It wouldn’t be unusual today to walk into a modern office and see sofas and coffee tables scattered about in an open loft-style area, or perhaps integrated work areas with different-sized nooks and crannies for different purposes. Today’s offices are experimenting with creative design strategies for flexible workspaces, aimed at increasing employee engagement and job satisfaction, not to mention job productivity.
An inspiring example of an innovative flexible workspace is found inside — not surprisingly — Google headquarters with their Google Garage. In this common area, Googlers can write on the tables and walls, and everything is on wheels. This communal environment is meant to promote creativity and playfulness. As Googler Nadya Direkova puts it, “The space doesn’t need to be fancy in order to be functional, but what it really needs to be is flexible.”
The open-plan design
The Google Garage is largely an open-plan design, which feeds into an overall feeling of a group dynamic, almost like one big office ecosystem. This design might look like a large, open area dotted with desks, sofas and chairs all throughout the floor plan, with no walls or barriers — like a giant loft. And in the case of Google, there may even be power outlets hanging from the ceiling so you can take your work virtually anywhere in the office to set up shop. These open-plan spaces can create an energetic buzz in the office with so many people together all working and walking around one shared space. The criticism of this setup, however, is that the vibrant group dynamic can simply become too distracting for employees and they lose their ability to focus. Others may feel a loss of privacy at work and will prefer having boundaries around them with the option to go off alone to be productive.
That’s why it’s so important for flexible office layouts to include private workstations where individuals can go to work alone. This offers a chance for employees to focus on specific tasks, be more contemplative in their work, and do some deep-level thinking that requires few distractions. Also, keep in mind that many individuals are simply more introverted by nature and will thrive in stations where they feel comfortable in their own space.
Of course, there’s a middle ground between working in one giant loft area and working in your own private bubble, one which aims to foster deliberate teamwork — the collaborative space design. These areas are meant to support strategic cooperative work, where people can get the creative juices flowing and explore new ideas and concept building together. They may incorporate specially designed nooks that are appropriate for hosting large meetings, or smaller one-on-ones, or conference-style presentations. Whether accommodating a big or small group, the idea with this design concept is to get people together to communicate and interact.
There’s no limit to the different types of office layouts for workspaces. Herman Miller has come up with exactly 10 Settings as part of their “Living Office Landscape,” which is meant to create very specific workspaces for very specific purposes at work. There’s a design expressly for the intent to “Show & Tell,” and another for “Divide & Conquer,” and so on.