Rethinking Open Offices: Design Strategies for the Future Open Office 2.0


Jennifer Walton, Principal, Corporate Studio, H. Hendy Associates

If you’ve ever worked in an open office, then you’ve probably thought about the ways it has failed to live up to the hype. From loud noises, visual disruptions and the inability to concentrate to a disregard for focus requirements, open offices of the past were simply undefined creative spaces. With vibrant colors, open ceilings and aesthetically designed finishes, these early creative offices focused heavily on their appearance rather than unearthing how organizations could release the power of the open office’s productivity and performance.

Years later, many companies have taken note: an open office should have more than just a cool hip vibe or look. To create an environment that looks and works great, research and strategy must inform design. Office environments today should be based on objectivity, and the space itself should work to support an organization’s process and function. Welcome open office 2.0, a radical shift that demands offices be stimulating environments that support daily functions and individual workstyle preferences. A space that enables and articulates the interactions of its people for organizational success. An environment that integrates technology primarily to empower fluid interactions.

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So, how can an organization transform its conventional design to an open office 2.0? What are the key elements to have within the space to ensure success? Here are a few key strategies.

  • Make technology the engine. A key to a successful open office 2.0 – a creative performance office space – is to integrate technology early in the workplace design process and in ways that exponentially increase the exchange of ideas, creative thoughts and more. Think of technology how you think about the furniture people are sitting on. Technology integration shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a primary driver in the planning process. It allows individuals to untether and work where they are most comfortable doing the task at hand, outside of their assigned physical environments, and empowers workers to choose their space based on the tools needed for specific projects. Each work activity area should function like a light switch, enabling employees to walk up and immediately operate the space with little training or intervention. When done right, technology serves a smooth-running engine for productivity and team collaboration.
  • Integrate workspaces that meet employee processes and functions. When companies analyze their business process and employees’ needs, they often find that an increase in productivity occurs when people are away from their desks. Activity-Based Working (ABW) programs design in a different way – one that focuses on activities over individual space. The philosophy behind this working model is to balance higher-quality communication and social interaction. Example spaces include a mix of library and focus rooms for enhanced concentration, on-demand work stations to optimize on-the-spot interactions, learning and training, and large, open collaborative workspaces to foster teamwork and ideation.
  • Let health and wellness be the hallmark of your business. With individuals spending nearly 90 percent of the day in the built environment, design strategies that promote health and wellness have become vital to increasing employee productivity, satisfaction and recruitment. Develop a health-promoting office space that incorporates the WELL Building Standards, a performance-based system for measuring features of the built environment that impact human health, comfort and wellbeing. For example, the movement category encourages businesses to create spaces that facilitate activity and movement throughout the office. From stand-up conference rooms and meeting areas, in-office gyms, fitness rooms and access to exterior spaces, these strategies provide the spaces employees need to move freely and mindfully through the space.

The creative performance office – open office 2.0 – is here to stay. As Generation Z continues to enter the workplace, employers will need to tailor their environments to complement employee activities and preferred workstyles. This generation grew up with constant access to technology and will require ongoing technological solutions and devices to work efficiently and productively. Research shows that 61 million Generation Z workers will enter the workforce and organizations that aren’t prepared for this group may lose out on the opportunity to attract and retain top talent.

As the rules of the workspace continue to evolve, a company’s office design will need to ebb and flow with today’s hybrid workforce. By creating spaces where employees can work where they feel comfortable, are equipped with the right technology and in an environment that bolsters health and wellness, companies can create open office environments that become strategic tools for business success.

About Jennifer Walton, Principal, Corporate Studio, H. Hendy Associates

Jennifer Walton is a licensed architect, LEED AP, WELL AP, and principal at national interior architecture and planning firm H. Hendy Associates. With nearly 20 years of experience, Jennifer specializes in helping clients create workplace environments that become strategic tools for business success.