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How to Create a Flexible Office Design

Gone are the days of congested offices with endless rows of desks, where employees worked tirelessly behind partitions and bosses considered conversation a workplace taboo. In the modern world, companies of all sizes are reinventing their workspace to be flexible.

Here, we’ll let you in on ways to keep your employees motivated, improve productivity and cut costs — by freshening your office to a flexible workplace design!

What Is a Flexible Office Design?

Flexible office designs are open-concept, adaptable spaces that offer immediate solutions to your business’ daily movement, employee workflow and collaboration.

Outdated office designs structure workflow to rigid daily standards. But, those clean-cut layouts fail to recognize employees’ independence and working preferences, constraining their productivity and efficiency. Limited collaboration and employee engagement can also harm workplace culture.

Flexible workspaces find better uses for infrequently used meeting spaces and private working areas. They provide “hot” desks, customizable workspaces, neutral communal workspaces and innovative meeting rooms that ultimately save you money in the long-run.

Flexible Office Designs vs. Open Offices

Some people compare flexible office designs to open offices, where employees work side-by-side in the same room with no enclosed offices, breakout rooms or cubicles. Though they can sometimes be better for worker morale than the traditional office layout, open offices still come with a handful of disadvantages, like:

  • Added distractions
  • Decreased productivity
  • Limited privacy
  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Greater manager-employee disconnect

Realizing the growing downsides, business leaders are increasingly seeking alternatives to an open office design, such as flexible workspaces.

What Are the Benefits of a Flexible Office Design?

Businesses that optimize flexible office designs garner benefits like a healthier culture, happier and more efficient employees and potentially substantial cost savings. With employees’ work style in mind, your business can produce higher-quality output at lower costs through the following advantages of flexible workspaces.

1. Creates a “Third Place”

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg defined the concept of a “third place” — a welcoming environment conducive to self-expression — in 1991, and the idea has gained momentum since then.

To best explain what a “third place” is, let’s use an example.

An author works from an at-home office, personalized to satisfy their unique routine. Having this private space comes with benefits, but can halt creativity without a change of scenery. So, to produce higher-quality work, the author packs up shop and visits their nearest cafe. Like magic, the writer breaks free from their restraints and uses the new scenery as motivation to keep creating.

Here, the third place — a neutral, public space used for collaboration and independent work alike — is the coffee shop. When translated into the workplace, a third place can look like:

  • A set of couches equipped with working accessories, like a tabletop or tablet surface.
  • An inviting breakroom with enough space to relax and refresh, maybe with a snack or two.
  • A coffee bar where employees can get the coffee-shop feel without needing to leave the office.

Third places give employees the freedom to leave confined settings and perform equally, if not more, beneficial work in other areas around the office. Being able to refresh their surroundings, gain inspiration from co-workers and regain energy encourages employees to maximize their efficiency throughout the workday.

2. Improves Employee Well-Being

If you’ve ever worked in a team environment, you can attest that everyone has a unique way of doing things. A colleague’s favorite “productivity hack” might only slow you down, and vice versa.

One advantage of office environments is the harmonious workflow of different working styles. In a typical office, you have people who:

  • Enjoy working alone.
  • Prefer working in a group environment.
  • Require total silence to enter deep work.
  • Like background noises and chatter.
  • Want the option to customize a single workspace.
  • Appreciate being able to work in different spaces.

Flexible office designs recognize each of these personal working styles. Employees already know what they require to be more productive, and the adaptivity of a flexible workspace gives them the freedom to make those decisions.

3. Instills Activity-Based Working

A flexible office design lessens the damaging effects of dead time — times of the day where you partake in activities that aren’t necessarily productive. In the workplace, dead time can take shape in ways like:

  • Lags between meetings.
  • Waiting to use the copier.
  • Talking to co-workers.
  • Waiting to get approval on a project.
  • Grabbing a quick snack to power through the afternoon slump.

Eliminating dead-time activities is nearly impossible, but you can restructure employees’ working environment to maximize them and encourage activity-based work.

Following the same ideology of employee well-being, your employees have the freedom to move around the office to areas that will optimize their performance. Employers have peace of mind knowing they’ve designed their flexible office to spark efficiency and inspiration.

4. Reduces Costs

Switching from a traditional office environment to a flexible office design will save your business money. Companies in the Asia Pacific region pioneered the transition. Some regions reported rental savings of over $20,000 in 2018, with a 72% price difference compared with the costs of a traditional office.

Consider these ways flexible office designs can save you money.

  • Efficient use of space: Every room and object serves a purpose, whereas other design alternatives leave wasted space through too-open concepts or unused rooms.
  • Fewer sick days: Time is money. When employee morale is high and people are happy, they’re less likely to take sick days, which can reduce productivity and decrease output.
  • Less building materials: Flexible office designs consist of adaptable, open workspaces and multipurpose furniture, avoiding costlier design elements like private offices.

Creating a Flexible Office Design During and Post-COVID-19

Employees relied on working from home following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Now, as we learn more about the coronavirus and ways to reduce the risk of exposure, employees are returning to newly reconstructed offices designed with precautionary measures in mind.

As your business welcomes employees back, take precautionary steps to prevent or slow coronavirus transmission. Consider the following safety measures when designing your flexible workspace.

1. Meet CDC Recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, has been proactive in guiding companies returning to “normal” operations. What are some safety measures they recommend businesses instill?

