One sign of an improving economy: People are starting to talk again about how to redesign their workplaces for maximum effectiveness. Which means a revival of all the old debates about workspace fashion: cubicles or open plan? Who gets the windows—the topsiders or the front-liners? How much power should team members have in creating the workspace? And what's the return on investment in improvements that cost real money? Here's some of the latest thinking from the field:
The open approach. An ideal workspace is one where employees can, but don't have to, work in privacy. Many enterprises, in the interest of "sharing knowledge" and "breaking down silos," are going the open-plan route. But anyone who's worked in an open office knows how hard productivity can be amidst all the distractions. Solutions can include creating ample open space for informal gatherings and meetings between the cubicles, or creating designated "private rooms" for people to retreat to when they really need to concentrate and focus.
The corner office. The linkage between "nice corner office" and "high workplace status" is very old-school. A popular approach now is to reserve the nicest spaces for conference rooms, common areas and flexible spaces that can be used by anyone as needed.
Employee participation. Obviously, this is an attractive goal, but unless you have unlimited power and money, your ability to give team members everything they want is going to be restricted. So a workspace-planning exercise with your team may end up simply reminding them of everything they don't like about your enterprise. One way to strike a balance is to involve the team not just in deciding, but in actually creating, the workspace you all want. A team painting party can have wonderful benefits.
The real ROI. Some investments are more important than others. For example, a big trend right now is to increase natural light, or to otherwise improve often-horrible office lighting. If you've got only a limited budget for workspace improvement, spend it on lighting—you're almost guaranteed to see corresponding jumps in morale and productivity.