Open office floor plans and hot-desking, two shared office space concepts that originated in the '90s, have a new look. This is not the "one-size-fits-all" open environment that tried—and failed—to improve collaboration for three decades. In this new layout, CEOs give up their corner offices to work side by side with their teams, and workers can always find a quiet place to make a phone call.
Some of Canada's most cutting-edge companies are adopting activity-centered work environments. The goal: To eliminate many of the drawbacks of open office floor plans and create spaces that break down departmental silos and help employees thrive.
A new and improved office approach
Sparked by the telecommuting trend, hot-desking evolved around the same time as open office floor plans. Rather than having a dedicated desk, employees take whatever space is open that day. It's similar to a shared desk concept used by two or more employees who telecommute, except the desk is up for grabs by anyone who needs it.
But what if you took the concept of shared desks and gave employees additional options? Claim a huddle space to collaborate with team members. Shut the door in a private office for a lengthy phone call. Lounge on a comfortable couch to do research on a laptop or mobile device.
Activity-based work environments represent the next generation of hot-desking and open floor plans, giving the employees the tools they need to collaborate, focus and stay productive.
On the cutting edge
More and more companies are embracing the concept, trading private offices—including those corner office suites for higher-ups—for flexible, shared spaces. The result is a mix of traditional meeting rooms, open spaces for collaboration and, of course, conventional desks.
Unlike a traditional open-office environment, the layout encourages collaboration between departments. Employees aren't sitting with their team members in an open environment that creates “proxemic issues," or the desire to withdraw when forced into close quarters with co-workers.
Instead, employees can choose where—and with whom—to spend their time depending on the tasks they need to complete. This flexibility helps break down silos between departments, since employees are free to roam and collaborate outside their teams.
Managing an activity-based environment
Hot-desking saves space and can reduce infrastructure costs. A survey by Senion, a smart office provider, discovered that companies with unoccupied desks may waste as much as $14.72 million per year on that space.1
If a percentage of your employees are already working from home, you don't need a desk for every person. However, to maintain employee satisfaction and comfort, it's important to ensure enough of the necessary spaces are available. If an employee prefers to come in and work in the same space every day, this should be possible and permitted.
With five generations of co-workers under one roof and endless personality types, some employees will naturally gravitate toward shared spaces while others will seek out private offices. Giving employees the flexibility to choose where they work—and with whom—can boost morale and increase productivity.
Taking the first step
Transitioning to an activity-centered space can be costly, but it doesn't have to be-all-or-nothing immediately. If you already employ an open office environment, you can adopt hot-desking and encourage employees to mingle between departments in shared spaces.
If you want to create an open environment, be sure to include spaces for privacy and collaboration. Some companies go so far as creating official open-office etiquette guidelines.
You may want to consider these points as you create your own guidelines for co-existing in an open office: Will employees choose their space for a specific time slot using an app, or will you have more of a freewheel approach? Guidelines should also address hygiene concerns. Providing smartphones and laptops employees take with them as they move around the office can help alleviate some concerns about the spread of germs.
If a traditional office or an open office environment haven't worked as well as you'd hoped and you're seeking to shake up your workplace to enhance collaboration, consider how an activity-centered environment could deliver more of the private and shared spaces your workers need.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.