Meeting challenges of new business

The modern office is re-aligning itself to meet challenges of the new business landscape that involves digital communication and the need for a collaborative workspace. Technology firms like Google,  Facebook and Yahoo have moved towards open plan designs that are meant to fuel interactions and hence improve creativity and productivity. Discarding traditional desks and cubicles, the office of the future is embracing workspaces that are led by increased encounters and interactions among employees. This shift though, is not very recent, says Nasser Abulhassan, Principal and Co-founder of AGi architects.

“Workspace designs have gone through many evolutions, both positive and negative. Open plan is not a new endeavour and it has been practiced especially in the US for very long. However, there is a change in how the performance of employees is now being measured — technology implementation is more, the idea of working while socialising and sharing ideas has begun to gain prominence. So we are seeing different design models that provide an environment to collaborate, get the team closer, think more and be more creative.”

Measuring design

Companies traditionally use the cost per square feet metric to measure efficiency. Few are today measuring how the design of a space informs the productivity of the workplace. But as experts point out, it is important for companies to now look at this aspect when  designing the office space. As per findings published in Harvard Business Review by Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi and Greg Lindsay, “creating collisions — chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organisation — improves performance.”

A successful workplace should accommodate all four work modes — Focus, Collaboration, Learn,  Socialise, according to Jose Faine, Workplace Studio Leader at Gensler, Abu Dhabi. “We’ve seen through our studies and industry surveys that workplaces that manage to provide the right balance between collaboration and focus outperform others.”

Collaborative workspace

Workplace design has evolved from being taskoriented and very hierarchical to a more activity-based environment. The collaborative workplace that started with technology companies is now moving towards creating an environment for a shared purpose. The workplace of today is for a community of innovators and not individual producers and hence is a more creative one. Also, the work environment today is very dynamic and fast changing and hence flexibility is key. “Organisations should take into account key issues such as technology, culture and variety of spaces in order to produce a unique and flexible workplace,” says Faine. “Change Management has proven to be the tool from a design standpoint, where all four modes as described above come together to create a cohesive space. Change Management has been the tool used by several of our clients to take advantage of smaller spaces without compromising on quality of space.”

The physical spaces that formtheworkplace are driven by a company’s philosophies that manifest themselves as its working practices. According to Salim Hussain, Principal Architect, Atkins Dubai, “They need to consider how the working ethos can be developed to reflect the modern world we live in, as well as showcasing the maturity and development of the company to help lure the best talent in an ever-more competitive market.”

Examples from the UAE

Adapting workplace design models directly to different cultures is a challenge. The nuances of workplace dynamics of a particular city
or region needs to be included in the design. “The GCC cannot adapt these models directly. To change mindsets, especially for instance in a
government enterprise, requires time and effort,” says Nasser Abul Hassan of AGi Architects. “The social aspect of privacy, interactions between men and women adds a layer of complexity and is hence susceptible to failure. While it may still be possible in private  organisations in cities like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the nature of the workforce in say government entities, with the ratio of Emirati to Expat workforce needs to be taken into account.”

The design that emerges in such cases is a combination of international and local company best practices to meet the particular social setting. “It is a middleground model, more a psychological model, because a direct adaptation from the west may not be accepted. Technology companies by nature have a different way of addressing an issue. Creative and marketing departments are naturally more collaborative. But it is important to be socially driven and culturally attached when designing for different types of organisations across the globe.”

However, practitioners attest to a shift among their clients in the region towards a more shared work environment. “They are more
inclined to give up some “me space” to gain more “we space”. They are more open to the idea of giving up closed offices and work in open plan environments to encourage communication and teamwork,” says Faine. His company recently did a project with a financial institution in Dubai to implement a desk sharing system to accommodate their additional staff. According to him the results have been very positive.”

Source: Manika Dhama, Special to PW


For Rent


View more properties

For Sale


View more properties