When a new year begins, many love to predict the top work trends for the year. Looking forward at 2015, one word stood out: “cubicle.” Countless articles criticized cubicle-filled offices, and they predicted a collective move to open floor plans to promote collaboration, innovation, and creativity.
A recent study featured by Fast Company showed 77% of professionals and experts surveyed believe the physical workplace environment will become more important in the next 15 years, even as working virtually becomes easier and more common. Many of the workers surveyed compared cubicles to prison cells, calling them “soulless”.
Everyone can complain about the evils of cubicles, but unless a company is about to remodel, it’s hard to act on this trend in the New Year. There are ways, however, to optimize the space available to produce some of the same positive effects of an office with an open floor plan.
Move employees’ desks.
Have employees and teams change desks several times throughout the year. Switch who sits next to each other on teams, and change where in the office teams sit. Regularly moving employees can have a big effect on their productivity and morale.
If one employee is feeling burned out, have them sit next to someone who always has a lot of energy. If someone prefers to work quietly, move them away from the person who loves to talk. If the company has a multi-generational workforce, moving desks gives Millennials, Gen X employees, and Baby Boomers the chance to get to know one another.
Moving entire teams around the office can also foster more inter-departmental collaboration and bonding. Seat accounting next to sales, or marketing next to the IT group. Teams have the chance to learn about what the rest of the company does, and they may get an energy boost by working in a new environment.
Capitalize on communal spaces.
The Fast Company article also suggested companies design spaces where employees interact casually and have chance encounters. These unplanned meetings build familiarity, and can lead to unexpected collaboration and perhaps creative solutions.
Without building a new office, it’s still possible to incorporate these communal spaces into the office. Companies can rearrange desks so there’s more room around the printing area, or have coffee stations throughout the office where people can congregate. Set aside a conference room as an informal lunch area where employees can eat and hang out.
Companies can also do more with the communal spaces they already have to build collaboration and creativity. Buy breakfast for the company once a week, and set it up in the kitchen. Host regular all-company meetings in an open area of the office.
Use the walls.
No matter how much open space the office has – cubicles or not – every office has walls. Hang message boards, or convert some walls into dry erase walls so employees can use them more than once. Have employees use the walls creatively to share ideas, track team and company progress, and highlight accomplishments. Have the company values or mission posted on the walls, and let employees post quotes or information they find inspirational or valuable.
Plan a change of scenery.
Rent out a different space for quarterly or annual meetings; the new space will keep employees engaged. Companies can also consider renting shared work spaces for teams to use regularly for a day or week. A new space can inspire ideas or new approaches to problems, and employees appreciate when their companies invest in their morale. Companies like LiquidSpace, TechNexus, or WorkSpring all have a range of spaces available for rent, from conference rooms to rooms designed for creativity.