Office furniture was once an afterthought as it was made for the workplace where bland, cookie-cutter interior layouts were comprised of private offices, conference rooms, and mass-produced cubicles.
Increasingly, an office’s appearance and function play a more important role in employee satisfaction and productivity in addition to the recruitment and retention of skilled talent. More workers are tuned into how a company’s workspace reflects the work culture and the brand the company is touting.
The modern workspace is no longer defined by the three types of working areas mentioned above but has become an assortment of almost a dozen different types of settings including walled workstations, open workstations, benching, huddle rooms, informal individual and group spaces, and more.
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In fact, a recent Workplace Survey conducted by Staples found that 20 percent of employees would take a pay cut to work in a nicer office while 23 percent would seriously consider quitting if their workplace became too out of date. And, as the boundaries between work and home blur, office furniture has evolved to reflect more of the comforts of home—like chairs and couches that wouldn’t be out of place in a living room or more natural lighting instead of glaring fluorescents. This is often referred to as “resimercial” design.
How Resimercial Helps
As companies put more focus on the aesthetics of their offices, and how these spaces reflect company culture, finding what works consistently has proved to be elusive. The open office concept, which so many companies gravitated toward in the hope that it would spur collaboration and creativity, appears to have done anything but. According to the Staples survey, workers in open office settings are more likely to be “distracted” and it may even be driving more to work remotely.
Survey findings report more than a quarter (27 percent) of employees often experience at least five different distractions, such as overhearing co-workers’ conversations or working in high-traffic areas. Yet closed offices aren’t working much better and employers are now looking for to bring together the best of public and private spaces in a way that encourages worker productivity.
Resimercial design can be useful in helping work settings support how today’s employees operate and in reflecting a company’s culture. American offices no longer need to be defined by cubicles for workers, private offices for managers and executives, and conference rooms for meetings or brainstorms. The Resimercial approach can incorporate various degrees of public, private, and collaborative spaces.
It all adds up to the most significant seismic shift in furniture design in the last 40 years. And the connection to recruiting means it’s not something companies can ignore. Fifty-five percent of employees say the look and feel of a workplace is a major factor when considering a new job, according to the Workplace Survey.
The Cafeteria Shift
Two emerging work settings where the impact of the resimercial trend is clear are cafeterias and breakrooms. The Staples cafeteria, for example, used to be filled for two hours around lunch but was empty the rest of the day. We purposely transformed the cafe into a space that could be used by our associates all day long. We were lacking in places for people to meet informally so we created different settings for different types of group meetings. We also designed the space to accommodate large functions like holiday parties.
Now the cafeteria is buzzing with activity all day long. It has become a community space for employee gatherings of all kinds including formal and informal individual, small group, team, and even Town Hall meetings. Workers can be productive in the cafeteria while getting a change of scenery. One of the key elements in the redesign is the wide range of furniture arrangements with many incorporated technology enablers (HDMI and sound cables, WiFi, monitors, and power) and meeting facilitation tools like whiteboards, glassboards, and even smartboards for informal meetings.
In break rooms around the country, chairs have been replaced with stools for a more informal, collaborative feel. And “harvest tables,” which are essentially long community tables, encourage flexibility in the setting. At one table two people could be working on a project while a few seats down small group is eating lunch together; at the end of the table, someone is quietly reviewing a white paper over a cup of coffee.
Another key finding of the recent Workplace Survey is that a majority of employees spend at least some of their time in a non-traditional office setting, whether that means at home, a co-working space, public places or in the field. In fact, only 32 percent of employees spend all their time in the office. Implementing more informal work areas can help companies meet their employees’ desire for flexibility and draw remote workers back to the office.
One of the interesting though perhaps unintended consequences of the open office trend is the more you eliminate private space, the more people will seek it out. How many of us have headed into a conference room for a meeting only to find someone “camped out” because they needed to make a phone call? By making the traditional breakroom a more flexible space, you’ve created a spot that can double as a quiet zone or a small meeting place.
This is also partly being driven by the miniaturization of tech, which has allowed office workers to use their phones, laptops, or tablets to get work done anywhere. Group meetings happen in casual spaces that are part conference room, part lounge. Cubicles can also be replaced by long open tables where individual workers type away on laptops.
The conference room is another area where resimercial settings infused with technology has completely changed the way space is used. A long table with a phone in the middle used to lead to a certain type of meeting. Whiteboards strategically positioned around the room can encourage a free-flowing discussion. Smartboards and screen sharing encourage real-time collaboration and stop people from squinting at projected PowerPoints. Anyone in the room can stand up and leverage these boards for communication, not just the person at the “head of the table.” The space itself lends to a more democratic process and thus more productive meetings.
The increasing flexibility demands of employees and the changing nature of the way we work is clearly having an impact on the way offices are designed. As workspaces become more informal and multi-purpose, the furniture and fixtures in them need to reflect that flexibility. Bringing more resimercial pieces into the office can help employees feel more comfortable and productive, and makes a company look and feel like a place people want to work.