Designing Workspace for the 21st Century

The INTERIORS TEAM at OL+ has decades of experience designing education & work spaces. With a focus on Life Science and Biotech in the Boston and surrounding areas, they have seen the changes fed by new technologies, and a younger workforce who are vocal in their demands for how they wish to work and live in the 21st Century.

Research and anecdotal tales inform us that this younger workforce wants what turns out to be good for business and society;
Balance – between work and life
Collaboration – with opportunities to learn from peers and management alike
Movement – the ability to work in the type of environment in which they perform best
Sustainability – in the workspace


Forward thinking companies are paying attention to the workforce needs because it enables them to recruit and retain the best talent.

Plenty of studies have proved that firms investing in creating an environment that responds to the needs of their workforce enjoy increased productivity, a higher employee retention rate, and their return on investment (ROI) that makes the initial expense worthwhile.

Approaches such as telecommuting and shared desks mean lower real estate costs since 100% of employees are not on site at the same time.


However, a good designer will

balance this collective approach by ensuring that the ratio of shared seating compared to the overall size of the workforce will accommodate whoever is on site on any given day.

The fixed-wall offices of previous eras made changing a floor plan an expensive endeavor. Todays demountable full height partitions walls and movable furniture allow firms to be responsive to the various market forces at play in their industry. Offering a variety of environments in which to perform is key in the modern workspace, and with careful planning, results are both impressive and functional.

The best solutions are layouts and floor plans customized to the individual firm and the physical space, which take advantage of the available natural light.
Experienced designers and space planners will look for unnoticed opportunities and ask pertinent questions such as:
~ what is the company culture and does it allow for movement and autonomy of an individual?
~ what is the process and does it lead to the creation of ideas or tangible items requiring more space?
~ how much of the day is spent collaborating and by whom?
~ what technology is offered and will allow people to work untethered?


The best solutions will shape a balance between public and private space, allowing for differing types of work and ways of working.
For instance, there are times when people need to close a door and work in a very focused manner without being disturbed, and other times when group interaction is critical to push the process forward.

The characteristics of each space need to be understood. For instance, conference spaces that can accommodate a team are as relevant to the process as a quiet huddle room with two to three person seating. These smaller meeting nooks dotted around the facility encourage workers to continue impromptu discussions, as opposed to having to book a room in advance, which can thwart the flow of ideas between associates.


Attention to acoustics, particularly in open spaces is a critical element of the design as a whole. If people cannot function properly due to noise and distraction, this will affect productivity as a whole. Providing focus rooms will enable individual workers to immerse themselves in tasks requiring intense concentration.

Designers will also take into account the natural flow of people as they move through the facility which helps to mitigate spaces that are unused simply because they are off the beaten track. Space planners will also design the physical layout to foster chance inter-departmental encounters that previously required formal meetings, such as a scientist and designer passing on a communicating stairway sparking a conversation that can lead to innovative solutions which are so important in today’s economy.

Collaboration Space


. cubicle areas allowing for individual work as well as access to co-workers
. large group gathering spaces | conference/meeting/training rooms
. small group gathering spaces | huddle space
. open interaction zones throughout the facility for spontaneous meetings between co-workers
. video conferencing facilities to collaborate with off-site personnel
. communicating stairs – joining different departments and allowing for chance meetings
. town hall meeting space for all-employee gathering

Private Space


. glass walled offices, encouraging access & mentoring between new & experienced workers
. focus rooms with a desk to plug-in and work/make a private call
. lounge furniture to put your legs up and work on laptops and other mobile devices
. hoteling space for visiting personnel
. a place for personal belongings

Health and Well-being
. work-out space/gym
. natural light – penetrating to inner areas of the space
. opportunities for movement

INFINITY_4 Floor_DSC8338

. sit-stand desks
. kitchens – offering healthy food choices
. café space – encouraging social interaction between co-workers
. exterior space – roof decks, patios, and gardens with seating

Dining Hall
Common Space & Conference Room
Innovation Lab

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