When it comes to great office design, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. The best workspaces have a variety of areas suited to different needs.
Everyone has heard of the workplace of the future--touted as a utopian, wide-open space with few divisions and natural light throughout--but there are always the whispers, “How can I focus? What about quiet space?” For decades, seas of uninspired cubicles hindered collaboration, but today’s open-plan offices can leave workers exposed, with little opportunity to concentrate. Regardless of which type, monotonous office design can fail you. Whichever direction the pendulum swings, too much of one thing can certainly be a bad thing.
The majority of workplaces that we at O+A design are indeed open and collaborative. But what makes them successful is not their openness--or, at least, not only their openness. Work styles are as individual as workers themselves and as varied as the tasks required during the day. Good office design accounts for as many varieties as possible. It allows for a quiet, intimate corner to escape to while providing a flexible space for communal activities like happy hours or tech talks. It creates zones dedicated to team-wide research and ideation without sacrificing individual needs for focused, concentrative work. How can you add variety to your office and accommodate different work styles? Consider adding some of the following spaces:
Studio: This dedicated creative space should foster non-linear thinking. Imagine creatives collaborating among disheveled inspiration boards or makers building away on work tables. The beauty of a studio has always been in the tangible proof of work being produced: Why shouldn’t your office showcase what you do, allow employees to contribute, and honor what makes you unique?
Living Room: The tone of a meeting is dictated by the furnishings in a room. Formal conference rooms with mahogany boardroom tables and plush, high-backed leather seats don't necessarily inspire casual ideation and relaxed collaboration. Instead, convert at least one conference room in your office into a lounge space with couches, small tables, and whiteboards. Then, watch the ideas flow.
Town Hall: Part of building a productive office is building a sense of a community. A town hall encourages cross-company mingling through lunches, happy hours, and all-hands meetings. Communal tables on casters and flexible seating mean, done right, this space becomes the nucleus of the office--at times social hub, restaurant, lecture hall, lounge and arcade. (It can even be used to extend your company into the industry at large through outside events and talks.) Fostering this sense of community means that people connect regularly and ideas generate freely.
Shelters: Traditional workplace design has a tendency to overvalue the meeting and undervalue the discussion. Oftentimes, the best interactions are those that are not planned. How can you create a tertiary space that allows for a quick chat that isn’t overly disruptive? A shelter does just that. It's a semi-protected space with a few chairs and a table or two that allows for impromptu discussions and collaboration for small groups. It offers workers a chance to be amid the action of the open plan without disturbing it. Another bonus? It also frees up valuable conference rooms.
Library: Introverts take note: You have not been forgotten. Everyone needs a quiet space to retreat to once in awhile and the scholarly wood tables or wingback chairs of a library provide an escape for focused, concentrative work. Working on a complex solution to project budget constraints? Finessing code that’s due at the end of the day? Just work better in quiet rather than the open plan? Head to the library, actual books optional (this is about connotation). I’d suggest one steadfast rule, though: No cellphones allowed.
DENISE MIEKO CHERRY: is a principal of Studio O+A, the San Francisco interior design firm that has created ground-breaking offices for Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Yelp and many other companies. She is a strong advocate for her firm's core belief that good design grows from understanding the client.