Twenty First Century Office Design

Running head: HOW FIRMS PHYSICALLY STRUCTURE OFFICES IN THE 21ST How Firms Physically Structure Offices in the 21st Century: Discussion of Four Leading Design Types Table of Contents Abstract…………………………………………………………………………3 How Firms Physically Structure Offices……………………………………….. 4 Early Office Environments………………………………………………………4 Modern Office Environments……………………………………………………5 Narrative…………………………………………………………………. 6 Nodal……………………………………………………………………. 7 Neighborly……………………………………………………………….. Nomadic…………………………………………………………………. 9 A New World of Work…………………………………………………………… 9 References………………………………………………………………………. 13 Abstract The corporate office as it is known today is a relatively new phenomenon. While it dominates the working lives of hundreds of millions of people, it dates back little more than one-hundred years (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 8). As the physical setting for the necessary functions that support industry, business and government, the office can be described as one of the key societal landmarks of the twentieth century.

It has exerted a profound influence not just on economic development but also on culture, lifestyle, environment and the urban landscape (Myerson & Ross, ¶ 3). This paper attempts to present four concept of modern office design and to demonstrate how those designs have effectively changed management styles in the twenty-first century. How Firms Physically Structure Offices in the 21st Century: Discussion of Four Leading Design Types Webster’s Dictionary defines the word office as “a place where official acts are done” (Office, 1985, p. 78). While this definition may seem vague; it is as an excellent description of the modern office. Through the inter-connectivity of technology; today’s office is not necessarily a destination. Work happens in many places. Today’s workers are gradually becoming untethered from the traditional office setting. The office is not in danger of extinction, even though more work is being done outside the conventional workplace. It will continue to be the cornerstone of many organizational foundations (Myerson & Ross, 2003).

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The corporate office as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon. While it dominates the working lives of hundreds of millions of people, it dates back little more than one-hundred years (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 8). As the physical setting for the necessary functions that support industry, business and government, the office can be described as one of the key societal landmarks of the twentieth century. It has exerted a profound influence not just on economic development but also on culture, lifestyle, environment and the urban landscape (Myerson & Ross, ¶ 3).

Early Office Environments Early office interiors were purely functional with little or no consideration given to employee comfort. They were not designed to promote interaction among employees. Its origin evolved from the manufacturing and production mindsets, where desks were typically lined in straight rows with no partitions. Desks were arranged so that each employee was within plain view of the supervisor and creature comforts were of no consideration. This scenario created a work environment that was in a desperate need of change.

The design strictly forbade conversation and frowned on social contact, enshrining the work ethic in the dull monotony of the work aesthetic (Myerson & Ross, 2003). As office work passed through its factory based, paper processing stage; change would soon come as a necessity to the accommodation of modern technology. The office of the last century was designed to keep people apart – a division of labor (Myerson & Ross, p. 10). Modern Office Environments Today’s offices are vastly different than their early predecessors. Many of the old assumptions about work places have changed.

In the early twentieth century, a pattern was set that gradually obliged the workforce to commute to the city from the suburbs or other outlying areas (Myerson & Ross, 2003). Due to the rapid advancement of technology, the nature of space planning and office design has become more complex. Internet, email and mobile telephony have had a major effect on design in the twenty-first century. Designers, employees, and architects are collaboratively redesigning the idea of the modern workplace. Research suggests that property and space are beginning to be treated in a different way.

In particular, four of the most basic features of the twentieth century office – its visual uniformity and banality, operational inflexibility, lack of human interaction and place dependence – are now being subjected to wide range review (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 10). In the book, Twenty First Century Office, Myerson and Ross explained that there are four key themes to twenty-first century office design, Narrative, Nodal, Neighborly and Nomadic (Myerson & Ross, 2003). Each theme is essentially a mindset involving the arrangement, implementation and execution of the office environment.

There scope involves architecture, space planning and ultimately management styles. The trends are not mutually exclusive; they share several governing characteristics. Linear corridors have been replaced by meandering lanes, boulevards and streets that bring people together and create chance meetings among colleagues (Myerson & Ross). This paper will address each of the themes and address the topic of effective work in the twenty-first century. It will demonstrate how these trends have changed management styles and employee attitudes.

Narrative- Office as Brand Experience A Narrative environment seeks to tell a story about the company and its brand by producing a journey that causes its inhabitants, visitors, and clients to live the brand. Not being built on the blank box concept, it seeks to retell and reinforce the corporate story each time the space is entered (Myerson & Ross, 2003). It attempts to promote notions of lightness, openness and transparency. The Narrative office represents a powerful reaction against the anonymous-looking, automated, overly engineered workplaces of the past forty years.

