The Evolution of The Workplace Environment

by Ron Quicquaro, AIA, LEED AP

As technology continues to evolve and further imbed itself into everyday life, so has the modern workplace environment adapted to work styles and the integration of an intergenerational workforce. With the adaption of smarter technology and the ever growing ability to work remotely. The norm of focused and formal working environments has evolved into a more flexible mix of collaborative work spaces that allow for a work style based on preference.

For decades the design components of a functional office environment included variations of a three part program:

  1. The  “cubicle” or work station
  2. The private, fully enclosed office
  3. The meeting room

The trend we see in the workplace today, although tempered by organizational needs, is the notion of a “work point” versus a dedicated workstation-regardless of the primary or secondary use of the needs of the space.  Flexibility is imbued into the design and the work style of the staff. What was once a “cube farm” is now a grouping of a much smaller “hive” of open workpoints where staff can easily collaborate and connect with one another while still having the ability to work alone. Private offices which once secured prime, window lined, real estate, are now much smaller interior spaces that offer occasional use to all staff for the infrequent confidential call or small meeting.

In many instances a “hive” has replaced the “cubicle farm” . A smaller compact work area with less barriers and the ability to work individually or collaboratively. Courtesy of Studio Q Architecture.

Other areas such as “Plaza” or “Jump” spaces, offer a place for both casual work and meeting in a coffee shop-esq  way. The lack of formality and strict organization in the workplace environment tends to encourage productive interaction among staff, and leads to an environment yielding more creative solutions.

A “jump space” is another example of an informal meeting or work area where individuals can work on a laptop while meeting with a colleague. Carl Vernlund Photography courtesy of Studio Q Architecture.

The change to workplace planning is most evident in the simple analysis of work to meeting space.   In its prime, the traditional-legacy office plan  saw an average of 1 group (meeting space) for every 12 work points, today, based on the management style of  an organization the ratio of work space to group space is 1 in 4. There are 3x more places to meet- or work near one another.

Wherever an organization is on this spectrum is something we work out in the programming phase of our work, through a thorough ”soul searching” kind of group analysis.  What we see consistently however, is just about everyone we work with moving further in the direction of flexible, relaxed workplace environments that caters to inter-generational teams of staff, and blends the needs of each.  As a result, there is far more retained of  the experienced, seasoned workforce in place, in a new setting that also attracts new young talent to the workforce.

A “Plaza” area serves as a informal meeting area prior to and outside a more formal meeting room. Carl Vernlund Photography courtesy of Studio Q Architecture.