By Eric Wagner
As corporate occupiers transform their work environments to maximize efficiency and attract and retain talent, traditional office space has evolved. This demand is the catalyst for architects and designers to re-evaluate the function of the office, resulting in significant changes in work space.
Private perimeter offices have evolved into an open landscape of bench furniture seating that increases population density and encourages collaboration. Ceiling systems have been eliminated to maximize heights and to expose building infrastructure. Polished concrete floors are replacing carpet. The traditional modest antry (water cooler, coffee and tea) is now a high-end luxury café fitted with soft seating in lounge areas intended for social interaction and impromptu meetings. Other amenities elevate the employee workplace experience.
Although these trends have been well-documented, the functional and operational impact has introduced challenges. New technologies, materials and progressive design have presented innovative solutions.
White noise sound masking systems serve to cancel out undesirable ambient noise in open office environments. Architectural materials that absorb sound, such as sprayon acoustical treatments and ceiling or wall panels, can be fabricated to have a look consistent with the architectural aesthetic. Mechanical systems with carbon dioxide occupancy sensors measure the number of occupants in a defined area and control the conditioned air-flow, maximizing efficiency while reducing operating costs.
Although the demand for electrical power has not changed significantly in open office environments, smart technology now utilizes low-voltage electricity, most notably in power over ethernet (PoE) light fixtures. This new technology utilizes telecommunication cabling (i.e. Cat-6E) as a means for electrical power.
As companies reduce their footprint, they are increasing their overall occupancy. This comes with a premium for the initial capital costs. The contemporary minimalist aesthetic of new offices often has complex and intricate architectural details that can be arduous to construct. These details require more labor and high-quality materials than traditional offices. For example, in an open-ceiling design — where all building components, including ductwork, piping, cablings, equipment, etc. are exposed—materials which are otherwise concealed within the ceiling plenum must now be carefully placed to achieve the desired visual effect. Compared to a typical “hung” ceiling system, the construction cost for an open ceiling design in a 10,000 sq. ft. office space in New Jersey is an increase of approximately 12 percent.
What Is Next?
While many new technologies have been well received, there remains concern that the “pendulum has swung too far” with the new open office environment not being appropriate for all companies. Employees have not always embraced the office transformation, as sometimes the configuration and architectural design does not lend itself to a functional work environment. A balanced approach is required that can reduce the footprint of office space without compromising the functional aspects of the work environment.
CBRE’s Project Management team is at the forefront of these critical issues. Our holistic approach to planning and executing capital projects from a strategic perspective results in significant value for our clients. We have been instrumental in guiding firms such as Mars in creating their new office environments. As a trusted advisor, we steward the design and construction process, bringing insight and meaningful information to reduce cost, expedite construction and mitigate risk so companies can make informed decisions. The cornerstone of our success is rooted in aligning with client goals to ensure a successful outcome.
About the Author
As Senior Director, Eric Wagner leads the New Jersey project management team. Eric is a seasoned professional with more than 25 years of experience in the design and construction industry. His experience encompasses a wide variety of projects with values ranging from $10 million to $1 billion, including high-end office interiors and ground-up developments in diverse sectors such as residential, office, healthcare, retail and mixed-use.
For more information, visit CBRE Northern and Central New Jersey.