Corporate real estate comes at a premium. But not just because it’s expensive to rent, lease or buy. It’s no longer just a place to put people to work. Space sends a message. It always has, but in today’s office, the message has changed.

Space used to represent power, and seniority. The bigger, the better. It was about opulence and the disregard for function.  The company dedicated space to executives as a means of compensation, nevermind that those executives might not spend a whole lot of time in their office space.  And conversely, the average white-collar worker would spend their time in a cubicle, or smaller private office.  This is not a terrible condition in itself, but space in this context was seen as a thing to be subdivided and leveraged to gain productivity and headcount. Again, not a bad idea, until control of this space was turned over to departments who made financial decisions and lost sight of how work actually got done in these micro-offices. The result of this calamity was most famously, Dilbert.

Fast-forward to current space allocation, and the picture looks quite different. Corner offices have been replaced by collaboration hubs, managers may not be in the biggest space but the most flexible, and the average worker has more control over how and where they work. So, the new message is, our-space-supports-our-work-no-matter-what-our-title-is. Which translates into clients admiring your business practices and principles because you put people first, and don’t waste resources.

So, what really speaks volumes in a space that is subdivided to benefit every employee, and every job type? How can space communicate business goals, reinforce corporate culture, but not be relegated to a mere expense?

Sue Shellenbarger notes in her article on the down-sizing of corporate spaces, Small Office, Big Impact: How to Project Authority, Creativity, that “Status-conscious managers have more difficulty projecting an image of authority in a small office. Traditional status symbols such as bulky mahogany desks and trophy walls are pretty much out of the question.” Therefore, to use space more wisely and effectively, uncover what motivates managers and employees, and work to change perceptions. Perhaps a new status symbol is a small office that can be shared when the manager is out traveling, since traveling may be seen as the greater perk.

One case is Olson, a Minneapolis, MN company cited in Shellenbarger’s article. We have worked with Olson on a few projects, and their focus on creativity and a fun culture means their workspace reflects both. Their space incorporates quiet spaces for heads-down-work, fun spaces for creative idea generation and collaboration, and interesting elements such as large glass walls that can be written on. Clients’ first impressions are of a fun, exciting place to be, instead of an instant map of organizational hierarchy.

To see pictures of Olson’s latest project, visit our website

Source: Sue Shellenbarger | Small Office, Big Impact: How to Project Authority, Creativity | Wall Street Journal | October 22, 2013


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