November 6, 2008

Boost productivity with collaboration spaces

  • Owners and architects need to rethink how employees work within their space.
    KMD Architects


    Amid tightening budgets, companies are seeking ways to make their office space work harder and smarter for them. And for today’s nimble entrepreneurial firms, the office has to help break down silos of departments so the company maximizes cross-pollination of ideas. Collaboration space is one strategy that provides compelling advantages in cost savings and enhanced productivity.

    A new science-research facility in north Richland and a Shanghai high-rise demonstrate the idea has taken root in a diverse spectrum of businesses.

    Collaboration space in new office campuses is a strategic design approach to create dedicated areas that increase interaction and collaboration among employees by slightly reducing traditional, closed-office environments and, thus, not adding to overall costs. Quite simply, it challenges business owners and architects to rethink how people work and how productivity is measured within the same amount of space.

    According to the Center for the Built Environment, recent office-space research has led to a design approach of providing individual office or workstations for concentrated work, combined with nearby shared areas for informal group collaboration.

    “This new way of working has called for a new kind of workplace, one that supports teamwork and de-emphasizes status,” said the July 2007 report. “As a result, organizations around the world are rethinking their work environments either by redesigning existing offices or constructing new workspaces altogether.”

    Image courtesy of KMD Architects
    When it opens in late 2009, PNNL’s Richland facility will be like two buildings under one roof linked by a transparent atrium. Different departments will be located in each “building” while the atrium will serve as a common space where researchers can share ideas.

    Office buildings are often more dramatic on the outside than the inside, but common-area spaces — lobbies, hallways, plazas and even small nooks — can be the most beautiful part of the workspace from the employees’ perspective.

    The trend in new office buildings is to trim the amount of space allotted for each employee, replacing personal offices with open-plan floors and workstations. Steelcase reported last year that the average mid-management office shrank by half, from 16-by-20 feet a few years ago to about 8-by-10 feet today.

    These developments are said to create benefits in terms of better employee interaction versus closed-door offices, but the more likely places where they interact are the hallways and lobbies where they cross paths.

    One important way to provide idea space is to rethink common areas.

    The innovative facilities under way at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus in north Richland provides an example of re-purposing once-boring common areas into more functional collaborative spaces that promote unstructured interaction and collaboration.

    Initially, PNNL planned on two buildings for completely different departments. After lengthy investigation into the departments’ requirements and goals, the resulting structure essentially links two buildings under one roof. The 73,000-square-foot Biological Sciences Facility and 75,000-square-foot Computational Sciences Facility will be connected by a two-story transparent atrium that provides shared common spaces such as lounges, a lobby and conference rooms. Researchers from both facilities can share ideas in the common spaces, whereas they previously would rarely cross paths on the sprawling campus.

    The shared atrium creates spaces for employees to connect, whether in the spacious sun-drenched entryway that makes a dramatic formal welcome for building visitors, or smaller semi-private nooks as employees move inside.

    Collaboration spaces can be created in innocuous ways as well. Corners, larger-than-normal stair landings, window nooks, and spaces next to columns can be made into inviting areas with a bench or comfy chairs and small tables that encourage employees to pull aside.

    Inside, large or long hallways that might have been left to be cavernous people movers take on a new life visually and functionally with side spaces and articulated angles where people can step aside or pull up a chair for spontaneous meetings.

    The two interlocked buildings, expected to be occupied in late 2009, are part of much-needed improvements that will position PNNL’s facilities as among the most modern in the national laboratory system.

    PNNL also wanted to cross-pollinate the currently separated departments to come under one roof, and hopes that the increased interaction will make the whole more than the sum of two parts. Plus, the dual use of one lobby, conference rooms, shared HVAC, elevators and stairs saved PNNL nearly 10 percent in building cost compared to two separate structures.

    In companies all over the world, collaboration space is practically de rigueur for encouraging new ideas and innovation.

    Another corporate facility, the Jie Fang office tower in Shanghai, demonstrates collaboration space on a higher level — several in fact. Winner of the Office Building of the Future award from global property group MIPIM, the headquarters for China’s main news organization, due to be completed in December, has a dramatic interior atrium extending to the upper floors. Numerous shared, view-oriented balconies provide extensive employee gathering spaces that connect the different floor levels.

    Corporations today want more from their new office facilities. Maximizing common spaces by rethinking them into collaboration space provides more return on their facility investment and increases productivity and creativity for firms who value innovation to achieve success.

    Sean Huang is design principal with KMD Architects in Seattle. KMD has five offices in the U.S., Mexico and Asia. Notable KMD designs include the Seoul City Hall in Seoul, Korea; Two Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif.; Nadya Park in Nagoya, Japan; Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts; The Cleveland Arcade in Cleveland; Ford Field in Detroit; and Jie Fang headquarters in Shanghai, China.

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