Productivity in Open-Concept Workspaces: A Recap of our DC Talk

Tackling a topic as complex as “Productivity in Open-Concept Workspaces” sounds daunting, but our panelists made it look easy at the latest Work Design Talk on October 29th at nclud’s DC office.

Moderated by Jeffrey Gay, panelists Dennis Gaffney of RTKL, Angie Lee of SmithGroupJJR, Adam Stoltz of CBRE, and Ken Wilson of Perkins+Will spoke to a sold-out crowd of over 150 industry professionals.

Below is a round-up of the key thoughts that emerged from the conversation.

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Guests seated and ready for the conversation to begin. Photo by Lin Mao.

On balancing private space with common shared space:

DENNIS GAFFNEY cited his experience from three RTKL projects. “The workplace is not going away. It’s going to be about balance of private and shared space,” he said. “Being able to see what is going on in the entire space encourages connectivity. For every individual seat, we are providing one collaborative space.”

GAFFNEY added, “Architects are defining functions, based on need, through design.”

According to ANGIE LEE, 10-15 years ago approximately 15 percent of an office existed as shared space. Now, that number is somewhere between 50 and 60 percent — with the option to choose. This shift has occurred, in part, because of technology.

LEE: “The open plan doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s ok! It’s really bad feng shui to have somebody come in from behind you, so I think that’s part of the planning strategy. So, when you do your plan you have to think about, not just squares on a drawing, but how you travel through a space and how you come in and come out of various spaces.”

In ADAM STOLTZ’s opinion, balance is important: “Increasingly, we share some common needs based on the type of activity we’re doing,” he said. “It’s rare that anyone who works in the kind of knowledge economy we have spends 100 percent of every day working alone, or with other people.”

KEN WILSON: “Shared office space is in part about economics (accomplishing fewer square feet per person), and in part about accommodating different generational preferences. Baby boomers and young people just out of school each have different expectations from their work environment – the ways they work are different.”

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Ken Wilson of Perkins+Will makes a point while CBRE’s Adam Stoltz (left) looks on. Photo by Lin Mao.

On furniture solutions and productivity:

LEE: “The dial is shifting to less personal, more collaborative spaces. The ultimate flexibility of being able to move things creates an agile approach. Circulation is now part of the game, and we can use it for serendipitous interaction.”

WILSON agreed: “One of the things that I think we have to design for a lot is flexibility. Most companies don’t know what they’re going to look like in 2 years, let alone 10 years. One of the things I think that is really great about the USGBC headquarters is their ability to be flexible. We designed 80 percent of the workspace as flexible. Workstations have partitions that work on the same module, and as walls are partitions are moved, lighting considerations were made to suit enclosed and open space without having to change the type of lighting.”

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The panel. Photo by Lin Mao.

On vertical separation and communication:

According to STOLTZ, “Productivity is not the holy grail. Maybe we should be measuring performance instead. We need to make improvements based on the way people work and to have a meaningful impact on the bottom line.”

STOLTZ: “Technology and the mobility it enables is going to relegate our workspaces to places that people show up to because they have to, or because they want to. Which space is yours? I want people to want to be in the environments that we create. We’ve got to overcome mobility in order to do it.”

WILSON added, “It’s more than just productivity. It’s about culture and ‘Does this work for you?’ One size does not fit all.”

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After the discussion and a lively Q&A session, guests had an opportunity to speak one-on-one with the panelists. Photo by Lin Mao.

On visual and acoustic elements–collaboration vs. communication:

WILSON: “As designers, we need to move away from theory, and instead look back and see what actually worked.”

STOLTZ on noise problems in an open office: “The New York Public Library has no white noise system. Let’s not forget the importance of policy and protocol and peer-pressure in establishing behaviors that become expectations in our work environments. When we’re thinking about the workplace of tomorrow, let’s think about the behaviors, protocols, and expectations of tomorrow as well. Space you design is only used in ways that you’re told and encouraged to use it.”

GAFFNEY pointed to the growing variety of spaces defined by their use. “Spaces are more complicated,” he said. “We’ve been providing an organization with 8 different types of spaces to work in, we have to educate them on how they can use them. In the past you’ve only had maybe 1, 2, or 3 types of spaces in office, now it’s much more complicated.”
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Thanks to our sponsors, panelists, and attendees for making this conversation possible.

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