The current recession is causing building owners and their tenants to reinvent corporate office buildings to compete more effectively on a global scale. Past articles have noted that corporate real estate managers are shrinking workstations and their firms’ overall office footprint to stay competitive and reduce overhead costs. This piece, however, focuses design on the “pure innovation” in how office workers get their jobs done. Activity-based work, co-working, mobile officing and distributed workplace models are leveraging on the latest mobile technologies to transform the ideas of work and workplace. The authors point to recent research that reveals the global number of mobile workers will grow to 1 billion by the end of 2011, with the lion’s share in Asia. The U.S. has the highest percentage of mobile workers, with Western Europe close behind.

This article notes that the biggest challenge for Building Teams is to adapt office facilities to the new work styles and technologies as quickly as possible. It references recent studies that show that top-performing companies have significantly more productive work environments than average companies. Top developers, architects, designers and building owners concur that workplaces with superior layouts, air quality, furniture comfort, storage and a balance of privacy for focused work and openness for collaborative efforts correlate directly with superior performance, productivity and profitability.

The authors discuss a number of economy-driven trends involving smaller work areas and multiple-use spaces created with “simpler material palettes,” with office furniture systems rather than walls providing office special boundaries. They note that companies are asking for increased design flexibility to accommodate their mobile workforce with dual-line hoteling stations and more options involving remote desktops.

This trend toward resource conservation has resulted in more private office space being sacrificed for larger open-plan areas using workstations and, increasingly, European table-style shared desks that promote collaboration. Lobbies and reception areas are shrinking to provide more interactive and communal space, cafes and break areas are becoming the new meeting rooms and workstations are becoming more modular and community-oriented.

Readers are introduced to how interior architecture is evolving to support these changes, and a number of design solutions are used to illustrate important points. The authors also explore concurrent trends like sustainability and the greening of the work environment. Evolving furnishings and furniture are discussed with the “sea of panels” parting before modular furniture that accommodates different tasks and work styles under the new flood of sunlight. Technology’s role is not forgotten, particularly the growth of high-end video conferencing and the productivity gains coming from new power and data connections and smart phone recharging ports.

The article goes into some depth in its discussion of new flooring, ceiling treatments, lighting and finishes and fabrics, and elevators. It rewards diligent readers with a link to a quiz on the article and gives those who pass 1 AIA/CES credit.

Source: C.C. Sullivan, Barbara Horwitz-Bennett, Building Design & Construction (Chicago), Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier, Inc., Jan, 2010

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