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Future Flexibility: Planning for an Adaptable Office 

With calls for a return to a more regular presence in the office growing louder, organizations must start thinking about how to maximize office space and develop a strategy to ensure the most flexible configurations possible.

This requires knowing how much—and what type—of meeting and working space is needed, and how technology can help you achieve the required flexibility.

Organizations must also consider the types of environments flexibility could enable, be they spaces that allow for one-on-one collaboration, quiet concentration, or connected meeting spaces for hybrid teams.

"Flexible workspaces allow for complete adaptability and can be rearranged at a moment’s notice to accommodate for the changing needs of the workforce," explains Judith Carlson, LEED AP, workplace strategy manager with Ted Moudis Associates. "They encourage employees to move freely around the workplace and make use of whichever space best suits their needs."

This agile workplace design provides workers with a variety of useful spaces so they can be more productive, all while boosting collaboration and unlocking creativity by removing physical barriers between teams and improving employee morale.

"For those working on a hybrid schedule, a flexible layout ensures in-person staff always have options to collaborate with their peers, yet find spaces for focus, decompression or privacy when needed," Carlson says.

Coordination Through Applications

Tori Paulman, senior director and analyst in Gartner's employee experience technology team, points out there are additional layers of organization required to ensure flexible workspaces and individual employee schedules are in alignment.

"The stakeholders that are required are a line of business-leaders in human resources, IT and facilities management," she explains. "The other key constituent here is the actual employee. It's critical for them to be able to plan ahead and know who else is going to be in the office on the day they're planning to come in."

That requires a user-friendly application layer, accessible on a variety of devices, that give employees and managers an overview of what spaces are available across the organization's real estate.

App-based reservation systems can also support and track data for unassigned seating, which is especially valuable when a large portion of the workforce remains on a hybrid work schedule.

"Nothing works unless we get people into the process of planning ahead," Paulman says. "Now we're starting to see organizations embrace team booking to ensure they have access to enough desks and a conference room and a whiteboard, for example."

Carlson adds when thinking strategically about the needs of all workers at an organization, it’s crucial to actively engage individuals with dynamic environments that accommodate the diverse needs of the workforce.

"For some, privacy is just as important as collaboration," she says. "Some will seek social settings to collaborate, while others need a space to help them decompress after a stressful situation. The key is to empower team members with the opportunity for personal choice."

Robust, Experiential Spaces that Inspire

Workplace design plays an integral role in creating a workplace that is flexible and robust to support the needs of all individuals.

However, there is also the element of change management, giving the tools, resources and understanding that allows a team to function in a newly designed flexible work environment.

"This process should include buy-in from leadership who will help develop the change program and includes setting an appropriate example of the expectations and ensuring their teams are thriving in the space," Carlson says.

One important aspect is guiding both managers and employees through how the space was designed, the intention of the space and how to utilize its various features.

"Giving them a better understanding of the expectations and the benefits available to them helps make the experience more meaningful and increases the successful implementation of a flexible workplace environment," she explains.

Carlson adds that almost across the board, one advancement they're seeing come about from this shift to the adaptable office is the implementation of high-quality audiovisual media to strengthen the workplace’s virtual community building.

Additionally, meeting rooms can be equipped with state-of-the-art video conferencing technologies and collaborative design elements such as writable walls.

"We’re also seeing the implementation of more booth-style pods that facilitate greater privacy for video conferencing," she adds.

Paulman points out an additional challenge—or opportunity—lies within the design attributes that make up the flexible spaces and give them an experiential feeling.

"Leading organizations are playing with movable furniture, which some call 'Lego meets Ikea' or 'click and play' furniture," she explains. "Salesforce has done these kinds of things with communal tables and furniture that can be moved around. The idea is to give employees the ability to create their own space.