Reconfigurable Floor Plans May Boost Productivity

Operable-glass-wall systems could be an antidote to open-concept office complaints.

By Matt Thomas, NanaWall Systems

Opening-glass-wall systems allow a smaller footprint with more multifunctional, sound-controlled office enclosures and meeting rooms while reducing the need for extraneous dedicated rooms that serve only one function. Photos: NanaWall Systems

The belief that open-concept floor plans increase collaboration and creativity has been recently challenged. A Harvard Business School, Cambridge, MA, study analyzed the effects of open floor plans on office spaces and concluded it’s not an ideal layout for optimal productivity. The study reported a 72% decrease in co-worker interaction along with an overall decline in productivity in offices that made the switch to an open-concept office. While emailing increased, with employees sending as much as 56% more email messages, face-to face communication between team members decreased from 5.8 hr. a week to 1.7 hr., while increased distractions and poor decision-making were reported.

The emerging trend shifts away from an open concept and focuses on reconfigurable spaces that increase flexibility, natural light, and privacy through architectural elements such as glass-wall systems. These contemporary workspaces ensure higher levels of productivity and satisfaction, increase a sense of flow and connectivity, and allow more- efficient space planning. These spaces are appealing to millennials who, according to a Forbes magazine study, make up one out of every three Americans in the work force.

As architects and designers anticipate the evolution of office spaces, they should consider several factors that go into a productive office environment: flexibility, light, privacy, and sound.

• Flexibility. Studies have shown that part of creating a productive work environment is providing a variety of workspaces that employees can choose at will. For example, large conference rooms can be divided into smaller, more intimate meeting rooms and offer collaborative or independent workspaces as needed. The next-generation office combines private offices, cubicle banks, and open floor plans as well as communal areas and soundproof rooms where employees can concentrate. Opening-glass wall systems allow a smaller footprint with more multifunctional, sound-controlled office enclosures and meeting rooms while reducing the need for extraneous dedicated rooms that serve only one function.

Light. One surefire way to construct a flourishing office environment is to consult the International WELL Building Institute, New York, standard. According to this standard, lighting has a substantial impact. A thriving workplace should enhance productivity, provide visual acuity, and minimize circadian-rhythm disruption. The Institute of Medicine, Boston, reports that about 50- to 70-million U. S. adults have a chronic sleep or wakefulness disorder, and with people spending most of their waking hours indoors, improper lighting design and insufficient natural light can lead to negative physiological responses resulting in poor sleep and other health concerns.

Operable glass-wall systems allow architects and designers to create flexible enclosed spaces that allow natural light transmission. This has positive effects on stress reduction, cognitive performance, sleep, concentration, and overall mood. Whether open or closed, the transparent nature of an opening-glass-wall system ensures greater diffusion of natural light within the space.

Privacy. Privacy, like collaboration, is essential for workplace engagement, innovation, and advancement. Without spatial boundaries to provide privacy, studies show overall communication between team members is lower and workflow is more easily disrupted. Focus work is valued as the most important activity in the work place and takes up the majority of an employee’s time. In order to efficiently complete this work, a sizeable amount of visual, auditory, and spatial privacy is needed. This allows individuals to work without distraction, accurately communicate sensitive information, clarify ideas, focus, and re-charge, and can even reduce sick days. Opening- glass-wall systems can provide employees with visual privacy through custom solutions such as switchable glass that can go from clear to opaque at the touch of a button, art glass, and easy-to-operate shades.

• Sound. National Public Radio (NPR), Washington, reports that noise made by one’s co-workers is rated as the number one distraction in office environments, citing that as many as 74% of workers complain about distractions at work, lowering productivity and worker morale. Open-concept, collaborative spaces facilitate a higher volume of distracting sounds and do not provide the sound barriers needed for enhanced productivity.

Operable glass-wall systems allow architects and designers to create flexible, enclosed spaces that allow natural light transmission.

Operable-glass-wall systems offer an efficient way to create flexible, multi-use spaces with built-in sound protection. Many companies offer folding, sliding, and all-glass wall systems with sound transmission class (STC) ratings of as much as 45 to suit varying office sound requirements and which reduce loud conversations down to normal levels of speech and even to a quiet murmur. As the Forbes study notes, all the whirs, clicks, and taps combined with office chatter can add up and create a noisy environment that makes productivity nearly impossible. Operable-glass walls serve as great acoustical barriers when closed, then glide off into a corner to permit a once enclosed space to seamlessly reintegrate with the rest of the office, allowing the space to be truly multifunctional.

By incorporating glass wall systems, designers and architects can update underperforming workspaces into a modern office that ensures higher levels of productivity, a more efficient use of space, and an increased sense of workplace satisfaction and connectivity.


Harvard Univ.
International WELL Building Institute
Institute of Medicine
National Public Radio
Forbes magazine

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