Several years ago, the incursion of the open space concept in the workplace represented the beginning of a shift in the mentality of many companies when it came to designing their offices. Since then this process that has yet to stop evolving, and it not only implies a new way of understanding the physical space, but also a much deeper change based on the needs of today’s workers and society. What are the trends in these new spaces, what are workers demanding, how can talent be attracted and retained, or what is the best way to implement productivity? These are just some of the essential questions in any business strategy. An exciting typology undergoing constant growth that, together with companies such as Colonial, AECOM, Workplace Solutions, JLL / Tétris, COT & Partners, Cundall España, Studio MAAC and BICG, we were able to analyse at the second edition of Workplace Strategy in Madrid, organised by Grupo Vía and held in this city's Actiu showroom.
One notion that undoubtedly defines new workspaces is the idea of them being part of the content, spaces that abandon their ‘passive’ role and are now considered by companies to be a fundamental means to achieving their objectives. Terms such as well-being at work or flexibility are now a priority, and the so-called ‘employees’ have now become ‘clients’ that their own companies must take good care of if they want them to stay. Something that, at the end of the day, is nothing new: offices are and have always been people, and designing a workspace means designing a space for all those who work and will work within it. Because, as Isabel Amor points out, from the BICG consulting group, “the changes in these spaces goes beyond the merely physical and it is crucial to align the interior of companies with what they sell and project abroad”. For her, transforming a business implies a change from within. She adds, “It’s not just about changing the spaces, the technologies and the way of working, but changing ourselves. There is no point in designing environments that strive for mobility, flexibility, transparency or collaboration if the company that occupies them continues to be governed by concepts such as control or hierarchy”.
The current state of the workspace and where it is heading is an aspect that worries many companies that know what they want now but not in the near future. In contrast to the standardised schemes, including both compartmentalised and open space offices that are often applied in an overly generalist way, companies now demand custom spaces that respond to specific needs. “We’re living in a visual era, which causes many clients come to us with images that they’ve seen and want for themselves. Our job isn’t to copy, but to adapt these images to their needs and turn them into a tool that can evolve with them”, says Julia Mingorance and José Rodriguez Pastrana from AECOM. At their consulting firm, they emphasise the importance of working hand in hand with the client to identify their real needs, which they are often unaware of, and thus creating a “tailor-made suit” for them. We don’t know what our work will be like in the coming years, so the way to design an office that is prepared for the future is to make it flexible, capable of adapting and changing. A space that within a year can be completely different from what it’s like now and that can continue to respond to our needs.
The workspace is currently being subjected to review, in which neither the compartmented offices nor the completely open environments seem to be the best option. The open space, which appeared a few years ago as the perfect solution to the problems arising from traditional workspaces, which were often too hierarchical, is already falling short. Aspects such as excessive noise or constant distractions for workers make many companies the ones responsible for their low productivity. And there is no solution that works for everyone, and not all offices should be organised into completely open spaces, nor should the closed cubicle concept disappear. The wide variety of work and workers needs to be reflected in a combination of highly diverse environments that respond to the needs of all those who inhabit them. From open spaces, essential when it comes to fostering collaboration and teamwork, to other closed spaces for developing tasks that demand greater privacy, both as a group and individually. A balance between both, with versatile and customisable spaces that combine collaboration, concentration, learning and socialisation, and that allow the worker to choose where they want to work at all times.
If up until recently the main objective of new workspaces was primarily to eliminate overly hierarchical distributions and to promote horizontality through teamwork areas, now the protagonist is mobility. And the fact is that the way of working has changed. New technologies, teleworking and the new generation of so-called ‘millennials’ create the necessity to reconfigure offices in order to attract and retain the highly precious talent. For Miguel Colomo, architect and co-founder of Workplace Solutions, technology has eliminated the line that separates our personal and professional life. “If we’re being fair, we have to let our personal life also occupy our offices just like how work has invaded our homes”, he says. But this isn’t the only consequence of technology. The way of communicating has also changed, and it is no longer necessary to be together in the same space or at the same time in order to work on a common project. Meetings don’t have to take place in meeting rooms, instead they can be conducted while walking down the street or having a coffee. Just like our houses and cities function as offices, the reverse should also be true. “You no longer work at the office, socialise at the bar or rest at home”, says Guzmán de Yarza, from JLL / Tétris, for whom the design of workspaces goes far beyoned architecture and carries with it a huge social and anthropological responsibility. According to the architect, “we must learn from non-corporate environments and transfer them to corporate settings, in a process where the transversality of uses generates very interesting hybrid spaces”.
Having happy and motivated workers in undoubtedly one of the goals of any company. And among many others, the workspace is one of the means to achieving it. It’s no longer a matter of assigning a task and a position to each worker, or controlling the hours worked, but instead the idea revolves around creating a friendly working environment that enhances productivity, combines professional and personal life and, what is more complicated, manages to capture and retain the best talent. A place where aspects such as distribution, furniture or colours are as important as other less-tangible aspects and that directly affect the physical and psychological well-being of people. The WELL certification is already beginning to gain a reputation in Spain and it includes aspects as important as air purity, healthy food, mobility or sport at work; where both technology, which still has a lot to contribute in the creation of intelligent workspaces that can anticipate needs and facilitate tasks, and furniture have a whole lot to contribute.
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