Workplace Focus: Space Redesigns Aim to Reduce Stress, Boost Satisfaction and Performance

Tomorrow's Workplace May Feature All the Comforts of HomeCollaboration is a key concept in office design for the future, according to designers who are trying to respond to client demands for flexibility in the workplace. Technology and altered business relationships, along with changing work force schedules have led to new demands for less formal offices, along with new spaces that can be used on a shared basis or reconfigured as needed.

Notable Features of New Office Design

Increased social interaction in the workplace is now viewed as a boon to creativity, boosting performance and helping to establish a
positive corporate culture.
Newer office layouts are more open; they also include dedicated space for employees to meet informally and comfortable areas dedicated to networking or brainstorming, in addition to lunchrooms and cafeterias. Some firms have installed media centers and game rooms in the workplace, while other corporate headquarters boast workout rooms, running tracks and "nap spaces."

Today's workspaces are no longer the vanilla office buildings of the past, nor are they the cubicle-filled spaces deemed to be highly efficient only a couple of decades ago. While the "corner office" still exists for top-level executives, modern work spaces have broadened the scope, with colorful, light, art-filled rooms that have aesthetic appeal. Offices may not be like working at home, but they make it easier for dedicated workers to spend long hours away from home. These "happy places" pay dividends in terms of employee engagement, lower turnover, physical health and mental energy.

Design principles that drive the changes stem both from new psychological studies and diverse employee input. Primary goals are to reduce stress levels, boost productivity, increase efficiency and contribute to job satisfaction, all items that contribute to the corporate bottom line. The strategy is not limited to office buildings; new design principles influence retail, manufacturing, warehousing and shipping facilities as well.

In addition, technology affirms that healthy buildings—those that include beneficial natural light, improved air quality and temperature control, sound muffling, and access to the outdoors as well as pleasant interiors—are increasingly vital for profitable business. Some of these concepts are already in place or planned for Minneapolis workspaces.

Expansion Can Build Connections

In the workplace, physical closeness can sometimes get in the way of true interaction. Ability Network, Inc. recently expanded from a portion of a single floor at Butler Square to occupy the entire ninth floor plus part of the eighth floor. The former space, because of a building design that includes two atriums, had seemed fragmented, with some awkward desk placements. Despite spreading out, the space renovation has fostered a new "closeness" among the staff, and increased the sense of community and connection.

Additional work stations now include booths and couches as well as stand-up desks. Thirty-year old cubicles today feature lower dividers, with no loss of function. The result, instead, is a higher level of personal connection between employees, more networking, and enhanced "team spirit." The newly redesigned workplace also has relaxation and socialization benefits: A shuffleboard table, ping pong table and mini-basketball game encourage interaction and friendly competition.

The software development firm specializes in simplifying technology systems for healthcare providers. Bud Matthews, president and general manager, notes that, despite an initial timidity about the new space, employees now fully embrace the opportunity to associate and interact with others. He adds that it is not unusual for a heated game of basketball to continue past quitting time, and that the new office space has enhanced the company's culture in a very real way.

Flex Space and Color Highlight Design

Gardner Builders, another local firm that recently doubled its square footage in Minneapolis' Baker Center, also opted for open space and modern design. With about half its work force primarily in the field and only coming to the downtown office on an occasional basis, there is little need for assigned desks to sit empty. But in the previous office configuration, there was inadequate provision for them to work while in the office.

The renovated space now includes community work tables, unassigned flexible stations and comfortable gathering spaces that are suitable for solitary tasks or for meetings and brainstorming sessions. This firm opted to completely do away with private offices. Even the CEO, Bob Gardner, sits at an open workstation, and heartily endorses the idea of togetherness that the design fosters. Sliding glass doors and flexible blinds offer a degree of privacy and sound control.

Gardner's influence in the design is evident in the recurring pops of color that enliven the space. They are a vibrant green, his lucky color forever, he notes. Green is also the company's branding choice. The space showcases the firm's ingenuity by utilizing common plywood and graphics, mixing sleek and rustic materials, and using color blocks as art.

The space reinforces the notion that the juxtaposition of everyday materials with refined execution can be brilliant. These are just two examples of the exciting changes coming to Minneapolis and Dakota County commercial workspaces. There are certain to be more.

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