Kenny Kane is the Chief Operating Officer at FIRMSPACE.
A recent Gallup poll found that 41% of Americans working from home would prefer to return to the workplace. While this group is in the minority, it still represents hundreds of thousands of professionals, and as someone who creates office space for a living, I understand where this minority is coming from.
An office should be a distinct space by design, and the design of an office space must be intentionally crafted — not just for style, but to facilitate deep work. To translate this idea into tech parlance, I believe that the way an office looks is the UI on top of an incredible UX.
Think of your floor plan as a wireframe.
It won’t surprise you to hear that “as of the first quarter of 2020, up to 70 percent of all office spaces were primarily or partially open plan in design.” We can expect to see that number drop dramatically by the end of this year.
If you’re among the industry leaders who are thinking about how to renovate your workspace to meet current public health standards, your design plans will be constrained by the structure of the building. But that doesn’t have to be a barrier to providing an excellent, safe daily experience for your team.
Think of your building as the most basic wireframe of your office: The exits, entrances and windows are all part of this sketch, along the weight-bearing and superficial walls. Great designers can ensure that professionals who enter your building in the parking garage downstairs have a consistent experience from their parking space to the elevator to the touch-free, controlled access doors to their own office.
The pathways people walk every day have a huge impact on their experience of the office, and they’re of particular importance in light of today’s social distancing mandate.
Choose the right materials to deliver an exceptional experience.
Office design is about much more than how people move within the space. Every touchpoint matters to the designer’s eye — even those that aren’t readily visible.
For instance, one of my favorite aspects of my own office in Austin is the sound-masking feature that helps me get deep work done. This system is designed to mitigate intermittent noise throughout the space, and this isn’t a superficial addition. Intermittent noise negatively impacts performance levels, especially in high-pressure environments, and it can be hard to combat this invisible barrier to getting work done.
Our architectural designer encouraged us to add sheetrock between offices, deck to deck. There are also two concrete slabs at the floor and ceiling. (Most office walls are only sheetrocked to just above the acoustic ceiling tile, and this is the source of a tremendous amount of noise leakage.) Each element contributes to my sense of focus. The quality of these materials at every level ensures that the office will be a reliable haven, every workday.
To achieve a streamlined experience, UX must be embedded in the space design.
Designers with an eye on the human experience of working in the office bring an attention to detail that makes working easier. Beyond creating a culture of convenience within each room, designers make the small tasks that you do while working in the office feel intuitive.
In a well-designed space, the availability of the power outlet in the center of the conference table seems inevitable; no one ever spends time hunting for an outlet. If your interactive TVs are plug-and-play, meetings will start on time without tech issues. What were pain points in other spaces that have become forgotten annoyances?
The same thinking can and should be applied in an office space that’s designed to facilitate deep work and social distancing.
As you design for social distancing measures and public health, revisit your wireframes.
Since around 2010, the coworking industry is estimated to have grown to over 5,000 coworking spaces this year. For those who do want to return to an office, there will be a renewed focus on safety and a new set of expectations for what professional coworking spaces look and feel like.
Professionals want to feel safe and secure in their workplace every day. We all want the freedom to engage in our physical workspace on our own terms. Strong design facilitates this while supporting everyone’s well-being, from the parking garage to your desk.
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