Design for the Changing Workplace  

the WBDG Productive Committee


In this electronic/information age, work teams form and reform to meet organizational needs, technological innovations, and changing business relationships. Buildings and interior spaces need to be flexible to anticipate and support this changing nature of work. Within the past few years, designers have sought to create a new generation of "flexible" buildings and workplace environments within buildings that have infrastructures and structures that fully support change while sustaining new technologies, and multi-capable individuals and teams.

The changing nature of work means greater mobility for workers, a multiplicity of workspaces within and external to buildings, greater use of geographically dispersed groups, increased dependence on social networks—and greater pressure to provide for all of these needs and behaviors in a leaner and more agile way. Workplaces have responded with many new options, including more teaming and informal interaction spaces, more supports for virtual individual and group work, more attention to integrating learning into everyday work experience, greater flexibility in work locations, and more focus on fitting the workplace to the work rather than vice versa. Many workplaces are also incorporating spaces that encourage relaxed engagement with colleagues to reduce stress and promote a sense of community. Teleworking has also increased and needs to be planned for and accommodated through the design and use of flexible spaces and access to mobile technologies and devices.

Incorporating holistic design principles, can help achieve flexible spaces.


Design for Flexibility / Accessibility

  • Provide flexibility for delivering power, voice, and data. Ensure that these systems are also designed to meet accessibility requirements or needs. See also WBDG Accessible.
  • Provide distributed, vertical cores, satellite closets, and generous horizontal plenum spaces with relocatable, user-based services to ensure technical, spatial, and environmental quality in the rapidly changing electronic office. See also WBDG Productive—Integrate Technological Tools.
  • Provide systems that are controllable and adjustable by the users without burdensome reliance on outside contractors and are accessible to internal users or contractors.
3 side-by-side photos: left-an overhead personal air jet diffuser, center-an office cubicle with task lighting, and right-Desktop computer screen with light and temperature control window open

Personal control features include overhead personal air jet diffusers and task lighting, which can be controlled from the occupant's desktop computer.
Photo Credit: Public Works Government Services Canada, Innovations and Solutions Directorate

Support Mobility

  • Incorporate wireless technology and mobile phones to enable workers to move effortlessly among spaces as their needs change or to accommodate teleworking.
  • Provide a multiplicity of spaces for individual and collaborative work.
  • Provide connections to internal networks and to the Internet throughout the workplace. See also WBDG Productive—Integrate Technological Tools.

Enable Informal Social Interaction

  • Provide multiple places to meet and greet.
  • Consider providing informal workspaces in cafeterias, hallways, sitting areas, and other spaces that can easily be reconfigured.
  • When designing cafes and coffee nooks, locate them centrally along well traveled pathways to encourage use and interaction.
  • Design the circulation system with informal communication opportunities in mind.
Flexible spaces and services

Flexible spaces and services support multiple spatial configurations and densities, and allow for rapid and easy spatial change.

Design for a Variety of Meeting Sizes and Types

  • Provide enclosed rooms to support groups of different sizes.
  • If open informal spaces are used, make sure that they are separated from individual quiet spaces.
  • Consider sharing meeting spaces among private offices.
  • Provide visual display technologies and writing surfaces for collaborative work.
  • Consider the use of dedicated project rooms for collaborative work.

Support Individual Concentration

  • If open spaces such as pods or bull pens are used, provide attractive acoustically conditioned rooms for individual concentration as needed.
  • Locate concentration booths close to work spaces.
  • Zone space for range of quiet and interactive needs.

Support Stress Reduction and Relaxation

  • Consider spaces for relaxation and playfulness.
  • Incorporate soft furniture, wall treatments, and lighting.
  • Use environmentally responsible materials and furnishings in the spaces intended for stress reduction and relaxation.
  • Provide views to nature or images of nature scenes.
2 side-by-side photos of GSA PBS workplace renovation: left-Two women playing pool, right-Two men sitting at the daylit cafe bar

GSA's Public Buildings Service (PBS) workplace renovation incorporates a space for relaxation that includes an exercise room, lounge area with TV and a pool table (left). The space is used for group social events as well as breaks. The PBS space also has a daylit cafe (right) where workers gather at lunch time or for meetings throughout the day.

Related Issues

Increasingly, compatible and packaged building components are available in the marketplace that meet these goals. Several vendors market systems comprising raised floors, plug and play wire management components, and demountable wall systems as a single package.

Solutions such as energy management systems (EMS) and Building Automation Systems (BAS), allow communication between different types of building systems (HVAC, lighting, security, fire alarm, and power), and are being utilized in a wide range of building types and applications. This enables a wider range of cost-effective possibilities for user control of the environment.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Additional Resources