What Functional Design Means In Today’s Workplace

Keurig Green Mountain, Image © Neil Alexander for Visnick & Caulfield

Keurig Green Mountain, Image © Neil Alexander for Visnick & Caulfield

With wellness in the workplace being a core value of the millennial workforce, a greater consideration of office amenities, break out rooms and alternative work environments have become priorities in office design. With elements such as work rooms with limited barriers, fitness centers and game rooms becoming standardized office features, it is obvious that companies are beginning to respond to millennial needs and desires.

While positive in theory, these amenities can also be detrimental to the work environment when not implemented strategically, as today’s workforce is not one dimensional, but rather comprised of workers from multiple generations. The only way for companies to successfully embrace the new office trends is to herald a design that is weighted in functionality.

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Workplace Amenities, Images © Neil Alexander for Visnick & Caulfield

Functional design is smart design. It takes into consideration all of the adverse “side effects” of the millennial inspired workplace trends and finds solutions that make the trends attainable for all generations. By the same standards, functional design capitalizes on the benefits of these trends and finds ways to introduce them in corporate environments seamlessly.

Functional design is no longer about providing companies with a space for heads down work, but rather, a space that balances human needs, flaws and desires to create an optimal work environment.  This starts with an understanding of corporate culture, brand and vision. A space, no matter how on trend it may be, will not be successful unless it is tailored to fit the needs of the staff that will inhabit it and respond to their specific corporate culture.

Understanding adjacencies–where to place people, amenities, and curated environments

By gaining an internal perspective of corporate culture, designers are better apt to create a plan that takes into consideration a company’s necessary adjacencies–where to place people, amenities, work rooms, collaboration spots and other curated environments to best get the job done. Our goal is to gain this understanding at the very beginning of our design process, during the programming phase.

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As we start to understand our client’s culture, we ask questions to determine how we’ll plan the space: do sales and marketing need to be close to one another for optimal collaboration? Should HR and tech engineers be separated? Where is the best spot for communal spaces? Should they be near the entrance to keep public and work spaces separate? Or should they be centrally located to create an internal community hub.

No adjacencies look the same because no two company cultures are identical. Creating an accurate plan based on people and corporate culture translates into a more functional and inspirational design.

Utilizing sound masking systems and materials

At its core, functional design seeks to create a usable space. Aspects like open work rooms and transparent meeting spaces enhance office culture and wellness. Yet to work successfully, their design still needs to take into consideration elements of distraction and noise sensitivity.

Amadeus, Acoustically Private Yet Transparent Conference Room, Image © Neil Alexander for Visnick & Caulfield

Functional design in today’s workplace goes beyond space planning; it requires knowing how different materials, technology and details can work to neutralize office chaos. Our team often turns to sound masking systems, sound absorbing materials and features such as glass enclosed conference rooms and white or pink noise machines embedded in the structure of the space to help muffle noise and create acoustical privacy.

Creating private outlets and quiet zones for workers

No matter how collaborative an office culture is, there must be private outlets within the workplace. These take shape in different forms and will vary in look, size and scope based on a company’s needs. We’ve designed private spaces ranging from compact rooms for private phone calls, large designated quiet sections for individual focus work and even dark rooms specifically created for those who need to recharge and refresh.

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ERM Quiet Room, Image © Neil Alexander for Visnick & Caulfield

Studies show that workers need to find balance between “me” and “we” work. Functional design strives to understand these human needs and provides areas where employees can find privacy throughout the day.

Designating space to the work being done, rather than the status of the employee

A large part of functional design, is planning a space based on the work being done, rather than the status of the employee. In doing so, the workspace floor plate is looked at with one questions in mind “how can we make the most efficient use of this space”. Designing for function results in a better use of the space and takes into consideration things like optimization of natural light, creating a design that provides for future change, and placing more emphasis on enhancing culture through communal spaces.

Denham Capital Work Space, Image © Neil Alexander for Visnick & Caulfield

Some companies have even eliminated private offices from their workplace all together. While this is the extreme, it does show that functional design is becoming extremely valuable in the workplace.

As technology, society, values, and demands evolve, design must adapt. Our goal is to promote this evolution, as well as think farther into the future to create timeless and functional spaces that will allow growth within the rapidly changing culture of today.

Written by Isobelle Hemmers
Edited by Burt Visnick, Senior Principal at Visnick & Caulfield, AIA, IIDA, NCARB
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