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Summary:

Tech is allowing teams to be more flexible, hiring folks from far away, sourcing talent for project-based work online and working from home when they please. Will our physical office spaces follow suit, developing an analogous level of flexibility through the use of modular environments?

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Tech is allowing teams to be more flexible, hiring folks from far away, sourcing talent for project-based work online and letting team members work from home, a coworking space or wherever will help them be the most productive on any given day. Will our physical office spaces follow suit, developing an analogous level of flexibility through the use of modular enivornments?

That’s what PSFK pondered recently in a post by Scott Lachut who reports that the PFSK Consulting Team has “noticed that office furniture and equipment is being designed with modularity and flexibility in mind, allowing spaces to be customized in the moment to suit the immediate needs of employees.”

“These designs can shift to accommodate solo work spaces or be expanded into larger arrangements for team meetings, giving workers the option of changing the office environment to match their current work style,” he continues. Examples include Steelcase’s Campfire Screens, which are semi-transparent, corner-shaped dividers that can be used to delineate a temporary “room” in an open area, and Buzzispace’s modular solutions, which the company claims create an “acoustic cocoon” that cuts through chatter and offers privacy in noisy open spaces. There’s even an inflatable semi-circle room from Office in a Bucket that Lachut says, “inflates within eight minutes.”

Lachut suggests several ways these types of innovative furnishings might suit current office reality by, for example, by balancing the need for collaboration-encouraging openness with the need for “speech privacy.” But is anyone actually putting the modular office idea into practice in the real world? Boulder, Colorado-based project management tools company Rally Software is one early adopter. The company recently explained to Inc.com how their R&D division designed their own office. Steve Stolt, a product-line manager in the R&D organization, told Inc about his department’s move to new premises:

The folks in R&D knew exactly what they wanted: flexibility. The tough part about space planning, typically, is dealing with the constraints: walls, power and network hardlines. To solve the walls problem, we decided to have “t-walls” built. These are “T” shaped walls on wheels. They come in a variety of different heights, and some have transparent portions like windows, while others have white boards built in. We chose these because someone had seen something similar at the Stanford d.school. To handle the power and network challenges, we ran power grids on the ceiling. These grids allow us to drop a power line anywhere we need it. We also use these grids to run network hard lines. Our desks and chairs are all fairly portable as well.

On move-in day, our desks, chairs and computers were there, carefully piled in the corner. We also had our t-walls and power grids ready to go. Remember when you built forts as a kid? That’s pretty much what this was like. The R&D teams love the new space.

Interested in more ideas on how offices design is shifting to accommodate the future of work? Check out MIT Technology Review‘s gallery of innovative offices for a more mobile and collaborative workforce.

Could a modular approach work for your office?

Image courtesy of Buzzispace.

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  1. Christopher Neto CTS Friday, June 8, 2012

    I love the forward thinking in office space design but as a tech person you can’t lose site of technology needs in the space. The Design of furniture and the space really needs to partner with the technology needed such as Displays, projection, laptop connections, Interactive media, etc. I recent wrote on a similar topic and how it all needs to collaborate.
    http://avshout.com/collaborating-designs-how-audiovisual-technology-and-open-concept-workspaces-need-to-collaborate/

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  2. Ramon B. Nuez Jr. Friday, June 8, 2012

    In all honesty, I did not even think about the furniture. I mean it’s as important to your productivity as your computer or tablet. And the grid system is rather smart.

    Not being confined to an area because of the lack of power or network access is liberating. And the fact that you can re-size or redesign your space based on needs is another win.

    My only concerns would be safety and durability.

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