What is the Best Layout for Your Office?

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RENO, Nev. – Now more than ever there is a discussion about the office and how it plays a role in the workforce and our personal lives.  There are the traditionalists who think there must be an office to conduct business.   There are forward thinkers who believe efficiency and productivity are bred in a home office.  The announcement by Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, to eliminate working from home has possibly changed corporate America’s point of view on the home office.  Perhaps the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle?  We’ve seen users opting to trade in traditional hard wall offices for concepts such as hoteling, cubicles, benching and hospitality suites.  Even if there are traditional offices, an emphasis is placed on collaborative areas (conference rooms, activity based rooms and movable furniture).

So now you’re asking ‘what is the best layout for the office’?  The answer is that it depends!  Today, the worker is the focal point and employers are designing the office around them.  The type of firm, sort of business being conducted and the firm’s budget all play in to right office for a particular situation.

Since the office is the source of productivity and is where we spend most of our work week, deep thought should go in to your office’s layout.  To assist we offer three things to consider.  First, what image do want the office to portray?  Second, how can you incorporate the needs of your workers in to the design?  Lastly, how can you use the office to increase the bottom line of the company?  Let’s dig in to these questions a little deeper.

What image do you want to portray to employees, customers and competitors?  Location and class of building a company occupies is important but the interior also needs to be taken in to consideration.  Firms can communicate their message through design and finishes.  While the reception and conference rooms are the most likely places for firms to use budget dollars do not overlook the employee areas. Maintaining your image throughout the entire office can aid in recruiting and retention.

Space planners, contractors or furniture vendors can assist in a complete design of the office; however, we will offer ideas from our experience to help align your space with your desired image.  The amount of transparency or privacy your firm wants to portray can be showcased in the design.  The height of cubicles can be lowered to encourage collaboration or raised to retain privacy.  To allow for more transparency side lights and interior windows can be used.  Conference rooms can be paneled with glass and the panel size can dictate how much privacy.  Colors can express a lot about a company.  Firms can opt for neutral paint colors throughout the office but can use splashes of bright colors on accent walls to bring out the firm’s image.  Think red for power, blue for tranquility or yellow for creativity.  Some firms are even opting for functional paint that simulates a chalkboard, white board or magnetic board.  Another concept that is popular is the use of green practices and keeping the environment in mind can convey environmentally conscious.   Finally, utilizing furniture with colors, fabrics and designs can shape the firm’s image.  One trend is the use of movable furniture that can be moved to create different designs of tables, seating and cubicle sizes.

Hopefully the examples above have provided ideas of how the visual and emotional senses of clients, employees and competitors can be stimulated throughout the office.  Let’s use the design elements of a two law firms to further convey this message.  When thinking of the traditional law firm, dark wood, bold yet conservative colors and stoic photos of partners are used to convey their powerful and commanding message.  Today law firms are using neutral tones with pops of bright colors.  Glass is found in conference rooms and offices allowing for more natural light.  Entry ways and furniture are now in lighter shades of wood.  Gordon Silver’s new office at 100 W Liberty utilizes cork walls, plank floors and an abundance of glass.  The office still has a powerful tone but is more contemporary.

The second consideration is to make the employee the focal point and design the office around them.  Have you considered how to make the best office for those who work there?  Between floor plans, furniture schematics, and lease documents the human element often gets overlooked.   The environment of one’s workspace has a direct impact on their productivity and happiness.  We’ve always said that the office is the place we spend most of our time and it needs to match what we are doing while at work.  It should also compliment the style of worker.  Mobility, sustainability, technology, globalization and demographics were not previously considered and are now factors taken in to consideration for decision makers for a space.  All of which are impacted by the layout, design elements, work flow even down to the furniture.

A new service offered by space planning firms is the “workplace strategy” which looks at ways to solve problems in the organization through the layout of the space.  The strategy of the company should be evidenced in the design.  If the strategy and design are not aligned it could cause problems.  Work place design makes decision makers at how the workers think, act, interact and work and how these equal business successes.  These elements can be hard to identify since the current workforce has the largest gap between age groups than ever before.  As a new generation of younger professionals enters the workforce, the needs of the layout are bound to change to accommodate what is important to them.  Office decision makers need to determine how generational differences are going to be handled.  With 20 something’s entering the workforce and comingling with senior colleagues in their 70’s there needs to be special attention paid to all generation’s needs.

With younger generations striving towards a Work-Life balance they may pay less attention to the office.  This generation may demand smaller more efficient workplaces.  In addition, technology has allowed us to become more efficient with less.  The meeting facilities should have adequate capabilities for conference calls, video conferencing and Skype.  Changes in technology allow for less administrative staff.  The tech-savvy generation may find it easier to keep their own calendar and prepare their documents.  One final trend is consistency in the size of office.  Previously, an attorney’s rank in the firm could be traced to their office size.  Senior partners had large oversized private corner offices.  In a recent lease with Downey Brand LLP their layout had all of the offices the same size.  This allows attorneys to grow within the firm without having to change office size.

This also plays in to our final consideration and that is how the office will impact the firm’s bottom line.  The concept implemented by Downey Brand offers significant cost savings.  It will reduce time and energy to relocate offices as the attorney moves up in rank but it is also eliminates the need for construction if there are not enough oversized offices.  The largest cost savings is the efficiency factor.  The elimination of the senior partners 350+ square foot offices certainly impacts the firm’s bottom line as they can fit the same employee count in to smaller space.

In all industry types the space allocated per employee has also been greatly reduced.  According to USA Today, the average office space per employee in 2010 was 225 square feet (sf) and has been reduced to 176sf in 2012 and is forecasted to be 151sf in 2017.  According to the article “Major Trends in Urban & Suburban Law Firm Office Space Design” by Jeff Weil, SIOR, a number of factors contribute to this including less office space but an increase in the amount of conference rooms and collaboration areas.  Server room size has drastically decreased as equipment size has been reduced over the years.  Wireless Internet or even outsourcing to a third party provider is prevalent.  The use of file rooms has decreased with more firms backing up files on my Butt or using off site facilities.  The break area has also decreased with firms using a barstool or bistro table seating arrangement versus full size tables.  One trend for law firms is the shift away from law libraries as many of the reference materials can be found online.  All of these contribute to less space which offers bottom line savings.

Finally, one of the most important things a firm can do in their layout is plan for change.  Will your firm need to merge, consolidate or reduce space during the next five or ten year lease?  Be sure larger spaces can easily be demised in the future for sublease.  This will require paying attention to the way the office can be split and providing access to fire exits and entrances.  A firm should incorporate rights in their lease document to ensure there is room in the building in the event of growth.  The typical office lease is 5 years.  Where the firm might be at the two, three or four year mark may be helpful in cost savings and limited disruption down the road.

In closing, the next time you are laying out your office think about your firm’s image, the needs of employees and the impact to the firm’s bottom line.  When planning a good rule of thumb for smaller requirements should allocate approximately six months while firms between 5,000 square feet up to 10,000 square feet may need nine months and firms over 10,000sf could need eighteen months or longer depending on the firm.

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