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  • Making the Workplace Work

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    When it comes to the way we design and decorate interior spaces, styles are always changing. Colors and patterns go in and out of vogue. Furniture shapes and sizes are hot and then not. But today, when it comes to outfitting an office environment, there’s much more than pure aesthetics driving the decisions. We asked two local interior designers who focus on the workplace to explain the latest trends and the motivations behind them. AnnMarie Jackson is the director of interior design for Montgomery architecture and engineering firm Sherlock, Smith & Adams, Inc., and Lynne Dunn is senior interior designer for Kyser OfficeWorks Inc.
                                                               
    How have design and decor for today’s office environments changed in the last 10 years?
    AJ: I continue to see private offices declining within office settings. Management or team leaders are integrated with staff to enhance collaboration. Doing so has its advantages, but not having designated quiet areas for staff to focus or for privacy when needed can be detrimental, and so providing that is important to keep in mind.
                                                                           
    LD: Our culture as a whole has changed to promote collaboration/teaming/networking versus individual, private job functions. We share, discuss and build on each other’s ideas. As a result, companies are providing more open “we space” and less “I space” to encourage collaboration. Emphasizing collaboration has also led to more casual/comfortable workspaces that create a relaxed atmosphere to promote sharing and brainstorming. We are also becoming untethered, and this is making mobile furniture popular.
                                                                           
    What has driven these changes?
    AJ: Cost is definitely a factor. Building walls for private offices is not as cost effective as providing flexible, reconfigurable systems and mobile furniture. Also, for tax purposes, the depreciation of assets such as furniture or equipment is an extra added value.
                                                                           
    LD: Today’s multi-generational workforce is part of what’s driving a collaboration mindset, which, as noted above is driving choices that support this. And collaboration occurs not just in a designated space, but really anywhere and everywhere: in workstations, in hallways, in team spaces, via the Internet and on tablets and smartphones. Striving for a healthier lifestyle, which does not include sitting at a desk in a closed room all day, is also playing a role in design decisions.
     
    With more open workspaces, how are offices controlling noise and providing some privacy?
    AJ: Sound masking devices are helpful but can be costly. Mixing in different heights of storage or soft seating areas with higher seat backs can help buffer noise.
     
    LD: It’s smart to create personal enclaves or small lounge areas that allow people to take their devices wherever they want to do personal, concentrated work. Sound masking products really can make a big difference too. And finally, workplace etiquette needs to be set by management and should put emphasis on things like keeping voices low and not yelling across the room.
     
    FEEL GOOD, INC.                                                 
    Ergonomics is a big buzzword in office design. But what does it mean?
                                                                           
    Ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in their environment. “Taking a proactive solution toward wellbeing in the workplace is more than providing ‘ergonomic chairs.’ It focuses on the physical, cognitive and social needs of people,” AnnMarie Jackson said. “When employees’ needs are being met, they are that much more valuable to the company.”
                                                                           
    But good equipment does matter, as Lynne Dunn pointed out:
    • The correct chair for the job function and the individual is critical.
    • Adjustable chairs that support the body in multiple ways are great. You can now not only adjust height, but also seat depth, pivot as well as arm widths and heights.
    • Adjustable-height desks let people sit for a while and then stand for a while, offering the best of both worlds.
    COLLABORATION IS KEY
    “There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Research has shown that two or more heads really are better than one — the group will measurably outperform a lone expert.”                                                            
    — Lynne Dunn, Senior Interior Designer for Kyser OfficeWorks Inc.
     
    IT GOES BEYOND GOOD LOOKS                                                        
    Since it’s clear that current trends in office design and décor are focused on a lot more than how a space looks, it’s important for business owners and managers to pay attention to them, as Anne Marie Jackson explained. “Investing in the workplace environment by providing amenities and choices sends a message that you care about staff wellness,” she said. “Providing a quality environment has a direct impact on staff morale that will affect the bottom line.”
                                                               
    Lynne Dunn agreed. “From a physical standpoint, when employees’ bodies are supported, they have fewer aches and pains, which means they can concentrate more and get more work done,” she said. It’s also crucial to recruiting young talent. “The younger generations typically have fresh ideas, creative ideas, and they like new trends, so employers can hire and retain good employees if they keep up with the trends of the day,” she said.
     
    And there is no one-size-fits all answer, as Dunn stressed. She advised looking at the specific goals and functions of your company before jumping on a trend. “Companies need to research what best fits their employees’ needs to get the job done, and the style and size of their work areas should be based on what is needed,” she said. “We know environment affects productivity and efficiency, so everyone should evaluate and re-evaluate their unique situation.”
                                                               
    The workplace and the way we interact with it will continue to change, so Dunn offered a final tip: “Hiring a professional interior designer that understands this and can do needs assessment programing will help achieve the right environment for everyone involved,” she said.
     
    ON TREND
    Lynne Dunn at Kyser OfficeWorks outlined a few of today’s hottest trends and the thinking behind them.
    • Benching Workplaces / Think about sitting around the kitchen table studying with friends. You are doing your own work, but can get someone to explain something right then so you can move forward. This setup takes the same concept to the office. Sharing and expressing ideas comes easier in a small group, and it promotes understanding across job functions/ departments.                           
    • Mobile Furniture / Flip-top tables, nesting chairs and casters are making spaces more flexible and making it easy to accommodate rapidly and constantly changing sizes of groups or teams and their specific needs. It also makes workspaces more multi-functional, which keeps the real estate costs down.
    • Interactive Smartboards / These let people sketch ideas and then send the notes electronically to attendees and allow for teleconferencing with people around the globe so businesses can tap into talent from anywhere.                                                                      
    • Sit/Stand Desks & Walkstations / (slow moving treadmills where you walk while working): Getting healthier by moving is the driving force behind these trends. Standing also creates a more casual atmosphere by breaking down the perception that “the guy behind the desk is more powerful than me.”
    POLISHED PALETTE      
    “One overall trend in office design and decor is the use of lighter, cooler colors and adding interest with different textures and patterns.”
    - Joy Kaplan, interior designer at JMR+H Architecture, LLC.
     
    Kaplan also echoes Jackson and Dunn, pointing to open concepts that encourage collaboration and an emphasis on ergonomic furniture as other current trends. “Being on top of these workplace trends benefit both employee and employer,” she said.
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