One thing’s for certain: the way we work is changing, which mean offices are changing along with it. Technology has untethered us, making it easy to open a laptop or swipe a phone from virtually anywhere. Three-piece suits have given way to jeans and flannel, and the mysterious schedules of senior executives have been unveiled by the new norm of working out in the open.
But is office design really one-size-fits-all?
American Express Open Forum‘s short history of the office describes the evolution toward today’s open design in Open Office Backlash: Seeking Productivity in an Noisy World. Fluid workspaces, while often more affordable, still demand thoughtful layout planning. While ideal for cross-pollination, relationship building and collaboration, many workers still long for quiet spaces for high-focus tasks and personal phone calls. And when it comes to productivity, research shows that it’s often diminished by disruption and noise.
So the obvious question is: can we have it all?
We believe the answer is yes—if done with intentionality. Designing a space with task-specific zones, also called a “palette of place,” is critical to the success of an open office. However, the physical environment must go hand-in-hand with a flexible culture and leadership that models their acceptance and use.
The 4 office zones everyone needs:
1. Collaboration Zones
Collaboration zones provide a natural crossroads for coworkers to meet and share ideas. By nature, they operate at a higher volume than other spaces, and can be as informal as a big table in the break room or as formal as a walled conference room. Any space where people can meet and work effectively together can be a great collaboration zone. Just remember to support those spaces with tools like whiteboards, markers and post-it notes for analog ideation.
2. Fun Zones
Fun zones have been made famous by companies like Klout and Google, who have found ways to elevate gaming systems, ping pong, and snack food to an art form. These zones support the activities that make people love coming to work and are analogous with startup culture. They also help teams gel and foster the kind of rapport that makes thinking and creating together an agile, energizing experience.
3. Quiet Zones
Quiet zones are spaces that help you to think and get things done. Often, they offer room to stretch out and focus on work while keeping friends nearby for a quick brainstorm. It’s important to provide quiet zones that allow normal office activity but are not overly disruptive.
4. Private Zones
Private zones are places to hide away when you’ve got serious work to do and don’t have time for interruptions. Private zones politely send the message, “Don’t bother me,” while allowing you the concentration needed to be productive. Ideal private zones may have doors and remind you of more traditional office spaces, except that they’re generally intended for one person only.
Offering a palette of place, or zones, gives team members with diverse work styles the choice and control they need to find a good fit for both their personality and their task list. With careful planning and intentional design, you can ensure that your company hits the sweet spot of enviable office culture and productivity levels that enable you to contribute to the world in positive, inspiring ways while accelerating business results.