the last year, the office design industry has been flooded with new
trends. "What we're seeing the most is the need for lots and lots of
flexibility and for teams to be regrouped or moved around on a daily
basis," said Irene Pujol, director of interior design of H2L2, a
Philadelphia architectural firm. "And the only way to achieve
that--especially in some cases if it's that often--is to have flexible
workstations or a one-size-fits- all concept. For those who need to team
up, furniture must be on casters so it can be rearranged by the workers
themselves." Rymshaw asks his client's executives to explain their
business plan to him. "How the work done in a space relates to the
business plan is very important," he said.
One of the biggest trends is consolidation--bringing people together in
less space and still making it an efficient process. Some companies are
consolidating by taking employees from rental space in other parts of the
country and bringing them together in one place so that communication and
idea generating can happen easily.
"Bringing everyone together into an owned building rather than
using rental space outside of company headquarters is catching on
fast," Rymshaw said. "which means that companies get into a
process of figuring out what kind of space their people really need to
work in. Do they need an 8x10-foot work station, or is a 6x8-foot with the
right storage and right counter space enough? How can they downsize? How
can they get rid of the levels? The way businesses save space today is by
efficient space planning, actually building in flexibility for change by
not over stratifying the company. "
Along these same lines, video conferencing has become popular.
"This is also an important trend because it means that a meeting can
now handle a lot more people," added Rymshaw. "But there's also
the perception that a company is saving money on real estate and travel
time, even though these rooms cost a fortune to build. Companies aren't
disrupting an employee's day by asking him or her to fly into headquarters
for a meeting. With many firms, the flexibility issue is in bringing
"We're creating telecommunication rooms that can do sophisticated
presentations through video conferencing," said Rymshaw. "The
idea of an employee being able to hook up his or her laptop anywhere and
do desktop presentations on the screen in the front of the room has become
attractive to many companies."
Some companies are more up on this than others. The more technology
driven a company is in what they make or what they do, the more technology
has become a part of its life. Bristol Meyers Squibb is just getting into
this. For SEI it's a natural.
"We can build modules, depending on furniture system, that are
more efficient for circulation," Rymshaw said. "Depending on the
furniture system we use, we can create more privacy or encourage more
communication by how we set up these modules. So the other trend is in
using systems furniture and how it's becoming more universal, more
flexible and more technology driven. Every department in a firm has a
different way of working, so the system should allow for flexibility. We
can encourage employees to work a certain way by the way we build their
workstations. In doing so, we're answering the firm's business plan while
making sure their employees have everything they need to work. But, at the
same time, we also give the facilities group the ability to maintain
Joan Heilly, vice president for facilities at GMAC, notes that if it
weren't for their new modular workstations, her job would be twice as
hard. "The new systems are helping us cope with overcapacity,"
she said. "Because of all the flexibility that was built into the
design, we can take a manager's station and divided it into two analysts'
workstations in a matter of minutes."
User Friendly Office Furniture
And office furniture has become a lot more user friendly. A unique
invention, called a sit- stand, allows for greater flexibility by giving
the user the ability to go from a sitting position to a standing one.
"This device is especially useful in a computer call center,"
said Morgan. "An employee has the ability to stand up while on the
phone with a customer simply by pressing a lever under the work surface,
which allows the whole surface to rise with him."
According to Michael Shannon, market manager for Herman Miller
Associates, office furniture manufacturer, the ongoing trend is open
environment. "It used to be that everyone had their own
cubicle," he said, "but now it's more common to work in twos or
fours with a shared conference table. Many of the new furniture designs
feature a quarter of a round table for each of four persons, which can be
pushed together to make a round conference table."
Alternative office design is all about creating an environment that
enhances the ability of an employee to work smarter. Communication is
important. But the downside of an open environment is what to do if an
employee needs to have a confidential conversation or what to do if he or
she needs to focus on a specific project.
With an open environment, getting power to employee workstations can
also be a problem. "Normally, wires would be mounted on divider
panels," said Shannon. "But as electrical and data needs
continue to grow, companies are turning to floating power sources above
workstations, allowing employees to work anywhere in a multi functional
space." SEI works with drop-down power "pythons" to which
employees can plug into.
Today's designer needs to understand how people are going to want to
work through their day using the technology available today.
the 20 somethings, it's natural," said Rymshaw. "They're ready
for the next step. But some of the 45 and up crowd have taken to
alternative office design with a passion and some haven't. It's very
Designing an office space to fit the needs of users is called "officing" in
industry jargon. But many new designs use "hoteling." Traveling
consultants reserve space in the home office on an as-needed basis.
Individual lockers provide permanent storage space for their belongings.
"Moteling" is another design industry buzzword. In this case,
traveling employees, in town for a quickie visit, can reserve a bare-bones
workspace in a regional office
Hoteling, an alternative to officing, was instituted to save work space
during the economic downturn eight years ago. "It was a way of trying
to save square footage," Rymshaw said.
"Designers tried to apply the concept to everyone. But employees
still needed a sense of place, a place to keep their belongings. However,
if a firm's marketing department travels four days week and all their real
estate is vacant, then that department is ripe for being given lockers in
which to keep their personal belongings. And they make reservations to use
work space when they're going to be in the office. It works just like a
hotel, the spaces are all there allocated for use by this department, but
you don't have your own personal space."
In fact, even corporate interior designers like Rymshaw, Pujol and
Morgan all agree that the current buzzwords are just fancy names for
concepts that have been in use all along. They all represent different
ways use a workplace. Today, re-designing an office is a much more dynamic
process of analysis of how departments and business plans align with the
workplace configuration. You don't just stick a bunch of workstations in
an office anymore," said Morgan..
Everyone agrees that alternative means of creating workplaces is here
to stay, but not everyone agrees on what's here to stay and what isn't.
All of these terms came from saving square footage in the beginning, of
getting people out where they were supposed to be doing their work.
Setting the Mood
For today's designers, setting the mood and image is what corporate
interior design is all about--open spaces, being colorful, not having a
closed-door policy and using glass doors. In terms of keeping people, that
builds community. Space drives function.
"Image is certainly important from one company to the next,"
said Rymshaw. "Images tend to be important for two reasons: They
convey stability or modernness of a company and they show differences from
region to region. Corporately, images tends to be driven. SEI is a growing
entrepreneurial service-oriented business whose campus is driven by that
"Depending on the company, image is very important at the front
door," said Rymshaw. "But having employees feel like they have
some sense of personal space is more important. To me, it's more about the
amenities being given to employees to get their work done--conferencing,
casual team areas, day care centers. The Fortune 500 companies that can
manage to afford these, are offering them as free or inexpensive service
for their employees."
Mood and culture go hand in hand. According to Morgan, GMAC has a
culture of energy, collaboration, and teamwork. According to Heilly, GMAC
CEO Michael O'Brien is thrilled with his new workstation--he no longer
works in an office but out in the company. "It's made a world of
difference here," she said.