Walk into any bustling office in America and you'll find that most workers share the same grievance: their disruptive working environment.
While some people find that open office plans suit their personality type, others would rather immerse themselves in a world of seclusion. Workers may also have expectations that shift in accordance with their role. For example, while some execute tasks that require hours of peace and isolation, others need to collaborate before heading into a meeting.
At first glance, it's easy to assume that there's no way to please everyone. However architects around the world have recently begun carving out a new concept called office neighborhoods.
In short, office neighborhoods feature an amalgamation of working environments that adapt in accordance with the workplace's needs.
If you think the idea of an office neighborhood design sounds crazy or unattainable, you're not alone. Many people felt the same was about agile offices. But when you start learning more about how they function and the ways big brands use them, you'll likely change your mind.
How office neighborhoods differ from other layouts
The two most common types of office layouts act as polar opposites. On the one hand, you have traditional office styles with a peaceful setting where each person benefits from their own room. Such offices are becoming more rare nowadays, but they feature something very important - an available meeting space for essential group decisions or projects.
While these types of offices are excellent for maintaining a sense of calm throughout the day, you could argue that they're socially isolating.
At the other end of the spectrum is the chaotic free-for-all nature of completely open offices. Workers don't benefit from the privacy that solo rooms deliver. While they'll soon mingle with one another and form strong working relationships, open offices aren't conducive to productivity for everyone.
It's also worth mentioning the in-between type office. One that's open and benefiting from cubicles. While it may seem as though such layouts would tick the best of both worlds box, it doesn't achieve much. The noise is still there, the workspaces aren't flexible, and separating people with cubicles feels a little impersonal.
How office neighborhoods differ from the examples above
Office neighborhoods break away from the confines of the three examples above. They usually feature plenty of open working spaces, with private areas mixed in. By now, you're probably wondering how the office neighborhood concept is drastically different to open offices. The key lies with how businesses divide their workers.
While they physically appear the same as open offices, they feature communities of 30 to 60 people whose jobs revolve around the same interests. Each office will feature layouts that are conducive to the workers' overall needs.
This is a bold move that steps away from the traditional approach in which each office has a uniform appearance.
Let's say you're walking into a business with functionally different departments. On one floor you may find that the workers use the open desk space available to collaborate. It's probably quite noisy out there, but that's okay as they can head into what's called a huddle room.
Each huddle room features enough space for three or four people, and it's the area where workers escape when they need some peace and quiet.
Elsewhere, the business' second department is doing things in reverse. There's a strict quiet policy in the open working space so that employees can execute their daily tasks with the absolute stillness they need to remain productive.
Should they need to collaborate loudly, they'll head to a huddle room that benefits from soundproofing. Once there, they can discuss plans and hold meetings, before heading back to their quiet working environment.
In many office neighborhoods, project rooms will serve a higher purpose that streamlines finishing important tasks. Those who adopt this approach to developing their office spaces will create project rooms that nobody else can touch.
One of the biggest benefits of doing this is that workers won't lose the rough plans and bursts of inspiration that push a project along. All whiteboard notes remain in one place, making it easier to dive back into discussions.
Uber's example of how office neighborhoods work
One of the biggest brands to adopt the office neighborhood concept is Uber. Alongside creating the office communities featuring between 30 and 60 employees, the transport industry giant is striving for workplace harmony with the following tactics:
- Each department's floor benefits from an open staircase. As a result, employees won't develop an overly territorial attitude towards other departments. Additionally, the open nature of the staircases means they can collaborate casually.
- Using glass wherever possible, Uber makes it easier for different neighborhoods to experience a shared purpose. Additionally, members of the public can see inside its hallowed walls, removing any sense of mystery that could surround different departments.
Like all great neighborhood-based layouts, Uber's is open to customization. Should employees give feedback that something isn't working or that they need a fresh feature to push a project along, Uber can adapt the neighborhood accordingly. While doing so, they'll avoid any potentially negative knock-on effect that could penalize other departments' working interests.
The ways in which you can customize an office neighborhood are vast
Once your business chooses to open itself up to be a neighborhood office, you enter a world where customization is nearly limitless. You can start by setting the tone for each office area. For example, if you want your open space to remain formal, you can create permanent places for each individual.
On the other hand, if you feel strongly that employees should have the opportunity to dip in and out, create library-style desks. Such desks come with enough room to execute essential tasks, as well as electrical outlets. You can encourage your employees to take a flexible approach by asking them to work using individual laptops. They can dip in and out of the open area when they need to.
Building layers of privacy within open environments becomes easier
When your employees have to venture far away from their usual workspace to obtain privacy, they're less likely to find it.
While it may not seem as though wandering to the next floor for a meeting space takes very long, it's one of the most time-consuming ways to organize meetings.
Not only do they need to check that the meeting room is free, they need to rally other participants before heading over there. As an alternative, you can layer privacy into open spaces. Some companies choose to use acoustically protected alcoves so employees can wander in and talk freely.
As another alternative, you can try Zenbooth's executive size model. The key features that they all share include absolute privacy for talking and the ability to move them around. If you find that one department's need to use a Zenbooth phone booth eclipses that of another, you can move it to a new location.
You can incorporate phone booth furniture into huddle spaces too
You may wonder why you would want to add an office phone booth into a huddle space. Although huddle spaces and separate project areas convey a degree of privacy, they can become chaotic environments that don't complement certain business transactions. For example, if you're holding a meeting and one employee needs opinions from a key stakeholder, they face two options:
- Leave the meeting room to make a phone call, which is time-consuming.
- Make the call in the midst of your meeting, which means everyone has to stop their discussions.
Both options are a threat to the natural flow of any productive conversation. When your office neighboorhood's huddle and project spaces feature a phone booth, employees can make their calls quickly.
An undeniable perk of any office is the ability to be quirky
It's no longer the case that offices need to remain staunch for productivity to take place. One big brand that goes to great lengths to make its employees feel at home is Groupon.
In some of Groupon's office neighborhoods, employees can discuss ideas and relax in Tiki huts. Presumably, employees can recharge their batteries in such settings, allowing them to become the most productive version of themselves.
At CBRE in Madrid, workers benefit from renewable materials, greenery, and designs that enhance their sense of wellbeing. With a growing number of experts agreeing that purging artificial materials is a great way to make working environments more worker friendly, it's easy to see why CBRE's design team have taken that approach.
Zenbooth models could convey similar benefits in your working environment. In addition to providing privacy, they use locally sourced and renewable materials. As a result, they instantly bring an eco-friendly edge to your office. Many also feature anti-fatigue flooring, allowing workers to engage in tough challenges with the right physical support.
As the way businesses create offices continues to evolve, there's a chance more employers will start using the office neighborhood model. If you choose to do so, take a creative approach that strengthens your business's successes and consider adding an office phone booth.