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VOL. 7 | NO. 26 | Saturday, June 21, 2014

Team Setting

Traditional office layout giving way to collaborative space

By Amos Maki

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In February, three executives at the Church Health Center moved into a shared office space.

After working in separate silos in separate buildings, which created its own set of headaches, Chief Administrative Officer Jennie Robbins, Chief Operating Officer Michaela Sturdivant and Chief Strategic Officer Ann Langston moved into a new world – an office that all three would use.

Sarah Knowles and Patrick Walton of Commercial Advisors review a building site plan in a collaborative office setup, which is replacing the traditional office layout in many businesses around town.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

“To be honest it’s working great,” Langston said. “It’s amazing how fast you can move things forward when you’re all together.”

The traditional office isn’t dead, but it is quickly disappearing, being replaced by smaller private offices and more collaborative space. Architects say an increasing number of clients, prompted by desires to find cost savings that can come from reducing the amount of square footage they use and foster creativity and productivity, are exploring collaborative office space.

“It’s definitely a trend,” said Rebecca Courtney with LRK Inc. architecture firm, which is working with the Church Health Center as it prepares to move to the Crosstown building.

“The idea of having collaborative spaces has been around a long time but I think the trend has gone more collaborative as people have begun to recognize the value of different perspectives,” said Courtney. “There’s really begun too be a premium placed on people from different backgrounds, different perspectives, coming together. There’s a healthy tension with different perspectives being expressed and thought through.”

The trend toward collaborative space and shrinking personal office space is taking hold in offices across the country.

A study by corporate real estate firm CoreNet Global found that the average amount of space each employee has to himself or herself in the office is 150 square feet, down from 225 square feet in 2010. More than 80 percent of the businesses CoreNet Global surveyed said they were moving toward a more collaborative office environment.

According to CoreNet Global, 43 percent of the respondents said that they now have more collaborative space than heads-down, private space where employees can focus.

The trick for architects and their clients is understanding how different individuals and groups act in an office setting, finding the sweet spot between the need for creativity and privacy.

“From a design perspective we are trying to help people figure out where they’re most productive and where most of the work takes place,” Courtney said. “Most places find they need a balance. Sometimes you need a space that is private and quiet. Most companies need a mix of those spaces.”

That’s the case at Cushman & Wakefield/ Commercial Advisors, which was designed by Graham Reese Design Studio and includes a mix of collaborative and private space.

“There can be greater efficiency and increased collaboration that can come with collaborative space but you still have to have a space where people can focus and not be distracted,” said Kemp Conrad, principal with Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors. “You have to balance the collaboration. If you need to focus you can just pop into one of our many ‘war rooms’ or conference rooms. You can have a meeting in there or go in there and work.”

Graham Reese, owner of Graham Reese Design Studio, said collaborative designs can foster increased office communication.

“Everybody is trying to get everybody out of their office and into more relaxed conversation,” Reese said. “It’s a good way to exchange information instead of saying, ‘Hey, lets meet at 2 or 3.’ It’s just strengthening the communication of the inner office and it appears to be working.”

For the Church Health Center, experimenting with different office designs is helping the organization plan just what sort of office environment it wants when it moves to the Crosstown building.

“We’re getting to see what we like, what we don’t like and how we can adapt when we move to Crosstown,” Langston said. “How that’s going to look when we get to Crosstown we don’t know yet. It’s a whole new world out there and I’ve been looking at everything. We’re still trying and exploring as much as we can and we’ll probably end up with a mix.”

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