There has been a lot of debate as to whether open-plan workplaces are conducive to collaboration or disruptive for productivity. With the recognition of three recent projects designed to promote collaborative work and creative thinking, integrated design firm Lemay demonstrates the value of open-plan as well as how this approach should be applied.
In January, Lemay’s new offices for accounting firm BDO won honours at the Grands Prix du Design, highlighting the firm’s highly innovative approach to the design of work environments for traditionally conservative professional contexts. Investment-development hub Espace CDPQ received an International Design Award in the Interior Design/Office category for the ground-breaking concept that was applied to their building. Lemay was also a finalist for an excellence award from Quebec’s Order of Architects, for transforming the Bishop’s University library into a 21st-Century Learning Commons where students can satisfy their curiosity and express their creativity in a modern space dedicated to collaboration.
According to Sandra Neill, an associate and workplace strategist with Lemay, adverse effects of open-concept spaces, such as decreased face-to-face interaction, are most often due to a premature introduction of these spaces, without a comprehensive workplace strategy.
“To make sure a collaborative environment meets its objectives, we perform an in-depth analysis of the existing workspace. We then work closely with the users to fully understand how their work is organised. Next, because we involve users in the planning process, we’re able to identify and respond to a much wider range of requirements,” says Sandra.
Increasing profitability and retention rates
The right preparation, says Sandra, will lead a company to find that introducing collaboration spaces increases not only productivity, but profitability and retention rates too. An office design with a variety of interconnected work and social spaces also directly benefits employee engagement and well-being – and is equally good for the bottom line.
For BDO’s national office in Toronto, Lemay considered the client’s corporate identity and values as well as its diverse and multigenerational workforce, putting a strong focus on user well-being and incorporating principles of sustainable construction to create a workspace that maximises efficiency and functionality.
An employee connection with the space was established with a biophilic approach that integrates natural elements into the built environment. Large vegetated areas, natural ventilation and abundant sunlight reduce stress and improve user comfort. The concept at the Toronto office will be deployed in BDO’s regional offices across Canada.
Avoiding issues that go along with collaborative working spaces
Collaborative work is a spontaneous practice that extends throughout the day, and location can be as variable as timing. Understanding this, and how it affects user needs and expectations, is crucial to avoiding the many issues that can arise when consultation is not part of the process. At Espace CDPQ, there are a multitude of approaches to collaborative work, with its variety of meeting rooms, auditorium and globalisation lab. Abundant glazing promotes the penetration of natural light and offers panoramic views of the cityscape.
Jean-Francois Gagnon, associate and design director at Lemay, comments: “Above all, it’s an organic space that naturally draws users to express their creativity. We’ve pushed the envelope by imagining so many different ways to enable that.”
Another project that was designed with community and collaboration in mind is Bishop University’s new Learning Commons. The project was built on feedback from students, professors, librarians, administrators and university alumni to radically transform what had been a low-ceilinged, closed-in space too small for its growing collection and user base.
The new, bright and welcoming atrium is the heart of the project. It offers magnificent forest views, connecting the building’s two main floors. It promotes knowledge transfer as it hosts activities ranging from impromptu student meetings to conferences.
Eric Pelletier, Lemay partner and design principal, elaborates: “The user is invited to own the spaces according to the desired level of privacy, external contact and ambience. With flexibility, there is empowerment; and when an environment is also stimulating, the user feels good about it.”
Main image courtesy of Claude-Simon Langlois
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