#27 - Industrialize It

The Hybrid Office: More Than Open Space

Courtesy of Steelcase

Offering spaces for a variety of work activities, the hybrid office solves many of the problems that have plagued open plan workplaces.


The open-plan scheme from the 2000s, with rows upon rows of workstations and never enough social and meeting spaces, is officially, according to Gensler’s research, being transformed into a new trend: the hybrid office.

“It’s not going too far out on a limb to say these findings put us at the beginning of a new era in workplace strategy and design,” Diane Hoskins, executive director at Gensler, wrote in an article in 2012.

Check out Gensler’s 2016 workplace survey.

Open plans have created environments where employees fight against surrounding noises—phone calls, discussions—in order to concentrate. It’s led to a separation and a more individual way of working, with neighboring colleagues emailing one another instead of talking voice to voice. Little boxes that act as meeting spaces aren’t necessarily inviting, so creative collaboration has been cut down.

The open-office layout “is destroying the workplace,” declares a 2015 Washington Post headline, which labels the setup “oppressive.”

The Solution: Go Hybrid

The solution is a new kind of workplaces that offers a mix—open plan, quiet spaces, social spaces, meeting spaces and more. This is the hybrid office. When global architecture firm Woods Bagot recently designed a new workplace for Challenger in the center of Sydney, they dedicated 60% of the space to quiet and collaborative zones, with only 40% of the space taken up with workstations.

“It is crucial to establish the correct mix during the briefing phase to understand how the business can reach its strategies,” says Todd Hammond from Woods Bagot’s Sydney office told ArchiExpo. “The mix is determined by the type of work being done and how it should be done in the future. If the quantities of alternative or support work settings are not correct, then the workplace and culture can suffer.”

Woods Bagot office archiexpo

Woods Bagot National Australia Bank NAB © Shannon McGrath

The Workplace Laboratory

Furniture manufacturers are already on board, focusing on creating work settings that suit different types of work, rather than on individual products. Vitra has partnered with London-based architecture studio of Pernilla Ohrstedt and the Los Angeles design office of Jonathan Olivares to create an exhibition called Work, which will take place at Orgatec in Germany later this month.
Work showcases the elements that will impact the workspaces of today and tomorrow, a laboratory for testing new workplace ideas. Vitra invited a series of complementary companies like Bulthaup, Mercedes-Benz, Samsung and Swisscom to round out the selection of products in the hall. From architectural and environmental elements to work tools, Vitra and its partner brands collectively address the array of products that make up today’s workspace.

In the Industry: All Aboard

In practice, Vitra found that the introduction of designated areas for withdrawal and communication were indispensable in their own offices, an insight that prompted the development of the Alcove sofa family by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.

Steelcase has its own workplace research group, which is investigating staff engagement as a critical element in an organization’s success—those workers who have more choice over their workplace are more engaged. As a result, Steelcase’s furniture solutions for the hybrid office focus on different types of spaces, including social spaces for lounging and office chat; focus spaces in the form of lounge seating for private rooms, desks with modesty panels and private working pods such as the Brody WorkLounge; and collaboration spaces composed of café-style or kitchen bench−style settings as well as lounging and more formal boardroom settings.

Herman Miller’s research takes a different tack, detailing the ten different work activities that all office workers engage in, then offering solutions for each one. One might be suitable for one or more work types. For example, Haven is a semi-private individual workspace for concentrated work; Clubhouse is a group working space for a long-term team; and Forum is a space to show work.

At the End of the Day

By understanding how office workers function and considering the workplace as a series of settings for different types of work, each of these furniture brands is proving that one size does not fit all. Instead, by offering settings tailored to the work of the organization—a hybrid of open plan, private and social spaces—and giving workers the autonomy to move between them, the office is becoming a better place to be because happy workers are efficient workers.

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