Friday, 14 September 2018 10:41

Exploring the evolution of zoning

    The demand for flexible working spaces that encourage collaboration and the generation of innovative ideas, is ever-increasing. As a result, spaces are now evolving beyond open-plan layouts into multipurpose spaces. These involve the creation of different ‘zones’ that support many different working purposes.

    Design has a major part to play in the development of multipurpose spaces. The challenge is to create visually stimulating environments that are also functional. Laura Light, Concept Designer at Interface, explores how designers can use zoned flooring techniques to encourage creativity and co-working, while remaining robust enough for high-traffic office areas.

    Walls: the fatal ‘floor’ in office design

    Closed office design was the norm about a century ago and meant that spaces were split into separate rooms with enclosed areas for working. However, in the early 20th century, architects and designers promoted the thinking, that to break down social walls between people, you had to remove the physical walls. This led to a new office trend, known as cubicle farms; essentially, these were rows of desks with partitions for privacy. This was the first step in encouraging collaborative working within organisations, but further evolution was clearly needed.

    A famous quote from Steve Jobs reads: “Ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, they happen in the corridors.” It’s proven that collaboration comes more naturally in an office where there are no barriers. This school of thought sparked the shift towards the open-plan office, which has dominated office design for the past half a century. The removal of barriers allows different teams to mix and share ideas. Taking out internal walls in offices also helps to enlarge the space and allows more natural light into the area, which is known to increase performance.

    While there are notable benefits associated with an open office plan, this layout has been used for over 50 years and is no longer a perfect fit for everyone. It is now evolving further into more flexible spaces to meet the demands of modern-day business and its employees.

    A key challenge for companies is responding to the needs of millennials who will make up around 50% of the worldwide workforce in 10 years. Many companies have expressed concerns around the difficulty in attracting and retaining this generation. In a Forbes blog, Erica Anderson, Author of Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers, states: that “for millennial workers ‘meaning, flexibility and challenge’ are key to engaging their hearts and minds.”

    As a result, many organisations are adopting multi-space environments that can include breakout creative spaces, sofa areas and private areas or booths for more concentrated work. But this gives rise to a new challenge. How do we create different areas or zones within a working environment without using walls?

    Let’s talk ‘floorless’ design

    Ultimately, designers want to create beautiful spaces that are also practical and robust enough for office environments. The concept around these flexible or smart offices is to develop distinct yet connected areas for people to work and interact. One way to perfectly demarcate different areas is through the use of flooring, lighting and furnishings.

    As a result, flooring solutions like luxury vinyl tile (LVT) are growing in popularity for this kind of installation, mainly due to their versatility and durability. Having a wide range of colours to choose from helps designers to create more varied design possibilities. The use of different colours in flooring designs means that users can easily differentiate between each work area.

    Some designers may have shied away from using hard floors in office spaces in the past over noise concerns. But there are simple ways around this. LVT collections can come with backing that helps to minimise noise, at Interface this is known as Sound Choice.

    To create distinct yet connected zones within multipurpose spaces, designers are now also increasingly demanding hard and soft flooring that blends beautifully together and functions as part of a modular design system within a space.

    What’s next?

    Office design has clearly gone through a process of marked evolution and it raises the question of what’s next when it comes to trends and ways of working? The spirit of collaboration is one which is definitely here to stay and we’re increasingly seeing ceilings being used as a ‘fifth wall’ when it comes to design. Wherever the next trends appear it’s all about selecting designs that inspire and boost creativity in a workplace.

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