Companies are constantly changing and evolving to keep up with today’s trends. A great example of this change is the ongoing push for open or collaborative space. Facilities managers, designers and architects have been asked to tear down walls let the sunlight in and provide comfortable spaces where employees want to work. Thought Designers and Architects face their share of challenges such as organizational hierarchy, engrained company culture and the overall fear of change. With that said companies are coming to the realization that change is inevitable. Innovative office furniture systems, improved lighting, faster data networks and dependable wireless communications have fast-tracked the open space movement. Gone are the cookie cutter spaces, offices with doors, high walled cubicles and windows reserved for offices only. Those relics have been replaced by floor to ceiling windows, skylights and low-rise cubes huddled into work groups with common areas. Today many companies have embraced Open Space designs and now are looking to audiovisual companies to improve the space by adding innovative technology.
One of the obvious challenges that AV designers are faced in Open-Concept design is ambient light. In traditional spaces Conference rooms where behind four walls. Sunlight is not the enemy in today’s designs and is encouraged to enter the space through large windows, skylights or sun tunnels. For AV vendors or in-house AV technology managers the need to meet with the Facilities planning group is now paramount. If that is not possible then be prepared to invest in a light meter and some prayers in order to justify the added expense of retro fitting technology. The addition of high quality window shades, brighter projectors and better quality projection screens will help improve the situation. Do not under value the added benefits of a control system. A well designed system that is connected into the lighting and shade controls is an added benefit that can really shows its worth when given to a creative programmer.
Open-Concept designs are extremely susceptible to unwanted sound and noise. Simple steps such as shutting off speakerphones, wireless phone & PC headsets and giving employees the option take calls in purpose-built conversation spaces are steps in the right direction. As the need for open space increases so should the need to address acoustics in the planning stages of site design. Engaging an acoustical engineer early on in the planning phase is a major step to ensuring that sound is addressed and that the right steps can be added later on to further “tweak” the sound. Additional steps such as sound masking systems, improved speaker technology and acoustical panels will bring additional sound control to the overall space.
The traditional four walled conference spaces are now located out in the open. A major attraction to these types of spaces is that they free of reservation systems, informal, simple and inviting. As an end-user I imagine a great collaborative work space as a combination of comfortable seating, ample work surface and technology. Unfortunately technology is still the first to be “cut out”. A table with four seats and whiteboard does not constitute a collaborative work space in world where we are immersed in technology 24×7. It’s the year 2012 why do end-users have to justify having a permanent display or projector in any meeting space? Has the “display” not reached the same mythical status as the dry erase board and the conference phone? They just magically appear with every meeting space.
The Open-Concept design is challenging AV professionals to become creative again. It’s time to rethink the four walled conference room and literally go outside the box. If it wasn’t a challenge it wouldn’t be fun and if it isn’t fun then you are in the wrong line of work.