  • Perform daily health checks: At the entrance of your business, designate a private area for employee screenings. Ask employees if they have any symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, take their temperature to make sure it’s under 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and ask if they’ve spent time around anyone who tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 30 days.
  • Require employees to practice precautionary measures: At a minimum, make it mandatory for your employees to wear cloth face coverings. Remind your employees to avoid touching their faces, refrain from physical contact with other employees or clients, stay home if sick, wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, notify a manager if COVID-19 symptoms develop at work and avoid touching high-traffic surfaces.
  • Integrate social distancing: The CDC recommends shunning large gatherings and maintaining at least six feet of separation between other employees or clients when possible. Integrating social distancing may require you to rearrange or reconfigure existing furniture and workspaces.
  • Improve ventilation system: Although there aren’t many studies outlining the risk of spreading the coronavirus through ventilation systems, it’s smart to keep up with routine HVAC maintenance to increase the recycled amount of outside air.

If you have any questions or concerns about welcoming your employees back to the workplace, visit the CDC’s publication of FAQs for businesses.

2. Establish Social Distancing Rules

Meeting the CDC recommendations for social distancing in the workplace may require some restructuring, but that doesn’t mean you have to scrap the idea of a flexible workspace. The open-concept plan provides space for everyone to maintain the suggested distance. And, you can alter adaptable workspaces — like innovative cubicles or benching systems — to include various safety features.

Educate your employees on the regulations set in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Reinforce them by creating and posting visuals around the workplace that outline rules, such as:

  1. Try your best to stay at least six feet away from each other.
  2. Move around the office clockwise.
  3. Enter and leave rooms as indicated.
  4. Follow step-by-step sanitary outlines when leaving your desk.
  5. Sit one person per sofa.

You might consider training employees who can guide their peers to ensure optimal workflow. And, as this is a new learning experience for everyone, invite feedback as to how your business can enhance its precautionary measures for the safest working environment.

3. Avidly Clean and Disinfect Workspaces

Cleaning and disinfecting office workspaces has always been a priority for businesses, and even more so following the coronavirus outbreak. The CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) teamed up to share the best methods to disinfect public spaces and reduce the spread of the virus.

First, walk around your office and identify areas for improvement in your routine cleanings. Some areas that the CDC and EPA encourage businesses to consider are as follows.

  • Frequently touched surfaces: Frequently touched areas include doorknobs, desks, keyboards, phones, restrooms and handles. In addition to encouraging your employees to sanitize their work areas before and after use, clean these areas using the EPA’s list of approved products.
  • Fabric seating areas: Fabric seating areas are trickier to clean, but you can do so with soap and water or an appropriate cleaner. Reference the EPA’s list of products and find one that will work best.
  • Outdoor areas: You can stick to your typical cleaning routine for any outdoor work or collaborative spaces. Disinfect high-touch surfaces, like doorknobs and seating, but you don’t need to amplify cleaning procedures on other surfaces.

For detailed cleaning routines or information on when and how to clean other surfaces in your office workspace, reference the CDC’s cleaning and disinfecting guide.

How to Create a Safe, Flexible Office Design

Open-concept plans and adaptable designs are hallmarks of flexible offices. Keeping the COVID-19 precautionary measures in mind, you can bring these prominent features into your office workspace by following these three foundational steps.

1. Provide Adaptable Workspaces

Your goal when creating a safe, flexible office design is to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Think about ways they’ll interact during the workday, and offer different environments and desks for them to choose from.

Consider these common examples of adaptable workspaces.

  • Hot desks: Also referred to as hoteling, hot desking is a modern solution to office workspaces. Access to modern technology and software allows businesses to eliminate the costly assigned seating workspace model, replaced by innovative seating where employees “check in” to an open desk.
  • Co-working spaces: Some employees work best when collaborating with others, so create multipurpose areas around the office where employees can congregate to brainstorm and strengthen ideas or thoughts.

Design your workspace to fit your business’ culture. Listen to your employees and pinpoint ways you can introduce adaptable workspaces to meet their needs.

2. Use Multipurpose and Adjustable Furniture

The furniture in your workspace follows the same ideology of predicting how your employees will interact with their workspace. Pick furniture that complements each employee’s unique working style.

  • Standing desks: Sitting in the same position for hours on end can lead to uncomfortable body aches. After all, the human body evolved to move, not sit idle in a chair all day. As a mainstream alternative, standing desks add functionality to the workplace and resolve these bodily aches.
  • Sunline benching systems: Easily reconfigurable and space-saving, Sunline benching systems are open-concept design solutions that break down walls to encourage collaboration. You can adjust wall heights between seating to give a private feel while maintaining safety regulations.

Discuss your employees’ workspace needs with an office furniture provider, and they will recommend other furniture options that will best suit your flexible office design.

3. Include High-Productivity Independent Workspaces

Balance communal areas with independent workspaces, where employees can concentrate without distraction. These workspaces should be quiet and feature considerations that make it easier for employees to perform their tasks.

We recommend Sunline cubicles — a modern-day reinvention of the common cubicle. Elegant, efficient and easy to use, Sunline cubicles are fully adjustable to meet each employee’s needs and reflect your business’ brand.

You have the freedom to choose the height, color and footprint of your cubicle, making it a breeze to conform to almost any workspace size and shape. Additionally, you can add walls, tiles and glass panels to keep the open-office feel while maintaining privacy.

Contact Arnold’s Office Furniture to Create a Safe Workspace

At Arnold’s, we respect your business and your employees’ safety. As you begin welcoming employees back into the office, give them a workspace where they feel comfortable and safe, while inspiring togetherness.

If you’re ready to reinvent your office space, rely on Arnold’s complimentary space-planning services. Our industry experts will outfit your office with Sunline custom office furniture designs — of which we’re proudly the sole authorized dealer — that you can tailor to your employees’ needs.

For more information on how to create a healthier workplace that will keep your employees motivated and productive, contact Arnold’s today!

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