Opening up to flexibility can create the ideal office environment

Fergus Pickard, of P C Henderson, looks at how adding flexibility can enhance open workspaces and provide occupants with an environment where they can thrive.

Open-plan offices have been on the rise over the past 10 years with corporate giants such as Google being high profile advocates. More recently however, research suggests that productivity and employee wellbeing actually diminishes in many of these surroundings due to an increase in distractions, noise levels and sickness. Despite this, very few people want a return of the traditional cubicle style office. So with open-plan office design set to stay, how can architects and designers help their clients meet the demand for a workspace with a multitude of activity zones while minimising disruptions that can impact on employee wellbeing?

With research indicating that 40 million days are lost each year in the UK through workplace absenteeism¹, employee health is paramount for employers to not only have a profitable business but also to ensure employee wellbeing and to aid staff retention. How can the office design assist in a worker’s wellbeing and happiness?

The Building Council for Offices recently carried out research into the requirements of employees and found that a third of respondents believe that the internal layout and fit-out of  layout is the most popular choice for employers, only 45% of workers are satisfied with the noise levels in their office.²

But it is not just about handling noise, it is also essential to understand the needs of current employees and how their requirements may change in the future. Reports indicate that face to face interaction and the autonomy to work in the way they want will begin to shape the workplace of the future³. It is therefore vital that open-plan space is flexible to also cater for future demand while managing current employee wellbeing.

Ultimately an open-plan office nurtures collaborative working but sometimes you need quiet time whether that’s to research, proof a letter or simply think. A private room within an open-plan office can meet this demand and give employees a flexible space which can help manage noise and in turn help improve wellbeing. Adaptations such as these can impact on the bottom line as a flexible space with a choice of areas allows employees to work in a way that’s right for them.

Interior fit-out solutions available today can help architects and designers create multi-functional, flexible spaces for their clients. Partitions enable a space to be reconfigured and allows companies to create their own identity. Architects and interior designers can achieve bespoke designs with moveable glass walls. They are an innovative way of creating distinct working areas whilst providing employees with the benefits of open-plan and spacious working environments. Zones can be created to suit a wide range of open office layouts incorporating private meeting rooms or areas for brainstorming.

Used in conjunction with glass partitions, multidirectional hardware can provide huge amounts of flexibility to open-plan office designs meeting aesthetic, regulatory and practical elements required in a commercial office setting. When open, for example, these systems can be stored to the side in a stacking formation, allowing for a clear, free flowing space that is accessible and useable by all occupants. When closed, the glass partitions can assist in creating quiet working areas while retaining an open and transparent feel that many companies want to embody. From a safety perspective, utilising hardware that is top hung means that the floor area is clear and free of trip hazards.

With 25% of workers willing to commute an extra 30 minutes to work in the perfect office4, it makes sense to implement ways that can improve the open-plan environment to help retain the talent that has been so hard fought for and invested in as well as attract future staff. Importantly, the flexibility that interior fit-out solutions such as sliding walls and partitions offer can help improve employee wellbeing by creating zones within the open layout that cater for a wide range of needs.

Fergus Pickard is product development director at P C Henderson

1 Research by the healthcare consultancy IHC as part of the report by Cabe /British Council for Offices -“The impact of office design on business performance”
2 “What workers want 2016”: British Council for Offices
3 “The impact of office design on business performance”: Report by Cabe /British Council for Offices
4 “What workers want 2016”: British Council for Offices