July 2019Designing for Public Spaces
As finding—and retaining—the best employees becomes something of a competitive sport, businesses are discovering a simple truth: they need to rethink their office spaces.
The open office plan, which promised the free flow of collaboration and creativity, has fallen so far short of its goal that it may actually be making people sick. Meanwhile, businesses often can’t afford to size up to a larger space that can accommodate traditional closed-door offices for everyone, so they pack in larger numbers of people, with few barriers for privacy or to reduce noise and visual pollution. Knowing these limitations, is it really possible to create a corporate design that keeps construction costs in check and makes employees feel good about the space where they spend most of their waking hours each week? The answer is yes—if you use ancillary furniture to create corporate spaces that don’t feel corporate—the non-office office, if you will.
The key to successful corporate design, one that leads to improved employee motivation and satisfaction, is creating an environment that feels inviting, like an extension of home. These “resimercial” spaces—and, no, we don’t like the term any more than you do—are picking up on a trend that started in hospitality over a decade ago, with the realization that when people are away from home, they still want to feel comfortable and welcomed.
The ideal resimercial space, which eschews the cold-and-clinical character that has come to plague so much of office design, has a mix of “destinations” within the office that staff can move around in throughout the course of the day. While closed offices, with a door for blocking out noise and distractions, are still the gold standard for solo work, social spaces are becoming more important. These spaces, built for teams of different sizes, evoke an emotional response in the user. They encourage creative idea sharing, allow those who are working on projects together to collaborate more effectively, and promote interpersonal connection and community—all of which lead to greater job satisfaction.
Utilized for decades by creative businesses such as advertising agencies, relaxed collaborative spaces make it easy for teams to gather and share ideas, whether on-screen, on paper, or on whiteboards. Instead of the traditional workstations or conference table surrounded by uncomfortable chairs, these spaces make use of ancillary furniture like loveseats or sofa benches, armchairs, coffee tables, and side tables, built with comfort and functionality in mind. Using a number of separate pieces—for example several coffee and side tables, instead of one long conference table—makes the space flexible, so teams can reconfigure it to suit their needs.
Natural materials, such as teak and other hardwoods, create an atmosphere of warmth. They’re also built to withstand heavy use, so they’ll last a long time and continue to look inviting as they age. Meanwhile, upholstery with textures that feel good against the skin and that contrast with sleeker finishes lends a homey, comfortable feel. Remember to include plenty of outlets near spaces where employees are encouraged to convene, so they can recharge devices as needed.
Lounge areas can double as collaborative spaces when needed, but are meant to invite conversation—the watercooler talk that’s been a part of office culture for as long as there have been offices. Sofas, sectionals, armchairs, ottomans, and C-frame side tables are the ancillary furniture of choice here, for their laid-back, convivial feeling. Upholstered pieces are especially important for evoking coziness or softness; this easy ambiance is essential for helping employees decompress during the course of a busy day or simply connect with one another.
Don’t be afraid to go beyond the typical office grays and tans when redesigning a corporate space. Studies have shown that bright colors have an uplifting effect on mood, frequently goosing creativity and productivity. Even if you don’t want to paint the walls in a lively hue, there are plenty of vibrant, fun choices for ancillary furniture and accessories that will have the same mood-elevating effect. Upholstered pieces can be reupholstered later, in case you switch up your office palette.
Designing a corporate space that’s flexible, functional, and attractive for the employees who use it is one of the best ways to create a sense of community among staff. This makes ancillary furniture a smart, strategic investment, not only in creating a strong visual brand for a business, but also in making employees happier in and more effective at their jobs.