Noisy open office or lonely cubicle?
Nowadays, neither. As the nature of work changes, expensive offices remain half-empty, and obsolete space solutions gnaw at work efficiency. A multi-functional office offers a better solution.
Office space in Helsinki is the 15th most expensive in the world, yet workplaces are markedly loosely spaced in Finland. On the other hand, desks in Finnish companies are vacant up to 49% of the time. For meeting rooms, the figure is even higher: 61%.
How has it come to this?
“Working methods have experienced a revolution. A major part of work is already done at home or in ‘third places,’ such as while travelling or in cafés,” explains Suvi Nenonen, a researcher at Aalto University.
Mobility has increased individual freedom of choice. Many people can influence where they do their work. This correlates directly with job satisfaction – and productivity.
“In today’s turmoil, it is important to be able to pull out and collect one’s thoughts. The mind must be able to concentrate on one thing once in a while,” Nenonen believes.
After cubicle and open-plan office trends, the tide has turned towards multi-functional offices. They combine the best of both worlds: privacy and communality.
“A multi-functional office features space for diverse purposes and tasks. In addition to the physical environment, working in a virtual environment is taken into account,” says Nenonen.
Where the coffee room of a conventional office is cramped in the most remote corner, in a multi-functional office informal encounters are brought close to the entrance. There are more small meeting rooms than before, and there are separate facilities for mindwork. Soundproofed rooms offer privacy.
Nenonen explains: “The working environment is customized according to the needs at hand. The design starts with user profiles. What kind of work is done here? What are meetings and other encounters like?”
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health published a guide called Monitilatoimisto – ohjeita käyttöön ja suunnitteluun (Multi-Functional Office – Instructions for Use and Design) in 2012. According to Nenonen, it makes a good foundation for making changes.
Big meeting room, inefficient meeting?
In the open-plan office boom, owners and supervisors hoped to achieve savings from increased efficiency of space utilization and the open flow of information. However, studies tell about a decrease in productivity and people’s frustration with continuous interruptions and noise.
Meeting rooms, on the other hand, are typically far too big. Nenonen sees a link to wasting working time in meetings here.
“Having to book a big meeting room for each meeting easily maintains the tradition of holding unnecessary meetings,” she remarks.
According to a relatively recent work trend survey, as much as USD 37 billion is spent on inefficient meetings in the United States every year. Meetings take up 15% of working hours; for senior management it can be up to half of their time. The figures have been increasing constantly since 2008.
Coworking and remote working
Virtuality and coworking are two obvious modern trends. The latter refers to third spaces, where freelancers, for example, meet other professionals. There are already places remoteHelsinki maintained by the city and private parties where mobile workers can find a temporary base, or for a longer time.
“They are a good source of inspiration for the design of the working environment. The open space thinking that brings staff closer to customers can be seen in coworking facilities, for example,” Nenonen says.
Remote working sets its own challenges for the working environment. Videoconferencing, which burdens our brains in a different way than conventional meetings, can take up the entire working day.
“The effects are not yet fully known. Routines are also just settling: for example, how to start or end a videoconference,” says Nenonen. “Remote working can leave you feeling a little hollow. The session ends kind of abruptly without certain familiar social elements.”0}
Burdened by the virtual world, the senses need relaxation to have the energy to activate again. That increases the significance of the interior decoration of the working environment.
“Elements that create a good mood are needed to counteract the stress. They should also be placed right next to the videoconferencing facilities,” Nenonen hints.
Places for encounters
Technopolis closely monitors the results of working environment-related research from Finland and abroad. The coworking trend, for example, has resulted in the business lounge service.
“Lounges are third places for working. You can rent a work area for a moment, or for the entire year,” says Satu Hurme-Tikkanen, Service Manager at Technopolis Group.
Multi-functional space thinking is the starting point of Technopolis’operations. The space is customized to meet the needs of customer companies and their employees. Joint facilities, such as restaurants and the lobby, are turned into meeting places where people are comfortable.
“Many people could do almost all of their work somewhere other than the workplace. Yet we go to the office, above all because of people,” Hurme-Tikkanen reminds us.
She finds it easy to agree with the views of Suvi Nenonen from Aalto University about inefficient meetings and remote working.
“Most meetings would not require a meeting room; a couple of people quickly catching up is usually sufficient. The wrong kind of space – and poor planning of meetings – easily leads people to do other work on their laptop at the same time,” she believes.
When thinking about the strain of remote working, Hurme-Tikkanen emphasizes the significance of individualism.
“Staring at a brightly colored screen for hours can trigger a migraine, for example. Some people need color and liveliness to refresh, others to sink into a soft sofa.
She sums it up: “Fixture solutions and interior decoration really do matter.”