Workplace design must accommodate employees, personality, industry

There needs to be a relationship between workplace design, the work that takes place and the personalities of the employees, experts say.

Scientists, for example, require a different type of work space than those who develop advertising campaigns or analyze spreadsheets.

The goal in each instance is to create a workspace that is conducive to productivity and, in some cases, creativity. And while many individual workers prefer a smaller, private office situation over a large open environment, many companies must accommodate more workers in the same space and are consequently seeking higher density, said Mike Warren, Workplace Culture Consultant for Rieke Office Interiors of Elgin.

"Our job is to make everyone comfortable in whatever activity they are doing at a given time," Warren said.

"So we are designing offices with more small meeting rooms, one-person call rooms for private phone calls and heads down work like proofing a document and even secluded cubicles for those who don't want distracting visual stimulation," he said.

"Workers today are no longer tied to their desks. They are much more transient in the work space during the day because they can answer their phone anywhere. In fact, the desk phone will probably be a thing of the past within the next three years," Warren stated. "Many companies already have a sort of instant messaging system that comes across your phone, tablet or laptop."

Because they are no longer tethered to a particular workspace, they are booking different spaces throughout the day like a small meeting room for a 9 a.m. brainstorming session and then a private call room for 2 p.m. when they need to make a call or have absolute quiet to spend detail time on a contract or a spreadsheet or to do research.

"Workers are moving around more because technology has evolved to allow them to take their laptop, tablet, phone or even a pad of paper anywhere they want to work - even outside. And research has proved that moving around is much healthier for the employee, too," Warren said. "The best office designs are developed when the designers are able to communicate with workers in the different departments before they begin the design - through questionnaires or focus groups or just from walking around," he explained. "Different departments have different needs and working styles and only those in that particular department really know their particular needs."

Warren said that designers also need to take into account that every workplace has both introverts and extroverts on their staffs and they need to plan spaces for both personality types to be able to work to their best abilities on a daily basis.

Even though designers are planning these different types of segregated spaces, they need to keep in mind that during the majority of each day, there are probably many people working at their desks in cubicles within a large open space. So measures also need to be taken to muffle and contain noise.

"Noise within an office is very subjective. What bothers one person will not bother the next," Warren explained. "But acousticians can be called in to do an evaluation if an office has multiple noise complaints."

Once the severity of the problem is ascertained, there are many types of remediation. For instance, you can install a white noise machine in the ceiling which simulates the sound of an air conditioner and successfully muffles both high sounds and low sounds.

"Turf" felt-covered acoustical panels for walls and ceilings can also be added to absorb sound. They are generally made in bright colors and interesting shapes to not only muffle noise but also to add visual interest to the workspace. Finally, the Sonos wireless speaker system can allow low-volume music to be easily piped into an office space. Quiet background music is great for distracting workers from their neighbors' conversations, Warren said.

Turf felt-covered acoustical panels for walls and ceilings can also be added to absorb sound in offices. Courtesy of Rieke Office Interiors
Designers must consider the type of work that is done in an office and what types of people work there. Courtesy of Rieke Office Interiors
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