Creating the right spaces for your workplace
Is your office floor plan helping or hurting your business goals? If it’s too open or too private, too quiet or too noisy, it’s possible that the effect is actually detrimental. Including a wide variety of options, from spaces to focus to places to socialize, can help your members be more productive no matter what type of work they are doing.
When designing a space, it is important to consider not only how people will use individual spaces, but how they move between them & throughout their space. Providing flexibility in how and where people work within a space is a key concept in Activity-Based Workspace (ABW) design, and it can make or break your member experience.
For example, at Cowork Tahoe, our lobby/lounge space is on the opposite end of the building from our focused open desk area. We designed the building this way for several reasons:
- The lobby serves as the first entry point, so when potential members or clients walk in, we want them to experience a wow moment seeing modern design, comfortable seating, the smell of coffee, local art, and music playing. It also doubles as a great gathering space for member lunches and evening events. The lobby is filled with natural light & because it is also our lounge seating and adjacent to the kitchen, there are always people there – working, chatting, drinking coffee, etc – the energy is palpable. That is the stage we want to set when beginning any tour.
- The desk area, on the other hand, is meant for productivity. It is a focus zone, so we strive to minimize distractions there. We do not play music throughout the space, lights can be controlled in each area, including individual task lighting, and we try and limit foot traffic. The design is more clean & muted. Since we do have dedicated desks, members can have their personal belongings and while the area is generally tidy, there is more visual clutter which is not the first impression we would like to set.
- Because these spaces are on opposite sides of the building, any noise or foot traffic through the lobby does not impact those working in the desk area. It also encourages social interaction as everyone must walk through the hallways to the lobby to get coffee, snacks, or their lunch. Having that distance be more than a few feet means members are more willing to take a few minutes to catch up with someone and not just dash right back to their desk.
Buildings may be static, but people are dynamic, so the physical design must account for the motion of people through the static space. I know very few people that are able to be productive sitting in one position for hours on end.
On any given day, I work from half a dozen spaces within the coworking space. I might start my day at my desk in a private office with the door closed to get a little focused work done. Then, I’ll take a video call in a small meeting room down the hall. Next, it is time for coffee and some time standing up, so I’ll set up at the counter in the kitchen. When I’m writing, I like sitting in a comfy chair or on a couch with my feet up. If there is a team meeting, that means we need a white board and a larger meeting space with a door. A quick phone call? I’ll either walk outside to get some fresh air, or jump into a phone booth. Having all of these spaces easily accessible throughout the day means I am encouraged to take advantage of them and can be more productive as a result.
Types of Work to Consider
- Focus/Creative Work – needs distraction free setting. This could be an open desk area, private offices, or isolated seating that makes it easy to put on headphones and get to work.
- Task Work – can be in a more general setting, distractions don’t matter as much. Also good for opening desk areas, but also for a coffee-shop like setting with music playing and comfortable seating.
- Collaboration – needs space for several people to talk to one another, whiteboard space, can be private or in an area where conversation won’t be distracting to others
- Social – think the kitchen or coffee bar, lunch tables, somewhere that encourages chit chat
- Audio & Video Calls – needs small, private spaces like phone booths or small meeting rooms for 1-2 people.
- Presentations – this is best for larger conference rooms of 8 people and up to full classroom or even larger event size
Other considerations – there should be plenty of options for people to sit down at a desk, stand up, or otherwise change their position throughout the day, and each of these options needs to be available for all types of work. Think sit/stand desks, counter height tables, clusters of comfy chairs, etc.
More Benefits of Activity-Based Design
- Increased work productivity. When people have the flexibility to work the way they need to, and to do so easily with support from the space they are in, productivity is much easier to achieve.
- More interactions between members = more opportunity for social connection. People moving throughout a building increases the number of interactions between them. This can lead to more conversations and more social connection than if everyone stayed in the same place the entire day.
- More movement. Its just not healthy, on a variety of levels, to be stationary for too long. Moving around is good for our physical well being. Changes of scenery can be beneficial to our mental health, as well as help to break up the work day.
- Happier community. By designing spaces well for the types of work that can be done in each, it can minimize frictions between members (ie no more loud sales call next to you while you are trying to do focused writing or coding).
Implementing Activity-Based Workplace Design
There is no definitive rule of thumb for how many & what types of spaces you need for an ideal office environment. I’ve seen ratios such as 1 meeting room for every 10 workers in a space, but there are so many more nuances to it than that. Partially because everyone is different, and as members come into or leave your space, the needs of the community overall may change. So, how can you implement activity-based workplace design?
Track everything – tracking how often your meeting spaces are being used, which ones, and also how often there are none available, is critical to understanding how to optimize the use of your space. Also important is tracking your memberships – is most of your demand for private offices, and if so, is that only because you are not offering enough flexible workspaces to meet their needs without having dedicated private space? Are most of your members part time? Is your large conference room sitting empty, or worse, is there often 1 person in there squatting because they can’t focus in the desk space? These are all data points that can be used to adjust the physical space to meet the dynamic needs of your members, and provide a much better experience for them as a result.
If you don’t have a customer base to track, start with your target customer. Who are they and what will they need? How many members can your space serve? That should give a good starting point for how many of each type of workspace you should aim for.
Whether you are in the early stages of designing a new office space, or looking to improve your member experience by re-designing the space you have, activity-based workplace design should be on your radar as a way to ensure you are meeting the needs of your members.