Do you work in a cube farm—that sea of cubicles that invaded modern offices in the late 1960s and beyond? In the name of maximizing space and layout efficiency, Herman Miller (the furniture people) undertook a project to rethink the open office space and the expansive “desks in a row” environment that most large offices had adopted. You can see some of this on the TV series Mad Men with typewriters chattering in the background. They concluded that the constant chatter of machines and people actually was having a negative impact on those who had to process large amounts of data and paperwork. As more people started becoming knowledge workers, the noise was a distraction.
The answer to this was to construct small, personal spaces with high modular walls, which allow for reconfiguration as needed to repurpose the space. Up went the walls and down went the noise. But after 40 to 50 years of this, we are finding that the walls need to come down. It started with half height walls and then the walls disappeared totally in many office spaces.
Enter the open office plan with a mixture of office layouts depending on the function of the space. Some of the features include:
- Egalitarian—standardized office space for all employees. The CEO has the same space as the front line worker.
- All management offices (if they even exist) are located in the center of the floor space and the exterior walls are lined with front line workers. No more corner offices.
- Providing small, 6-8 person mini conference room enclosures with full height walls and doors. This allows for spontaneous use as conference rooms without elevating the noise level on the floor.
- Drop-in workspaces, sometimes called “hoteling” for mobile workers who come from other offices for short periods. These include printers in larger shared spaces for ease of use.
- Shared computer space for those unique software tools that are needed, but not by everyone all the time. Workers can use the shared hardware and software for short efforts and share the wealth.
- Lower the cubicle walls. At least then you get easy conversation without demanding people get out of their chairs.
- Open break room formats where people can actually sit and share break time in a more casual atmosphere while getting coffee or heating their lunch. Allow space for impromptu meetings in the space as people drop in and out.
- Play space. In more creative environments, allow room for short bursts of goofing off. Creative people and those who have long periods of focused work, such as programmers, need spaces to fiddle with technology or build Lego monsters.
All of this is good, and when/if your office goes through a redesign you need to put in your two cents about what the modern CAD and BIM workers needs in space allocations. Here are my ideas.
Stay in the fray. It matters where people sit. Keep support people enmeshed in the workflow. Don’t push them off the floor or in a corner away from the people they support. This works for Admin and CAD support staff alike. They should be located right in the middle of the traffic patterns of the workers. As an employee heads for the break room, he or she can stop on the way and get a quick CAD answer.
Provide layout space. I see many offices where the design employees and CAD jockeys have no layout space at their desk. In the spirit of going paperless, the work space gets smaller. The problem is that we are not paperless, especially design processes. We may try to use less paper, but you will still need room to lay down a set of drawings for review.
Keep things adjustable. It is cheaper to build fixed desktop surfaces, but you need to allow for people being different sizes. Smaller employees may have trouble at certain desk heights. Larger employees may not fit into standard work spaces. Tall, small, wide, thin… we are all different. Keep that in mind.
Centralize output. Put the plotters in the middle of the office in a full height space with open access and sound attenuation walls for those near the machines. Make the shortest walk possible from every workstation. Move printers onto islands in the work space. No one should have to walk all the way across the office to get a quick print. The smaller the printer, the closer it can be to the workers.
Create shared space for team review. Many BIM offices are adopting team review areas. Create space for this function, which includes large screen or projection systems for displaying models for all to see and interact with. The process of design review is not what it used to be. Now it is more of a team effort.
By informing those that control your space or reconfiguring the space you have, you can provide critical input on the floor space of design. Speak up and make some suggestions.