Furniture dealers navigate ‘blending’ trend
With the popularity of open plan offices plummeting, furniture and space designers say versatility is the name of the game.
A recent poll by Refresh Leadership revealed that only 8 percent of employees like working in open concept offices without walls, cubicles or privacy. Area furniture designers are listening.
Fifty-five percent of workers who responded to the poll question, “What is your ideal office layout?” in March said they prefer to work in an office that is a mix of cubicles and private offices.
Nineteen percent favored all private offices, 14 percent liked to work remotely and only 2 percent enjoyed an all-cubicle environment.
For local furniture dealers who plan office spaces and install furnishings, the trend is not surprising.
Mark Custer, vice president of business relations at Custer Inc., said many of Custer’s clients are looking for office renovations that will allow them to incorporate technology, appeal to multiple generations and provide a “palette of places” for employees to use throughout the workday.
“We do see people valuing privacy, acoustical privacy and personal space,” he said.
“We are definitely hearing … an open office (is) a huge distraction for a lot of West Michigan employees.
“But then, we also hear from ownership that if you isolate all the employees, innovation doesn’t happen. You definitely need to blend in open areas where people can connect and collaborate.”
Kentwood Office Furniture President Bob Von Kaenel said his company also addresses the concept of blending.
“Our job is to work with our clients to understand what are the challenges they are trying to solve, how does it support their business, how do their employees like to work and how do we create a solution that provides privacy when required? Plus, space that can be collaborative and more open.
“There’s no real one answer. It’s dictated by each employer and their culture and employees,” he said.
Custer said he personally is more productive when he can move seamlessly from place to place throughout the day, and many of today’s employees feel the same.
“For example, part of the day, I like to be out in the open, but then move into a private area for work that takes more focus,” he said.
“But then I’ll move into a work café in a more collaborative setting later on. Then maybe at the end of the day, I’ll move to a lounge area or conference room.”
Von Kaenel said it’s important for companies to see workspace design as something that will impact employee productivity.
“I would say smart companies are involving their employees in these decisions,” he said. “If you build consensus, it’s much easier to implement and have success.”
One of the challenges to designing offices is that they must serve so many dissimilar job functions, Von Kaenel said. Some roles, like telemarketing or accounting, require a high degree of privacy, whereas other roles, such as sales or marketing, require a combination of collaborative spaces, open or closed conference rooms and personal workstations.
“Maybe you don’t necessarily need a private office, and you’re looking for flexibility for expansion or reorganization,” he said. “You’re trying to design for a dynamic environment. (It’s about) how do you design enough flexibility where you can easily convert space without major construction.”
Von Kaenel and Custer said if employers decide on an open layout with high ceilings, they should plan to include “sound masking” features, like acoustical ceiling tiles and wall treatments that absorb noise, or programmable speaker systems that emit white noise to mute loud conversations.
One of the things office space creators keep in mind is good layouts for extroverts won’t necessarily work for introverts, Custer said.
“Hopefully, the introverts and extroverts are in a job position that suits their type of personality,” he said.
“But if it’s the opposite, and if you have an introvert in a position where their team is in an open office, we try to accommodate them by giving them tools to do their job better. We may give that worker some privacy screens or wrap them into a corner to give them more visual privacy. We also like to help (coach) them to feel more comfortable going to private spaces to work.”
Von Kaenel said Kentwood Office Furniture also recognizes temperament differences affect productivity and should be a factor in office designs.
“It goes back to the degree of privacy required and the degree of heads-down quiet work required. You’ve got to plan for both work styles,” he said.
Custer said his work with nationwide companies has revealed office culture and employee preferences vary from region to region.
“If a local corporation has offices around the country, we work with them to design those spaces. We do see on the West Coast and East Coast there is an openness/more comfort with that open office environment.
“People are just used to that social aspect and being around a lot of other people,” he said.
Von Kaenel said there are several reasons Midwesterners feel differently about their office space.
“We have Midwestern values, we’re more conservative, and we tend to have space. We’re not compressed like in New York City or the (San Francisco) Bay area. Those pure open offices happen a lot at Google and West Coast venues because of their space shortages and their startup mentality.
“We have more established companies here that have different needs.”