Adding privacy to the open concept

Adaptability key in modern office

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:22 am

Flexibility is the name of the game in office design these days.

With the mobile nature of today’s workplace technology, employees can work anywhere from a traditional private desk setting, to a table in the company café, to a comfy couch in a living room-like setting.

Zizzo Group’s glass-enclosed offices are on an interior wall instead of the perimeter.

While the trend toward open concept design has not gone away entirely, the pendulum has swung back in the direction of providing heads-down spaces for individual concentration, as well, said Dean Stier, vice president of marketing at West Allis-based National Business Furniture LLC.

“I think the shift is really coming more into a balance,” he said. “Moving away from cubicles is really about creating collaboration between people. A lot of companies went too extreme. I don’t think the open concept is really going away so much as being refined.”

Employers are interested in creating spaces that can serve many purposes. This is accomplished through the use of rolling desks and nesting and flip-top tables that can be stored easily when not in use.

“What we’re starting to see people do is just create little areas of privacy where you might have maybe a chair that almost looks like a phone booth,” said Rick Wachowiak, general manager at NBF. “We’re just seeing people adjust and add in some spots for privacy now, since everything else is so open.”

Matt Rinka, principal at Milwaukee-based Rinka Chung Architecture Inc., has also noted a desire for adaptable office design.

“The ability to have spaces that are much more varied is definitely something we’re seeing in the industry,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the open office concept is going away. It’s still part of many of the office spaces we design.”

Standing and adjustable-height desks have continued to gain in popularity. NBF saw a 10 percent increase in customer orders for the category from 2015 to 2016.

“We’re seeing more and more customers introduce standing height solutions,” Wachowiak said. “We’re also seeing people move to a standing-height desk for a conference room.”

Active seating is becoming a popular companion to standing desks.

Treadmill desks, on the other hand, have not taken off as much. But employees seeking other active options have been drawn to ball-type seating and stools.

“We’re learning more about a new area, which is active sitting,” Stier said. “You’re basically perched in a neutral standing position, but you’re not putting all your weight on your feet, on your spine.”

Comfort is a priority, with more soft seating, mixed materials and homey décor in office spaces.

“We’re introducing more and more lines that you could almost call them more residential,” Wachowiak said. “Whether it be someone working at home or whether they just want to feel at home in their office, those lines are taking off.”

Working in a more casual area can encourage creativity and collaboration, Rinka said.

“The ability to move around is not only something we’re seeing, it’s really being pushed by especially the younger generation that want to work in that manner,” he said. “The idea that the traditional work environment has to include this hardwired phone, hardwired computer – people are just working differently and the environment has to adapt to that.”

Newer office designs eschew the concept of the corner office, instead placing the offices in the middle and surrounding them with glass. In this way, natural lighting can filter into the whole office.

“What’s happening to the workplace is that instead of these rigid offices where you have executives on the perimeter and employees in the middle in these cubicle farms, you have this more free open space,” Stier said. “The idea is really getting people together and really colliding in a space and getting comfortable in sharing ideas.”

Rinka Chung has recently designed several office spaces that shift the offices to the middle of the room. One example is Zizzo Group’s offices, which were completed in February 2014.

“The offices themselves and all of the meeting spaces are all oriented to be able to expose the windows and the views to the east and the south,” said Anne Zizzo, chief executive officer. “The offices, (Rinka) and the group designed to be on an interior wall so they could be sitting at their desks and looking out to the windows.”

Each of Zizzo’s 35 employees has a cubicle or an office, and the 15,000-square-foot open concept, two-story workspace also has open collaboration zones, heads-down spaces and a café.

“We really wanted a creative space, a space that would stimulate creativity not just for our own staff, but for our clients as well,” Zizzo said.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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