The open office was once declared the solution to stagnating profits, slow product development, and the loss of talented workers. Cube farms were passé, and wide, sweeping rooms with no walls or physical barriers in sight were suddenly the answer. Rallying cries about teamwork, innovation, and collaboration echoed in every corporate C-suite conference room. To sweeten the deal, stats about saving millions supported the open office, and corporate America rushed to redesign.

But then, more stats rolled in. Despite the maximized space, too many distractions, diminishing personal space, and lack of privacy were blamed for destroying the workplace.

Productivity went down instead of up, thanks to difficulties employees had trying to focus.

The laid back atmosphere contributed to decreased attention spans and lessened employee creativity.

The big rooms with long tables bearing more workers scrunched into less space were not quite the hit they'd been touted to be.

Physical versus Digital Workspaces

Then the answer seemed to come out of remote working policies.

Employees were free to work from anywhere. After all, the technology of the modern office supports remote logins, face-to-face video conferencing, and vast network capabilities to such an extent that some companies have no physical office anywhere. Their workers are distributed across the globe, connected digitally.

But what happens when workers don't bump into each other in the halls, or sit together in a cafeteria or nearby café? Workers feel disconnected, not part of a cohesive group, and their isolation leads to the  impression they're shouldering the workplace's problems all on their own.

Hybrid Spaces: The Best of Both Worlds

When organizations consider how the digital and physical environment impacts employee behavior and wellbeing, the hybrid workspace begins to shine as a potential answer, something the Bellevue, Washington office of Sucker Punch Productions understands well. Part concrete physical space where employees see with their own eyes that the work being done is a collaborative effort where their happiness matters, and part digital environment where mobility allows workers to choose their best potential workspace--for meetings, phone calls, or teamwork--the hybrid workspace is definitely not static.

The changing nature of work and the technologies that drive marketplace competition require the office to be adaptable, comfortable, and able to move fluidly in support of the next project, the next new idea, and the next team created to bring those ideas and projects to life.

Employee Support is the Bottom Line

Adding features that support employees rather than the corporate machine is smart business. It leads to increased productivity and employee satisfaction, which drives unprecedented levels of innovation and disruptive commerce that sets companies apart. These features encourage movement among workers, with open spaces like atriums, staircases with seating, and more accessible shared workspaces in common locations.

By facilitating this movement, collaboration remains front and center.

However, being mindful of the distracting nature of these fluid areas is also key. Take a lesson from what AAA has done in their Walnut Creek, California headquarters. Offering comfortable private environments or delineated workstations to minimize distractions and encourage focus and concentration, away from common conversation areas where big, open meetings and brainstorming sessions take place helps employees feel they have options to "get away from it all." Recharge spaces are important in regaining energy spent throughout the workday, and can include more than a simple quite office in which to shut the door. Yoga or meditation rooms, reading nooks, and peaceful gardens are excellent places for one to gather scattered thoughts and take a breather.

Talent of All Ages

Workers from all generations are looking for the place where they best fit, in terms of talent as well as physical space. Introverts see an open office plan and shy away the way extroverts looking over a room full of closed off cubicles used to. Recognizing that individuals thrive in their own ways in varying environments and providing those environments gives your company the leg up in the talent acquisition arena. It's not just about salary anymore. A new employee who already dreads the kind of office where they're required to work won't last long, and that costs every company money.

Cuningham Group Architecture in Las Vegas, Nevada showcases that understanding in their newly redesigned offices. In a single large, airy room with lots of natural light, they provide private cubbies for singularly focused concentration, a group of workstations with some shared space where members of a team can discuss projects with their seat neighbors, and waist-height tables where groups can converge and collaborate.

Attractive design, comfortable furniture, natural light, biophilic features, and technology that supports employees wherever they are in the building are amenities that have wide appeal.

When your company understands not only the beauty of well-designed space, but how that translates to human behavior, it becomes clear to anyone setting foot in your building that your company culture will boost them up in all the ways that matter. When the physical and digital environments support all employee needs from the standpoint of individuals as well as teams, it creates a sense of camaraderie that can't be matched.

Building a hybrid space to include physical, digital, and cultural considerations that encourage and support natural human behaviors in the workplace is the standout amenity above all others to show your employees you understand them and are glad to have them on your team.

Published on: Sep 19, 2018