Designing Offices for a Flexible Workforce
Flexible working is one of the mega trends of the 21st century, but what exactly is meant by a flexible workforce and what impact does it have on designing office interiors? When you see a near-empty office, the burden of the rent looms large but before you make drastic changes consider the options.
What is flexible working?
The CIPD released a report entitled Megatrends: A Report on Flexible Working in January 2019, which explores the broad range of working practices which fall under the umbrella of ‘flexible’. These include part-time work, job shares, working from home, zero-hours contracts, flexitime and pretty much every other pattern that doesn’t fit into the normal Monday to Friday 9-5. Employees are now legally entitled to request flexible working and employers must do their best to accommodate. For the majority of office workers working from home should be an option and more and more people are opting to do this on a regular basis but what are the implications for managers in terms of space? Can companies afford to have empty desk space and what options suit everyone?
Hot desking – the advantages and disadvantages
Hot desking was all the rage when it entered the mainstream about 10 years ago but its popularity is beginning to dwindle. Hot desking is when employees don’t have a permanent desk and essentially have to work wherever there is free space. The development of cloud-based software meant that people could log onto their own ‘desktop’ whatever machine they used. Sophisticated telecoms meant that your telephone number could be rerouted to wherever you happened to be. Perfect! No more empty desks, offices could reduce in size and everyone was happy…. except, of course, there were problems.
For companies with shift workers, call centres, for example, it totally makes sense – only half the workforce will be on-site at any one time. However, for most offices, there’s an element of risk and managers have made assumptions. If they predict a maximum of 75% will be working on-site at any given time (flexible working, holiday, sick leave etc), they can reduce the desk space by 25%. But what about the times that an unprecedented percentage work from the office? Also, it often creates unnecessary competition for the optimum seats. There’ll always be the person who gets in early to secure the best view and the person fed up of always being by the loos because they start work later.
Smart solutions for a flexible workforce
Trying to keep everyone happy with your eye on the bottom line is nigh-on impossible but there are some nifty ways of accommodating a flexible workforce without too much financial burden. Firstly talk to your team. Explain that you need to make some changes but ask for advice. Close-knit teams may be very happy to share their space and agree amongst themselves on how to manage their work area. Consider the needs of the different roles within the business. A member of the sales team may spend most of their time on the phone and have less need for a dedicated desktop computer. They may be very happy to work from a laptop on a shared table. In contrast, a graphic designer may require two screens and their computer set up in a very particular way and therefore be very sceptical towards a hot-desking arrangement.
Interior Design Solutions
So how can interior design accommodate new ways of working? Every company is different and we plan spaces around the specific working practices of that individual office. When we start asking the questions, solutions often appear and they tend to include the following….
Flexible spaces for a flexible workforce
Offices of old would create dedicated spaces for dedicated purposes, the meeting room being the most obvious example. It’s a bit of a luxury nowadays to have a room not in constant use. Think about how often this space is used and could it be used by flexible workers some of the week and meetings limited to certain times? Does the room have enough plug sockets, can the furniture be moved to a new configuration? Some workers, reps for example spend most of their time on the road but need to come to the office to complete admin tasks. What about dedicating some of a break-out area to people working on their laptops? You can learn some lessons from developments in co-working spaces about making your space work for diverse roles.
Make sure all the seating and tables are suitable for work. If you are repurposing the meeting room to be a flexible desk space ensure the chairs are comfortable enough for an eight-hour day. Instead of one large table to be shared think about a conference-style desk (usually a horseshoe shape) which might be more practical for accessing floor plugs. Unit furniture makes reconfiguring your space simple and you can change the set-up to suit the situation. Always keep in mind the comfort of employees. You have as much duty of care to the full-time workers as you do for those who come in once a week, or indeed once a month. Substandard furniture isn’t a solution.
Providing a flexible workforce with lockers is really recommended. Encouraging staff to clear their desks when going on annual leave or when they are working remotely for a period is a good way of introducing an element of hot desking. With a workforce over 30, it’s likely at least one person will be on annual leave in any given week. If you hire freelancers you can offer them space without needing to offer a dedicated space. For part-time workers knowing that they can securely store their belongings on site whilst they’re not in the office is really reassuring and avoids the office being littered with smelly gym kits! Flexible spaces need to be tidy and if you’re not providing suitable storage it’s difficult to expect your staff to keep it minimal.