We live in a much more compact and efficient world today.
The days of the massive computers with bulky cables and boxes are well in the past; archaic desk phones have been substituted for wireless cellular devices; and the need for paper storage has nearly disappeared completely.
These things make it possible for us to work in smaller spaces, and companies are taking advantage of this compact (and cheaper) option.
A recent New York Times article reported that the average amount of office space per employee dropped from 225 square feet in 2010, to 176 square feel in 2012, according to CoreNet Global, an association for commercial real estate managers.
CoreNet Global foresees this number continuing to plummet, and predict that in 2017, employees will have an average of 151 square feet of work space.
While less space means fewer expenses for a company, it also inevitably creates more noise and distraction — which can be costly.
It takes workers roughly 23 minutes to return to their original task following an interruption, according to University of California Irvine professor Gloria Mark, who researches digital distraction.
The dense environment is particularly difficult for certain types of people. While some thrive in smaller, more intimate spaces, others struggle to maximise their productivity in this environment.
Research shows that extroverts can problem solve amid background noise, while introverts need calm around them to produce their best work.
Another thing that can affect an employee’s productivity in a compact office: age.
Millennials may have more of an advantage in a smaller, distraction-prone space because of their familiarity with multitasking, having grown up in such a gadget- and social media-centric era.
Additionally, they are more comfortable with the close proximity to coworkers and collaborative environment that a smaller space creates; while older employees are used to having their own offices or cubicles, and are much less familiar with this trending, intimate work space.
Sara Herman, director of interior design at SVPA Architects, elaborated in a USA Today article: “The younger generation is more accustomed to being able to work in a more collaborative way, which is a big thing in education. They don’t want to be chained to a desk and they’re bringing those changed expectations into the workplace.”
Companies recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to work space. Everybody’s optimal work environment looks slightly different, and employers are trying to accommodate as many individuals as possible.
Refuge rooms — a space where workers can retreat when noise becomes overwhelming and distracting — are trending, especially in companies with smaller space per worker.
Design firm Knoll, Inc is one of these companies that has adopted the idea of the refuge room. The firm recently relocated and downsized their office space by 20%. “We went from 115 square feet per person to 88 square feet per person,” explains marketing director Nicole Coughlin. “Refuge rooms became increasingly important as we went down in square feet, and they’re imporant for all types of people — extroverts and introverts alike.”
Refuge rooms are one step in the right direction when it comes to designing a good-fit office for the majority of employees. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, or a baby boomer or a millennial, everyone can benefit from stepping away from the hubbub of an small office for a bit.
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