personal needs, including acoustic protection in all configurations,” she explains. In this instance, protection doesn’t mean putting up barriers between departments. Instead, it means understanding the types of work that need happen within departments, between people, and near public areas to identify sound and motion distractions. If done with extreme attention and sensitivity this acoustic protection can remain actually facilitate flexibility in the office.

Whitepages in Seattle. Photo by Sherman Takata.
Whitepages in Seattle. Photo by Sherman Takata.

“Designing for flexibility has to be very sensitive,” Nolan says. “This, as a whole, will create a frictionless environment that supports wellness, productivity, and a greater return on design within your real estate investment.

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