From the 1960’s onwards, offices were designed to be blandly neutral, first by risk adverse developers, and then by corporate tenants who adopted vanilla solutions driven by global standards that dictated everything from the color of the carpet to the size of office for a particular grade worker. The lowest common denominator became the easiest design solution to implement and a neutral benign aesthetic of endless repetition crept into the workplace (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 9). An excellent example of the Narrative model is the corporate headquarters of the Quiksilver Company (NYSE: ZQK) in Huntingdon Beach, California.

With more than 7,000 employees, Quicksilver manufacturers surfing and skateboard apparel and its logo is synonymous with surfboard style (The Wall Street Journal, 2010, table 4). When the owners decided to build their new corporate headquarters beside the distribution center in Huntingdon Beach it made sense that the new workplace would be modeled as a “small beach community” (Myerson & Ross, 2003). Complete with a polished boardwalk that connects the front office to the distribution center. The four towers that house a conduit for technical services are styled as lifeguard stations.

The office interior continues to tell the quicksilver story by integrating open work spaces with corporate branding and coastal themed arts. Workstations are designed to promote employee interaction. Employees are encouraged to decompress by taking walks on the beach or playing in the corporate game room. Many meetings are held on beach front terraces. Through this type of design the company’s vision is declared from the parking lot to the workstation. Unlike offices of old, when you could not tell the type of business based on the interior.

You know exactly what this organization is about from the moment you first see the boardwalk and lifeguard towers on the approach to the building. Other companies that have used the narrative approach to design are Reebok, Toyota, and Bloomberg. Nodal- Office as Knowledge Connector Offices were once designed as fixed places for work, with little or no flexibility. They were designed to house sedentary workers who rarely shared ideas. In the twenty-first century flexible new offices are emerging that can accommodate unpredictability and enable information to flow more freely because they are nodal in character (Office, 1985, p. 5). The Nodal design provides an untethered workforce a base of operation to receive coaching and mentoring. It serves as a resource center for collaboration. While it does provide a corporate presence it is highly flexible in nature. This design relies heavily on the worker’s ability to be technologically savvy. Like the narrative design it provides flow through the space encouraging interaction among colleagues. Unlike the narrative design, it is not seeking to tell a story about the company. It is designed to be a high tech nerve center specifically designed for interactive meetings, presentations and workspaces.

Technology and interaction are the main considerations. It is the physical manifestation of the organization in an increasingly virtual world. Price Waterhouse Coopers created a 30,000 square foot space in Philadelphia called THE ZONE. It is a workspace concept that enables the firm’s technology consultants to educate and interact with client companies, transforming the way they do business (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 100). It provides space designed to be a demonstration cluster for clients, meeting rooms, and consultant workspaces.

Workspaces for consultants are viewed more as drop-in stations rather than assigned seating. This design is an example of how future offices will be structured. Neighborly- Office as Social Landscape Early offices were purely functional with no thought given to the social element. Work had to be endured rather than enjoyed. Often time employees were not allowed to converse during the work day. The assembly line mentality of an earlier era was applied to the office environment. The product was the task at hand and the laborers were to function without question.

The neighborly office is designed as a social landscape to bring people together in a community of purpose (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 131). It is a complete corporate community. Complete with spaces for entertainment, relaxation, and congregating. Cafes, game rooms, rest areas, concierge services, and child care centers, are the norm. It is intended to be a place that will energize workers and provide a creative venue for the task at hand. HAPPY, the Swedish design firm has created a work environment that is “intellectually liberating” (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 142).

The small Gothenburg agency calls individual work spaces nests. They encourage workers to move around to different spaces within the work day. Proponents of this system say that it builds unity within the workforce and reduces stress within the environment. Nomadic- Office as Distributed Workspace Offices were once contained by time, place and space. People commuted to and from city-centre high-rises at set hours. The nomadic work environment is geographically distributed across the spectrum of people’s lives (Myerson & Ross, 2003, p. 200). Today’s work can be accomplished at any time or place.

This is made possible through portable communication devices and wireless technology. It can potentially provide a greater work-life balance. Unlike other office environments, the Nomadic environment can be achieved in most fields of work. Across the nation high-tech incubators for small businesses start-ups have been established to provide a technological link for entrepreneurs. Many large corporations have redesigned their thinking about the world of work and have provided more opportunities for employees to take advantage of flex-time and telecommuting arrangements.

