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Michelle Pluskota

Vice President, Business Services, Big South Region of Comcast Business

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Building the new office environment for happy employees

May 14, 2015

Keeping employees productive and happy is important to every business, and more companies are looking to upgrade their office environment as a means to achieve these goals.

Keeping employees productive and happy is important to every business, and more companies are looking to upgrade their office environment as a means to achieve these goals.

My colleague Mark Phillips, who works with small and medium-size businesses on integrating new technology into their office environment, participated in a panel discussion on how new office trends are driving changes in today’s workplace. He and the three others on the panel — which was put together by WWJ Newsradio 950 and moderated by WWJ/Fox 2 Business Editor Murray Feldman — each brought a singular perspective on the new office environment. They enhanced and expanded each other’s ideas. And together they gave excellent advice on what a company will want to consider when building a new office or refurbishing an old one.

Company authenticity

No one type of workspace fits every company, said Kelly Deines, IIDA, LEED AP principal and director of creative design, Rossetti, and adjunct faculty member of Lawrence Technological University. Instead, each company needs to find the office environment that accurately represents the company’s culture, its team members and what it wants clients to experience when they walk through the door. Melissa Price, CEO of dPOP!, added that the environment has to be authentic to the business, not a copy of someone else’s model. Open, diverse space

That said, the panelists agreed that, almost exclusively, the work environment is an open space, cleared of enclosed offices and cramped cubicles. Such a floor plan enhances collaboration and productivity and generates a buzz of creative energy.

The ideal open office has a diversity of space to accommodate the way employees (regardless of age or experience) work best. It includes small, medium and large conference rooms (often glass enclosed) where meetings can take place and where those wanting a quiet place to work or make calls can have the privacy they need.

Technology

Because employees need to be able to work from anywhere within the office, technology is very important, said Andrew Gutman, president, Farbman Group. Phillips agreed with this comment and those by other panelists pointing out technology’s role in driving the new office environment.

Companies today, Phillips said, must have the technology infrastructure needed to support their new office environment. This starts with making sure the office has the network bandwidth necessary to handle all the smart devices people now use to get their jobs done. Equally important, he said, is Wi-Fi. It should deliver a good connection throughout the open area and leave no dead spots in the conference rooms, kitchen or corners of the building.

Another absolute must in the new office, Phillips said, is a mobility-enabled phone system. This system makes it possible for an employee to start a conversation on a desk phone, quietly change the call to a wireless device and continue the conversation without the person on the other end noticing the switch. It also enables a call to be seamlessly connected to an employee working outside the office (perhaps, at home or a coffee shop), while continuing the conversation with the customer, who is unaware that the employee is not at his or her desk.

Healthy living

Today’s office also includes a bigger kitchen with more functions and a greater variety of food, including healthier snacks as options for the buttered popcorn and slushies. These snacks are part of the effort to promote healthy living and wellness, which has been embraced by most companies today, including those of all four panelists.

This office further advances health and wellness by including workout facilities, letting in more fresh air and having an outdoor space where employees occasionally can work or relax. After exercise or a short fresh-air break, employees return to work more productive, the panelists agreed.

Better lighting

The new office environment also has a higher level of lighting, whether from natural light or light now available through upgraded technologies, Gutman said. Some companies improve lighting by installing new-technology capabilities and fixtures, while others bring in natural light by adding skylights and removing offices near the windows.

The panelists offered their advice about the new office environment not as suggestions for building a pretty space with cool things in it, as Deines said. Rather, the recommendations can help improve a company’s employee productivity, creativity and teamwork, as well as bring the company added value and better results.

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