November 21, 2002

Making the workplace work even harder

  • Now in its second evolution, Future


    Today’s workplace faces new challenges and opportunities in light of the slow economy, the events of Sept. 11, fierce industry competition among companies, energy conservation concerns and the overabundance of new technology.

    In the 1990s, the workplace was influenced by fast-paced change, which translated to “out with the old and in with the new.” The faster you launch a new business, harness new technologies and hire new people, the better your chance for success. This approach left little room to breathe, let alone time to stop and think wisely about capital investments.

    Although companies have learned from the mistakes of the dot-com boom and bust, there’s much more to understand about satisfying the needs of the current, evolving workplace. Future@Work is a resource center and exhibit that provides a model for many companies at various stages of growth, with solutions relevant and appropriate for today’s workplace.

    Sustainability begets prosperity

    Future@Work II
    Photo courtesy Callison Architects
    Incremental, adaptable strategies take the lead in Future@Work II.

    The exhibit showcases innovation in the work environment and provides a sustainable model for how a business can respond to the needs of its workers, the environment and its growth and evolution.

    The Office of the Future Consortium, a nonprofit group of more than 90 regional, national and international businesses, is responsible for the exhibit’s creation. Several leading businesses play a principal part in this particular Future@Work exhibit, including Callison Architecture, Sparling, Turner Construction, Steelcase and BarclayDean, with contribution from the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.

    Now in its second evolution, “Future@Work II: A Sustainable Approach to the Workplace” focuses on sustaining people, businesses and the environment through wise investments in incremental, adaptable strategies. The 3,000-square-foot exhibit is located downtown in Seattle’s City Center Building, 1420 Fifth Ave., Suite 1575.

    The new exhibit is the product of three years of discovery, experimentation and implementation gained in the first evolution of Future@Work.

    But the research hasn’t stopped. The venue has served as a forum for industry discussions and events such as a meeting with Mayor Greg Nickels, a talk with sustainability advocate Ray Anderson and a forum with Tom Peters and healthcare executives. Future@Work continues to evolve as the group collects more visitor information.

    The group started off by examining four areas of concern:

    • How to make sure investment in office space, technology and workforce is spent wisely.

    • How building tenants conserve energy, reduce waste and improve air quality.

    • How to create sustainable migration strategies around the needs of business, work force and technology.

    • How businesses can reconcile the dual needs of staff privacy and collaboration.

    Key concepts addressed in the new exhibit include work style, personal control, connectivity, communication, worker well-being and environmental sensitivity. By touring the exhibit, executives can experience workplace theories made tangible.

    The exhibit is designed so that visitors can choose to experience settings, tools and infrastructure that address their specific issues and offer answers that work right now, or explore options that represent longer-term solutions. While there are many different examples demonstrated, each concept is meant to inspire and educate businesses on how they can evolve, with the understanding that a business doesn’t have to adopt all of the concepts presented to see sustainable results.

    The exhibit encourages its visitors to think about the how the ideas might be applied to their business.

    Alternative workspace

    According to Cornell University research, people in field sales, customer service, management consulting and project management jobs are typically at their desks only 30 percent of the day. In response to this information, the exhibit features many alternative solutions to creating workspace that is flexible and conducive to interaction.

    For example, among other types of spaces, the Immersion Room, Den and Media Lounge are alternative work solutions.

    The Immersion Room is a highly flexible space designed to support a variety of group activities including brainstorming, sociaizing, presentations, or formal meeting events. The circular shape of the room, created by drapes and movable panels, challenges the typical office standards and thus changes people’s frame of mind upon entering. Alternative methods for creating walls or wall surfaces allow for more flexibility with less cost to the business and the environment. Tools such as writeable surfaces, electronic document management and video conferencing capabilities support communication. It is the war room of the future.

    The Den shows productive use of “leftover” space by using corners that support the need for breakout space adjacent to group activity/classroom and conferencing areas. Here, the opportunity to express culture is represented in using new textures in the office setting. For example, a shaggy chair and an Elvis clock may be suitable devices for creating a sense of place and community in the office setting. Using comfortable and new textures in the office setting can enhance the environment for employees.

    In an information-rich age, where up-to-date information is constantly in demand and training on new tools is a requirement — what better way to facilitate this idea than a Media Lounge? Through the Media Lounge, high-tech tools and other resources are brought out of the boardroom, into worker areas.

    The lounge is furnished with comfortable and flexible furniture that users can configure to suit the task at hand. It features convenient access to data/telecommunications systems, information resources and audio visual/presentation options that include video conferencing, DVD/CD/VCR, Internet, networks and voice-over Internet protocol options.

    In addition to these areas, Future@Work II demonstrates how to make private spaces work for employees. One approach is to have a Serenity Room that is non-territorial, multipurpose and designed to address the workers need for “escape and replenishment” from the workplace.

    What makes the exhibit sustainable? Its smart use of technology resources, lighting and space planning create sustainable solutions. For example, the interior daylight shelf explores passive methods of extracting daylight from the exterior window into interior space. Light shelves expand daylight penetration to core areas of the office space, reducing energy consumption and extending the physical and mental benefits of exposure to natural light.

    Through the shared investment of the Office of the Future Consortium partners, the depth of integrated expertise demonstrated in the design of Future@Work offers something to clients not currently found in the industry. Future@Work is a place that businesses can go to stop, breathe and think before they take on the costs and reap the benefits of office design.

    Organizations interested in touring the exhibit are invited to call (206) 484-4004 or go online to

    Andrea Vanecko is a principal of Callison Architecture.

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