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Connecting spaces

Janet Lowe of Forbo Flooring Systems discusses the role of flooring in creating office environments conducive to communication and collaboration

In 2017, workplace absence cost the UK economy £18 billion in lost productivity, according to the Centre of Economic and Business Research. Since other research has shown that co-locating employees in an open-plan environment can significantly boost motivation and productivity, it’s little surprise that many businesses are adopting this more informal layout.

When it comes to workspace design, many researchers agree on the positive effect of face-to-face and informal interactions – and it’s not hard to understand why. Face-to-face encounters help employees to connect, providing opportunities for information exchange, collaboration, networking and problem-solving. But that’s not all. Studies also show that workplace design impacts on employees’ creativity, ability to concentrate and need for privacy – all of which directly affects health, mental wellbeing and cognitive performance.

It’s important, therefore, to design offices from a holistic point of view. While there are many configurations that support and encourage collaboration, open-plan designs remain the most popular. The literal breaking down of walls naturally increases opportunities for collaboration; when multiple people are working in the same place, they are more likely to share ideas and ask for input, as well as build positive working relationships. It can also benefit employee health, as people are encouraged to get up and move around.

The open-plan format continues to evolve. Where once it involved a large room filled with groupings of desks and tables, open-plan offices are increasingly reflecting home environments, where people can relax and interact with family and friends. These new open-plan spaces include breakout areas, kitchens, meeting spaces and working stations, all with their own unique identity, yet all needing to be seamlessly connected.

For example, some companies are trying to establish kitchen areas as the ‘heart of the office’, where people can connect with one another. Breakout areas are starting to look more like living rooms with sofas and plants, where people can go to relax, unwind and chat with their colleagues.

Deformalising offices is coming to be seen as the key to establishing stress-free environments; informal areas with softer designs and non-corporate styles blur the boundary between work and life. As Steve Jobs once said: “Ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, they happen in the corridor.” Facilitating spontaneous meetings and discussions is key to creating a collaborative workplace.

Traditional static desk arrangements are no longer seen as conducive to productivity. Relaxed environments can be created using eclectic mixes of non-traditional furnishings and décor, allowing people to choose where they want to work, have a discussion or take a break. Providing employees with this kind of freedom and flexibility helps to increase engagement and promotes collaboration and innovation. Soft partitioning and movable furniture which can be used to create functional spaces as desired are increasing in popularity.

Choice of flooring is a key factor when planning a flexible workplace with multi-purpose space. Facilities managers will need to consider what the space will be used for and who by. It makes sense to choose complementary products that can differentiate space while combining to create a fully integrated flooring scheme.

For example, for walkways, breakout areas and kitchen facilities, a practical and durable product such as vinyl or linoleum should be chosen, as these can withstand the heavy footfall and are easily cleaned. For areas where first impressions count, notably receptions, luxury vinyl tiles offer a good balance of aesthetics and durability.

Again, it’s worth looking for resilient products that work well alongside carpet tiles, as they are often installed side by side in zoned open-plan offices – for example, where working spaces or meeting rooms that require a warmer, more comfortable covering adjoin tea and coffee points.

Carpet tiles are a particularly effective solution, as the modular format lends itself to efficient installation and allows office layouts to be easily adapted to meet changing requirements. Carpet tile designs are continually changing to reflect interior trends. Forbo’s new Tessera Nexus collection, for example, has been conceived as a flexible design tool to help unite multi-purpose spaces into one interconnected whole.

Tessera Nexus offers an alternative to the organic styling that currently dominates the carpet tile market – which in itself reflects the changing nature of the workplace. Drawing together simple colours, elements and tones, the collection gives designers the freedom to create connections – subtly linking spaces for quiet reflection or group collaboration.

Office environments, and consequently floor coverings, will continue to evolve in line with the changing needs of employees and workplace functionality. This is why facilities managers should keep an eye on office and design trends, to ensure they make the best choice of flooring to support the environment that works best for their organisation.

About Sarah OBeirne


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