January 20 – The New Workplace
April 14 – Multifamily Housing
July 14 – Hospitality
October 20 – Educational Institutions
The sixth edition of the quarterly Square Feet magazine, dedicated to commercial and residential design, construction and real estate, focuses on workspace around the state.
When it comes to workspace, workers are now having a say
By Anne Wallace Allen
In the 1988 movie Working Girl, Tess McGill starts out as a secretary on the crowded floor of the mergers and acquisitions department of a Wall Street investment bank.
Through a combination of smart work and duplicity, she makes her way out of those chaotic surroundings into a coveted office on the perimeter, winning her a door that locks and views of Manhattan. The sense of privilege this privacy affords her is almost palpable.
Decades later, office designers and managers are turning that popular model on its head. Companies have been moving to open space with no corner or perimeter offices at all. Supporters of this layout say it allows collaboration, saves money, and allows natural light to penetrate the floor.
“We all hear each other talk and it’s much more effective,” said Eric Davis, whose Retail West develops clinics for Saint Alphonsus Health System and other commercial projects. Davis sits out in the open with everyone else and he likes it.
“We have a small conference room in the corner, but there is a lot of natural light coming in,” Davis said. “Less is more. You’re comfortably accommodating more people per square foot and they communicate better. There’s a sense of what is going on.”
There’s some science behind the open office concept. In a 2016 survey, Gensler, the largest architecture firm in the world, found that offices function more effectively when they promote collaboration and interaction. But the survey also found that designers shouldn’t emphasize openness at the expense of individual productivity. The survey found that offices where everyone works in the open needed small private spaces where workers could focus or have private conversations.
There are always those who are avoiding it altogether.
“It’s kind of ridiculous to even suggest non-private offices for faculty,” said Tim Andersen, the chairman of the computer science department at Boise State University, which moved into new offices downtown last year.
“When they built this building, they were going to make it all open space because it’s cheaper, and the professors wouldn’t have had their own offices,” Andersen said. He didn’t like that idea.
“It’s justifiable to spend more and get an office,” he said. “You have to have private conversations, because you continually have students come in and discuss grades and they don’t want everyone hearing.”
For the companies that hang on to the idea of private offices, it’s clear those offices are getting smaller. According to the Urban Land Institute’s 2017 Emerging Trends in Real Estate report, the standard office used to be 250 square feet, and it’s now about 170 square feet. Part of the reason is that we don’t have to store as many paper files as we used to. Another part is that high real estate and construction costs are changing the way we design our spaces.
In this issue of Square Feet, IBR looks at some of the decisions that companies are making as they look for ways to increase productivity and employee satisfaction without going over budget. All reflect the growing awareness that creating attractive spaces will help retain workers, a big consideration right now when they’re in short supply.
Along with office layout, furniture, and other amenities, Square Feet looks at company cafeterias, conveniences that provide an informal meeting place for workers of all levels; parking, which can make or break a workplace; WELL buildings; and the pros and cons of choosing the suburbs or downtown for offices.
The skilled workers who are so much in demand now will be more likely to take a job if it’s in a place they’ll enjoy working. Their power in the employment market will benefit everyone who wants to work in flexible surroundings geared to the needs of individuals who want to do their best.
Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.