2020 has been a challenging year for many businesses across a wide variety of industries.
As the world has adapted to dealing with social distancing and everyone staying home, companies have had to make adjustments to the way they do business and this has largely revolved around finding more flexible ways to operate.
According to Zenbooth, industry leaders in flexible workspace design, it’s not just millennials that are seeking a more agile working environment, with 94 per cent of Baby Boomers also seeking a more flexible work life.
On top of this, 13 per cent of all workers surveyed said they would give up their end-of-year bonuses for increased flexibility and five annual leave days for more freedom at work. Clearly, flexibility is something that employers should be taking very seriously!
So, what is flexible workspace design?
Flexibility has become a real buzzword in the business world, and when it comes to flexible workplace design, it can take many forms – from the physical set up of your office space, to the way your employees’ time is arranged and even where they are based.
Flexible or agile workplaces have largely arisen from changes in technology. As computers, phones and other technology have become mobile, it’s resulted in employees having a lot more freedom to move around in the office without compromising their ability to work.
People don’t have to be rooted to the one desk or spot all day, so consequently, the way offices are designed have changed to match this. No longer does everyone necessarily need to have their own individual office or cubicle – there is a lot more room for creativity.
However, you define it, the general consensus among employees seems to be that the more flexible their work life is, the better. So, when it comes to the physical office space you’re providing them with, there are a number of things to consider.
What can companies do to start incorporating flexible workplace design into their businesses?
Firstly, consider how many people you are accommodating in your office on a daily basis. Do you have a lot of staff who work remotely, or are out of the office visiting clients or conducting offsite work? If that’s the case, you might not need as many desks as you have employees and could consider utilising an open plan, hot-desking approach.
This means that people can use a desk when they are in the office and choose to sit close to the colleagues they will be collaborating with most that day – or choose a more private workstation if they need to concentrate in solitude for a few hours.
It’s also important to consider what your office space is used for and ensure you design it to suit those needs. As an example, agile workflows, also known as sprints, have become very popular in recent years. This is when projects are broken into bite-size chunks and worked on in iterations by different people: a process designed to heighten flexibility, productivity and collaboration.
Therefore, the space that these teams are working in also needs to be flexible and provide places where people can gather and work collaboratively – whether that be through hotdesking, large bench tables or meeting rooms. What this looks like will entirely depend on your business.
However, that doesn’t mean that every office should only consist of open, collaborative areas. A truly flexible workspace will provide employees with a range of options to suit their needs, known as an Activity Based Working model. Activity Based Working requires people to be able to choose spaces to work in that suits the activity they are completing at that time.
This could mean providing breakout rooms where people can concentrate or have some privacy for sensitive meetings or phone calls, individual workstations for autonomous working, collaborative workspaces for team work, and common areas for more casual interactions.
Demountable walls that allow rooms can be reconfigured, opened or closed is also a useful way to ensure an office space is flexible. And office furniture on wheels, such as tables and whiteboards, are also a nice touch, helping people to change up the entire look and feel of the space based on what they need that day.
But it isn’t only about the room setup – workstation setup is also crucially important to employees. Quality, ergonomic office furniture is a must-have. Providing the option of stand-up desks or adjustable workstation tables so people can sit or stand while they work according to their preferences is a great way to give employees flexibility in terms of their personal space.
What are the benefits of flexible workspace design?
There are two main benefits to flexible workspace design: reduced costs and increased employee satisfaction.
A flexible office design will help you get more bang for your buck when it comes to the space you own or lease. As mentioned above, with many employees now opting to work remotely, you don’t necessarily need to have a desk for every single person under your employ – figuring out how many people come into your office space every day and accommodating them will mean you can have a larger workforce than office space, keeping overheads down.
Increased employee satisfaction includes everything from staff happiness and wellbeing to retention and talent attraction.
In a flexible space with mobile technology, employees are more likely to be moving around interacting with their colleagues. Providing your business culture is healthy in other areas, socialising with other people normally has a positive impact on people’s overall happiness.
Increased movement also means that employee’s physical health will benefit with improvements to posture and less likelihood of musculoskeletal discomfort or diseases that are be caused by being too sedentary, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
When it comes to attracting the best and brightest talent, Zenbooth also notes that modern employees have an expectation of flexibility, with seventy percent of professionals working remotely at least one day a week, a trend that is only set to grow. This means it is a task to simply entice workers into coming in to the office in the first place and the more flexibility you can offer them, the more interested they will be in working for your company.
While advanced technology, such as video conferencing apps, can provide employees with an increase in flexibility, it can actually sometimes lead to people feeling less connected with each other and even a bit lonely.
Guzmán de Yarza Blache, Head of Workplace Strategy and Design at commercial real estate firm, JLL Spain, says that a well-designed office should encourage employees to come in to work when they can and promote interaction between colleagues, helping to combat loneliness.
“Agile workspace that can be used for multiple purposes creates social, collaborative areas in the office,” he says.
“A space that promotes socialising helps people to develop personal connections with their colleagues which can strengthen their working relationships and make them more engaged with their work.”
In reality, employee satisfaction and cost reduction are intrinsically linked benefits, as happy and healthy employees will be less likely to take time off work and are generally more productive when they are at work. And, if any of your current employees are considering looking for work elsewhere, greater flexibility and freedom in their work conditions might convince them to stay. This means that a flexible business is more likely to attract and retain a highly talented workforce but will also have reduced recruitment costs.
Ultimately, flexibility in a workplace can mean many things: flexible hours, physical spaces within your office, or even whether employees need to come into the office all the time. The key is figuring out what it looks like to you and using flexible workspace design to its full potential for your business.
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