The reinvention of the office space actually began in high-tech Silicon Valley companies approximately 15 years ago and now has spread across the country, says David Hewett, a Hillsboro, Ore.-based consultant and former BOMA chairman. He says contractors’ first step toward providing services for these newly designed office buildings is fully understanding what these spaces look like and how they function.

To spark today’s more informal means of getting work done, companies have moved toward open-concept office spaces. These office buildings encourage collaboration by setting up small group areas and educational/training spaces. 

“People don’t have their own office with four walls and a desk anymore,” Mabrey says. “I haven’t done a build out in the last three or four years with a standard office build.”

New generation expects collaboration, work-life balance 

“The creative class is growing and they are demanding and expecting collaboration to be part of the job,” says Hewett. “It’s partially a generational thing. Baby Boomers are used to private office space and heads down work. But younger generations tend to prefer to work together. They are not hung up on the fact that they need a private office.”

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program might be partially to blame for the switch as well. In LEED buildings and green construction, eliminating walls helps building owners save money by allowing more natural light to filter in. 

“By allowing more natural light in, you can reduce your light usage, which in turn lowers your energy bill,” says Hewett.  

The growth in telecommuting definitely contributes to the change. The Telework Research Network reports telecommuting has risen nearly 73 percent over the last seven years and continues to climb. Today’s employees may only come into the office one or two days a week, and in some cases only once or twice a month, says Hewett.

Hines works with a client in North Dallas, Texas, that once occupied a seven-floor building and 250,000 square feet. By changing the way it does business switching over to a more collaborative office, this firm’s workers now occupy a 50,000 square-foot space. 

“Part of the reason for that is telecommuting,” says Mabrey. “They have more people in the field or working from home in positions that don’t require them to be in the office all day. The only time these workers come into the office is to have a meeting.” 
To meet the needs of its workers, this company provides tables and chairs and small cubicle areas where workers can plug in a laptop and get to work.

State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Ill., has been moving toward collaborative offices for some time. Its call centers no longer assign employees a workstation they can call their own. In fact, the company’s systems building doesn’t provide spaces for the majority of its 14,000 employees. 

“They come in and find an open station and get to work,” says Steve Spencer, facilities specialist. 

State Farm offers employees “touchdown areas,” which are tables and chairs spread throughout the building, small group meeting rooms and small workstations from which work can commence. Employees put personal affects in a locker, take their cell phone and computer with them, and plop down somewhere, be it a couch, a chair, a desk, a conference room or the cafeteria. 

When companies provide cubicles, the space tends to be smaller in size and the walls lower in height, says Hewett. Cubicles may be as tiny as six by six feet, and wall heights low enough for workers to see other employees as they work. 

“This allows them to make eye contact or talk to each other more easily,” explains Hewett. 

Even facilities that still provide offices are altering spaces to include smaller group meeting areas, where two or three people can gather for an ad hoc meeting. 

“They may meet for 15 to 20 minutes to discuss a problem, then they go back to their workstations,” says Hewett. “Often this is happening in the cafeteria. Because of this we are moving cafeterias into areas that are closer to work zones so that they are more readily available for meetings.”

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis. She is a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.