A New World of Work Some people believe that it is impossible to have an effective non-traditional work arrangement. Philosophies about work must change to fully take advantage of the possibilities available within the world of the modern work environment. In the book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It; Calli Ressler and Jody Thompson present revolutionary ideas that could truly change the modern work environment (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). They present the idea of a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) which eliminates the need for time clocks, long commutes and ridiculous expectations.

It is focused only on results not the number of hours worked. Employees want to be productive, profitable, efficient team members. But they also want to have a balanced life outside of the office. Making them available to their children, spouses, and significant others when the need arises. Historically people have been required to be in the office from nine until five regardless of their workload or personal demands. The people who arrived early and stayed late were rewarded; even if little was accomplished. They were rewarded based on the idea of “face-time” not production levels.

Mean while, the effective worker who leaves the office, to attend a child’s soccer game is scorned and labeled a slacker. Employees must be trained to eliminate the old assumptions of how people work. In many offices people who opt for flex-time or telecommuting are assumed to be slacking off. Because they lack the same amount of face time that the traditional worker might have, they are typically held in scorn and their lack of presence is discussed in length. Most telecommuters accomplish more in their workday than traditional office workers.

They are able to accomplish more with less corporate resources in a shorter amount of time. One of the major complaints that traditional office workers have about telecommuting workers is the problems with communication between those in the traditional office and the home based worker. In a recent New York Times article, Sylvia Marino, the Directory of Community Operations at Edmonds. com said that the communication problems were a myth. She stated that the problem was “not with communication, but the real problem was that co-worker’s could not walk over to the employee’s desk and chat” (Marino, 2010, p.

BU5). The United States Federal Government should be leading the way in promoting the tele-work and flexible time initiatives. Much of the work that is done by state and local governments could be accomplished virtually and in real-time. Many of the meeting that are attended by elected officials could be conducted virtually, which would save the constituents millions of dollars each year in travel expenses. Adopting these reforms could be beneficial in relieving many of the problems related to highway congestion, and pollution caused by auto emissions.

While this alone would not completely solve the problem, it could partially relieve the burden by eliminating trips or shifting them out of peak periods when roadways are most congested (The National Transportation Library [NTL], n. d. , p. 86). |Projected Telecommuters | | | | | |Upper Bound | | |Lower Bound | | | |Year |Number |Pct. of Labor |Pct. of Information |Number |Pct. f Labor |Pct. of Information | | |(millions) |Force |Workers |(millions) |Force |Workers | |1992 |2. 0 |1. 6% |2. 8% |2. 0 |1. 6% |2. 8% | |1993 |2. 5 |2. 0% |3. 5% |2. 5 |2. 0% |3. 5% | |1994 |3. 2 |2. 5% |4. 3% |3. |2. 4% |4. 2% | |1995 |4. 0 |3. 0% |5. 3% |3. 7 |2. 8% |4. 8% | |1996 |5. 0 |3. 7% |6. 5% |4. 2 |3. 1% |5. 5% | |1997 |6. 2 |4. 6% |7. 9% |4. 8 |3. 5% |6. 1% | |1998 |7. 6 |5. 5% |9. % |5. 3 |3. 9% |6. 7% | |1999 |9. 2 |6. 7% |11. 4% |5. 8 |4. 2% |7. 2% | |2000 |10. 9 |7. 8% |13. 3% |6. 4 |4. 6% |7. 8% | |2001 |12. 9 |9. 1% |15. 4% |6. 9 |4. 9% |8. 3% | |2002 |15. 0 |10. % |17. 5% |7. 5 |5. 2% |8. 8% | (The National Transportation Library [NTL], n. d. , figure 13) The modern world of work will continue to evolve as technology changes and people see the benefits of embracing new paradigms. As corporations move from an office-centric model to a nomadic model; employees will realize greater satisfaction and achieve a significantly better work-life balance. However, this will require employees to be conscientious and self-motivated (Labour Movement, 2008).

More attention to production and less attention to face-time will have to be executed. In less than one-hundred years the office has progressed from the starkly rigid designs of the past to the modern marvels of narrative, nodal, neighborly and nomadic architecture. When one moves beyond the physical space there is the bright and promising world of the virtual office. It is most certain that the next one-hundred years will bring unfathomable and revolutionary developments in the world of work. References Labour movement, The joys and drawbacks of being able to work anywhere. (2008). The Economist. Retrieved from

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