by Dan Rafter
The days of cubicle panels that nearly stretch to the ceiling are coming to an end. Replacing those cubicle walls? Often, it’s nothing, as a growing number of companies move to open office environments, a way to encourage collaboration among employees.
But there’s a catch here: Companies can remove as many cubicle walls as they want. But that doesn’t mean that every one of their employees will thrive in the open-office environment that is in vogue right now.
Just ask Mason Awtry, who should know. He’s founder and president of Chicago-based Rightsize Facility Performance, a national office interiors and facility services firm that helps provide furniture to clients moving to new offices.
“The taller-paneled work station is few and far between these days,” Awtry said. “There is a deliberate push to panel-less work spaces. But we have seen folks who do want that paneled system for at least some level of privacy. The collaborative environment is disruptive for some folks. Different people work and learn in different ways.”
Awtry says that there is a large disparity between those who like the more traditional paneled work space and those who thrive in the so-called disruptive workplace, an office space without much in the way of offices, cubicles or privacy.
As Awtry says, some employees will blossom in a collaborative, open workspace. Others, though, will struggle.
The key for companies? Figuring out some way to create office spaces that will work for their particular employees, something that is a far better strategy than following the current hot trend in workplace design.
“In our opinion, as an organization that touches 300-plus office spaces a month? The furniture at the end of the day can’t force collaboration among people,” Awtry said. “It can help to enable collaboration. But the human element is going to outweigh the furniture every time.”
Rightsize Facility Performance is more than qualified to comment on office-space trends. The company, founded in 2004, helps a long list of top businesses furnish their office spaces and plan their work spaces. The company’s client list includes Bank of America, BlueCross BlueShield, CBRE, Crate & Barrel, Experian, Red Box and State Farm, among others.
The company has provided furniture or designed the spaces on more than 22,000 workplaces across the nation, averaging an impressive 280 new projects each month. The company operates out of three facilities, facilities that total nearly 300,000 square feet of showroom, warehouse, remanufacturing, operations and office space. And its warehouse is stocked with more than $5 million in pre-owned assets available for immediate delivery.
Rightsize today is seeing a change in the amount of square footage on a per-person-basis in offices. As Awtry says, the days of the 8-foot-by-8-foot or 12-foot-by-12-foot work station are long gone. Today, more workers sit in 6-foot-by-6-foot or 5-foot-by-5-foot cubicles.
At the same time, public spaces — the lobbies, conference rooms and meeting rooms — are getting larger and more plentiful.
“Where the public space historically had been contained to conference rooms, break rooms and kitchens, it’s now expanded into open-air collaborative soft-seating areas,” Awtry said. “Public space is no longer only hidden behind walls. The public space has migrated to the open-workplace environment.”