Open Plan Offices - the key to Collaboration

More than 75 percent of U.S. offices now have open plans with increased focus on collaboration. Once the domain of creative services, or information technology startups, the open plan model has trickled into professional services such as real-estate agencies, financial companies, as well auditing firms.

Last year real-estate brokerage firm CBRE adopted a "free address" open plan in its 200-person Los Angeles office, doing away with assigned desks in favor of Work "Neighborhoods" with Couches, "Hot" Desks (a docking station not assigned to a specific employee) and even Height Adjustable and Treadmill Desks.

And, of little surprise, technology companies set the mold and lead the pack, says Sonya Dufner, principal and director of workplace strategy at Gensler a global architectural planning and consulting firm.

Last year Gensler randomly surveyed 2,035 knowledge workers for a study on the relationship between workplace design and business performance. "When we looked at just the tech companies, we found that people reported they were more satisfied with their work environment than in other business sectors, and when we asked why, we found that 'choice' was the key differentiator," Dufner says, noting that techies are more likely to have a say in when and where they work (41 percent, vs. an average of 32 percent in other sectors). In general, she says, employees who are able to give input on the design, are more likely to report high levels of workplace satisfaction.

Other white-collar businesses are following suit, mimicking the strategies of technology firms in order to attract and retain young employees. Financial giant Credit Suisse has started converting its European offices to "smart working," offering a series of touchdown focus and collaboration spaces, work areas styled after cafes--even greenhouses.

"Financial firms are losing employees and not able to attract MBAs who are going from school to technology companies, and that's making these pretty traditional organizations rethink the future," Dufner says. "They're looking at what some of those technology firms are doing and asking how they create culture within their workplace and what are those things that attract people. Financial firms are starting to talk about themselves as technology firms... their business is really changing, so their space needs to reflect those changes."

The highly mobile, technology-driven work life of Deloitte professionals throughout the world collaborate to provide audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk management, tax and related services to select clients. This is however demanding a new perspective on how their office spaces are designed and how they support a workforce that’s on the move. The Next Generation Workplace is Deloitte's bold redesign strategy to create a vibrant new work environment focused on flexibility, technology, and collaboration.

"The new workplace strategy helps Deloitte lead from the front and bring our brand to life by facilitating community and connectivity, and smart-sizing our real estate and environmental footprint," says Mitch Scalf, leader, Real Estate Services. "It has also received an A-plus rating with recruits, which is giving us a competitive advantage in the talent marketplace."

Before the redesign, Deloitte’s research indicated that nationally, on average, only 30 percent of the assigned headcount was accessing Deloitte offices daily. These office spaces were not only underutilized, but also represented missed opportunities for teaming and knowledge sharing. The new design creates an atmosphere that is increasingly collaborative and energy-charged and appeals to all levels of professionals, especially younger professionals who prefer more open and flexible work settings.

Gone are the endless rows of cubicles and the many walled offices with doors that long defined the design and look of a traditional corporate space. Common areas have shed their pallid color schemes; bulky video projectors have gone the way of the dodo bird.

In their place is a "neighborhood" design featuring open workstations that foster connection and teaming; areas that create a more productive work environment. Other options include formal and informal meeting rooms and quiet zones designated for moments requiring privacy. Vibrant color choices and updated finishes contribute to a more dynamic workspace, while advanced and more user-friendly technologies make it easier to collaborate and share knowledge.

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