The entire corporate world is trying to relearn the best way to use an office. As the pandemic disappears in our rearview mirrors, we are faced with the post pandemic office reality. But what exactly that reality is remains unclear. That is why many corporate occupiers are redesigning and reconfiguring their offices to try to appeal to the new hybrid work era. A recent survey of over 20,000 work by CORT found that 1,800 underperforming work areas were reconfigured at least once, showing an average of 17 percent uptick of utilization on peak occupancy days in the week following reconfiguration. But as critical as experimentation is to find the best performing workspace, it can also be expensive. According to the latest JLL report, the cost of building out an office can vary from $220 to $320 per square foot, depending on the region, layout, and the quality of fixtures. Luckily for both occupiers and landlords, there are now some great options to help test out office concepts that don’t require any major renovations.
One of the main weapons for understanding what is and is not working in an office can be the furniture. Something as little as reconfiguring the furniture arrangement can go a long way to helping understand workers’ preferences. Oftentimes, this is done by sectioning off a larger space into different furniture configurations. “We see a lot of our clients breaking the open areas of their office into different neighborhoods, so rather than just a large bank for desks, they have lots of different configurations to choose from,” said Allison Ballard, Executive Director of 4SITE by, CORT. Creating options for workers is the first step in understanding how they like to work; from there, it is a matter of collecting data and experimenting.
A new generation of furniture can help on both fronts. Chairs, desks, and couches can be equipped with sensors that can provide a picture of what is being used and by whom to office managers. The sensor data can be compared with things like badge swipes and space bookings to analyze which teams prefer which kinds of layouts and give a bit of insight into how people are using them. Once a baseline of data is collected, the best practice is to try out new layouts to see how it can change usage. To facilitate this, furniture rental can be an invaluable service. No longer will offices need to buy and sell furniture every time they test a new concept; now, they can just swap furniture with ease based on what they are trying or what seems to be working.
Office space is often divided into two categories: private and not-private. Usually, a “private” area means being inside a conference room or individual office suite, which, of course, means the use of walls. There are certainly times when a conversation needs to be completely private, but often, there is just a need for a bit of separation from the hustle and noise of an open office. Fortunately, furniture is helping explore the gray area between the two. Enclosed seating, high-backed chairs, and moveable partitions can all create a sense of privacy without requiring a separate room. “Because of the pandemic, we have all become much more accustomed to background noise in meetings, so many times people can get away with being somewhere that is secluded but not necessarily in a dedicated private room,” Ballard said. The need for complete privacy and silence will likely decrease as noise canceling and background blurring technology becomes more advanced.
When it comes to the way people use space, little changes can be really impactful. Oftentimes, just changing the location of a certain neighborhood can make a huge difference. For example, if a lounge space isn’t getting a lot of use, then rather than just abandoning it, the best practice is often to find a better place for it. You never know if the seating arrangement of the location is to blame until you test a configuration in multiple places. Some areas of the office are just much more appealing than others for certain types of work; people might be ok collaborating in the middle of a large room but might feel more comfortable doing heads down work towards the edges of a workplace.
Testing is an ongoing process, but at a certain point, you have to be comfortable enough with your data to make a decision. “We advise testing a concept for at least six months before making a switch, but a year usually gives better insights,” Ballard said. Things like temperature, sun angle, and noise levels can change depending on the time, day, or season. For that reason, it is often good to see how a space performs over a longer period of time. Even after decisions start to be made about the permanent locations of certain furniture, testing should still be seen as a viable long-term option. Just as we have seen work preferences change over the last few years, we have to expect them to continue to evolve. That means that offices need to take an approach of continuous improvement to appeal to the shifting demands of the modern workforce.
Office build outs are not only expensive, they can be very slow. Things like permitting and construction can take a lot longer than anyone wants or expects. For that reason, using furniture to change an office layout, rather than building new spaces, can help offices adapt quickly based on what is being learned by the usage data. There will always be a need to do major office remodels, but thanks to intelligent, rentable furniture, those can come long after they have been shown to be useful.