The Epic Move: Collaboration Room Design Part 4

In our first article of this series, we examined the 4 Work Modalities of (Focus, Collaboration, Learning, and Socializaton), as defined by Gensler. We also reviewed my two different interpretations on the definition of Collaboration. In my last two articles, I laid out my belief that as these spaces increase in size, they are really more oriented towards presentation, rather than a collaboration room.

At the end of our last article, we were asking how the data that has evolved educational spaces into a more collaborative environment (as opposed to a presentation based environment), since knowledge transfer is the central focus of both spaces. Before figuring out how we can improve on this paradigm, I think it’s important to figure out how we got here in the first place. I believe the history of the collaborative workspace evolution is central to the question of why most of these spaces aren’t what we would consider truly collaborative.

Workplace Mobility – The fact that today’s workforce doesn’t spend all day in the office may be the single largest driver of the open office and collaborative office shift. Realizing that they were spending big money on empty chairs, organizations began to take notice and look for solutions.

Workplace 20*20 is a Federal program commissioned in 2002 to study the effectiveness of adaptations in workspaces, as a response to changing workplace trends. The New Federal Workplace is one of the reports that grew out of this study. It’s worth a read. Many of the findings must be taken with a grain of salt, as they report psychological reactions to these spaces, rather than quantitative (ie: this new space is better for my productivity). The report does do a good job of identifying some overall trends. According to the report, only 30-40% of employees with assigned desks are actually using them at any given time. A third are typically working away from the office. Another third are in the building, but not at their desk.

Recognizing these same trends, Cisco’s WPR (Workplace Resources) group in charge of real estate decided to create its own proof of concept facility in the form of San Jose Building 14, back in 2004. Cisco has written much about the facility, which you can find with a simple Google search. Here is their case study of the Connected Workplace Environment, as they call it. Skipping to the end, you will find a 42% reduction in construction costs, 37% reduction in rent, and 50% reduction in furniture spending, among other savings.

Accomplishing these goals required a significant amount of technology (Cisco, of course), including Extension Mobility and IP Communicator (software based phone), among others. Extension Mobility allows employees sharing desks or workstations to log into the phone at that desk, carrying over there phone extension information. It also required roughly 4x as many wireless access points to deal with the increased personnel and technology load.

The Millennial Factor – By any measure, top talent is shrinking and Corporate America is keenly aware. Baby Boomers are nearing retirement, leaving these leadership roles to smaller numbers of Gen X and Gen Y members of the working population. In particular, there are not enough members of Generation Y entering the workforce. Competition for talent is bound to increase. This could be an even more potent trend, were the economy to recover during the transition.

As a group, these individuals are less concerned about their claim to an office and more concerned with their general well-being and social interaction within the organization. Oxygenz.com is a large scale research project including 5,375 respondents to measure the impact and perspectives of Gen Y, due to both their impending demand and anticipated disruptive nature. Consider the numbers for a second. Boomers number 80 million, while Gen Xers only number 40 million. By comparison, members of Gen Y number about 75 million and are often considered to be poised as the next generation of leaders.

The Oxygenz 2010 Report is 117 pages long. Among the more interesting findings, they suggest that “most workplaces dedicate at the most, 30% of their space to meeting rooms and 70% of the space to desks, the reverse balance seems to be the answer to satisfy the younger generation at work. Of equal interest, according to this report and others, satisfying this generation is no easy task. Not having been through any recession, with the exception of the most recent, most were brought up in a fair amount of economic certainty. They also tend to have a formidable amount of student debt that must be paid down.

As a group, Gen Y also has an significant desire to work in brightly lit and open environments. This ties into another trend in the new workplace movement of creating more inviting workspaces. Aside from creating an employee base that is more “engaged” overall (a major catchphrase), there is increasing evidence to show a direct and quantitative financial incentive for companies to provide greater access to lighting and outdoor views. The University of Oregon conducted significant research into the Biophilia Hypothesis and Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). Their research strongly suggests that as much as 10% of missed work days are directly connected to a lack of outdoor views.

There is another way that Millennials have played a role in this movement. During the dot com era, Silicon Valley firms led by young entrepreneurs didn’t necessarily have a sense of what an office “should” be as standard. Many did not have significant experience working at an office before. Instead, they constructed their workspaces to meet their specific needs (and sometimes cultures/personalities), rather than matching a pre-existing mold.

In Part 5, we will look at the 3rd factor driving the Collaboration Room Trend.

Here are links to the first 3 articles if you need to catch up:

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