Lynn Metz, LEED AP, is a registered interior designer and Vice President of Sales, Architecture, and Design, for Haworth North America. With her expertise in space design and demonstrated history of working in the furniture industry, she engages in the understanding of human behavior and realizes the importance and impact it has for a successfully designed environment. As a member of Forbes Business Development Council, she is a contributing writer to Forbes CommunityVoice™, a digital publishing platform that connects experts directly with the Forbes audience by enabling them to create content and participate in the conversation.
Following is her article, Why Companies Should Incorporate Social Spaces in the Office, which first appeared on Forbes.com.
Whether you know it or not, you have already worked in a social space. This phenomenon—providing more than a place to sit and a surface to work at by giving a space an inspiring purpose of putting people at ease and encouraging conversations—seems to be growing fast. It used to be common practice in the office interiors industry to make the ratio of gathering space to private space 20/80. As the open-plan office concept emerged, it was a slow process to change that expectation to 30/70. Now, the ratio has dramatically changed to at least 50/50, and I often see a full flip to 70/30 in highly collaborative environments. Many designers are now consistently using these new ratios in solutions throughout the floorplate. It's also apparent as I see more design specialists specifically focusing on unique products and solutions for social spaces.
Why is this space growing to be so important? Based on my experience at a workplace furniture company, I believe we can attribute this to several factors:
1. Generations and lifestyle
While it's not exclusive to a generation, younger workers may be creating a more comfortable workplace that is also available anytime-anywhere. For instance, many people enjoy working at Starbucks and having the opportunity to sit in more collaborative environments. We also meet clients over breakfast, lunch, or after work for drinks. This engages people in a social setting and often encourages a different dialog than across a desk or conference table. We can and do work all the time and anywhere, and this influences how people use spaces.
2. Member engagement
As companies strive to attract and retain their best talent, the traditional cubicle floor plan limits the ability for employees to connect with other members of the organization. This can limit the ability for employees to feel engaged. Social spaces are a swing back from that open-plan office setting. By providing a variety of spaces (including the opportunity for privacy), you can help member engagement. You have to match spaces to what people need—there is a time and place for everything, but not generally one option all the time.
3. Collaboration and innovation
Employers are constantly looking to drive their business objectives forward and stay ahead of the competition. A casual, comfortable environment can encourage collaboration and foster innovation. When people get together and start talking, you don’t know where it might lead, and this can be magic for unintentional brainstorming. You absolutely still need structured settings, but there should be a balance. A café, coffee bar, reception area, or lounge areas can be utilized this way. Think about them differently—what if you had a coffee bar and a greeter for your reception area instead of a formal space? By opening these spaces up for employee use, you end up with more usable space back in your floorplate and can help project your brand and culture in a unique way.
Our internet of things world has enabled faster connections and the ability to work in a variety of spaces. In turn, visual and audio capabilities in social spaces can be a significant positive for a workspace. If you have great collaborative settings without tech or power, they may not be used as much.
Social spaces are a great space to work and collaborate. I hope you find one of these comfortable spots to innovate on the next challenge coming your way.
Learn more about social spaces at haworth.com.