Five Key Ingredients to Achieve “We” and “Me” Balance in Business Center and Co-Working Spaces

Steelcase regularly conducts studies about the way we work, when collaboration works and when focused “me” time is more productive. They recently wrote an excellent article which explores the delicate balance between collaboration and the need for “me” time in any work environment.

The article includes a list of five areas for business centers, co-working spaces and other owners and operators of business space to take into consideration to maximize their spaces and provide the optimum environment for their occupants. While a few of the items on the list may appear to be ‘no brainers’, a deeper look at the list reveals insight and information well worth the read.

We’ve reprinted the list below for your information, but encourage you to read the entire article, which provides much more insight and added detail.

1. Be A Good Host

Organizations need to think like good hosts and make people feel welcome the minute they walk in the door.

Design spaces that help people feel connected to the organization, and allow them to quickly see what’s going on within the company. At our new WorkCafé, one of the first things employees encounter when they enter the space is a coffee bar and a concierge to help them locate the right spaces or tools for their work. A media wall highlights news and events at various company locations around the world, so people can get up to speed quickly about what’s happening in the company.

2. Anticipate Needs

All spaces should offer what people need to be immediately effective, and to lessen the burden of carrying everything with them.

Nomadic workers need spaces that anticipate what they need when they arrive: easy access to power for recharging devices, a choice of spaces with varying degrees of privacy they can control, and a range of I and we spaces near each other so it’s easy to transition between individual and collaborative work. People generally need group space within 60 feet of their primary work area. If it’s close, it’s more likely to be used. If the group space is further away, usage falls off dramatically.

The workplace should include small huddle rooms, quiet niches outside of conference rooms, and acoustically-controlled booths or enclaves for home or video calls. At vodofone’s new Netherland headquarters in Amsterdam, the staff has access to a range of open and enclosed spaces with options in between. None of them are assigned to any individual, including the president. With few exceptions, people can use workspaces in any manner that suits them.

In our WorkCafé a number of small workspaces adjacent to the open eat/meet/work areas are in constant use for phone calls and focused task work. These spaces are located in a quiet corner that functions like a cul-de-sac; there is no access to other parts of the building, so traffic and interruptions are minimal. The space includes a range of technology to support the diverse types of work happening: WiFi, plenty of power outlets, videoconferencing equipment, and several media:scape units to support small group discussions. Nearly half of our WorkCafé users say they choose to work there because of the tools available to them.

3. Instant Fit

Shared spaces should be designed to quickly fit individual needs, while helping minimize the transition time from one task to the next and from one space to the next.

Observing people trying to work in cafes while sitting – and squirming – in hard, wooden chairs that were not designed for comfort or easy adjustment — caused us to think about something we call a ‘palette of posture’: a range of space options that allow people to work comfortably in the various postures they assume while moving through the various tasks they do. Adjustable-height worksurfaces, moveable monitor arms, keyboard supports and lighting tools should be provided in order to be positioned precisely by the individual to make it easier for them to get comfortable quickly.

4. People. Place. Things.

Spaces should be designed for visibility – making it intuitive for workers to recognize the kind of spaces that support the work they’re doing (boisterous collaboration vs. quiet contemplation), and provide the tools they need, while making it easy to identify available spaces.

Designing for a ‘palette of place’ makes it evident to users that they have choice over where and how to work, depending on the type of work they are engaged in. Technology- enabled devices should be utilized to make it to find the right space is available, both in advance or on demand.

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A device like RoomWizard® allows a simple glance down a hallway to see a green light that indicates the space is available. The information display confirms the topic of the meeting; who’s in it and how long it will last, so you don’t have to disturb people mid-meeting.

Accenture made extensive use of RoomWizard in their Houston space to not only make it easier for employees to find meetings, but to also quickly reserve a space for their individual work, and release the space for others when they were done. Vodafone’s Amsterdam space incorporated wayfinding into both the architecture and furnishings. The glass walls combined with roomWizard make it easy to see where people are, and what’s going on.

5. Amp Up. Amp Down.

The workplace should be zoned to provide workers choice and control over the degree of sensory stimulation desired, and their level of availability.

Employees need to feel like they’re connected – to other people and to the organization. They also need quiet times when they can focus, reflect or recharge. When they are in the workplace they sometimes want the energy and buzz of working near people; other times they need a space for heads-down work. We call this “amping up or amping down,” and every workspace should signal the kind of work it supports to help people determine the best place to work. Providing sensory control is a key element of wellbeing in the holistic view, which includes the psychological and sociological aspects of work as well as the physical. It’s important to integrate spaces that encourage people to retreat from the structure of the day, to renew and rest or gain fresh perspective. Employees should be able to control lighting, sound and temperature, work in relaxed lounge or resting postures, and be free of interruptions. It’s equally important to provide spaces that allow workers to feel a physical connection with others, even when working alone. The post occupancy study we conducted on our WorkCafé shows 80 percent of people choosing it for individual work. They know they might be interrupted but they prefer to do focused work near others. Vodafone created a space called Club 11 that offers food and an outdoor terrace, and after 5:00 p.m. they play upbeat music. It’s fun, chic and serves a number of needs, but you wouldn’t mistake it for a library or choose it for the times you need quiet focus. The space for that is actually called the library, on another floor in another zone, and one of the few places with rules about how people can work in the space. Talking and phone calls are not allowed. It’s a perfect place for amping down and doing quiet, reflective work.

At Skype’s Palo Alto, California, offices, collaboration is nurtured, and workers sit at benches that allow for easy exchange of ideas. Headphones are the respected way of signaling “leave me alone, I’m thinking,” but the company also makes sure to offer a variety of small, private places for individual work throughout the workplace.

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