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Interior design & space planning.

Interior finishes make office facilities work better.

The shock waves from the introduction of open-plan offices many years ago are continuing to shape the evolution of office finishes. "There are major cultural changes that have occurred in the last five years," says Joel Bergstein, partner, Rutherford, NJ-based Lincoln Equities Group. "The old adage that executives occupy offices along the perimeter wall and the staff occupies open-plan landscape on the inside has gone out of the window."

Moving private offices into the inter/or of open plans is one example of how office cultures are changing to become more responsive to all employees. This transformation in corporate culture influences all aspects of office interior finishes, from wall panel systems to carpeting.

At the same time, finishes are becoming more responsive to end-user needs by adapting to help employees and tenants work better. This improved efficiency is translating into a healthier bottom line.

Make tough jobs easier with modular systems.

Appearance, durability, and cost: Facilities managers continue to consider all of these important factors. However, future flexibility continues to be a key issue. "New tenants coming in are making sure they have flexibility to be able to add additional technology," says Bergstein. Handling the rivers of fiber optics, cables, and wires that feed the modern, computer-oriented office is a big consideration for many facilities professionals. They covet flexible products that facilitate the present, yet accommodate the future.

Technical flexibility is particularly prized. Facilities professionals want to minimize downtime and disruption when bringing computer and telecommunications access to individual cubicles as staff sizes wax and wane. Relying on adjacencies - grouping similar work functions so that employees can overlap their duties - they use adjustable wall panel systems and modular furniture when combining different departments. For executive office space, the same wall systems and modular furniture used by the rest of the staff increases uniformity while maximizing flexibility.

Facilities managers especially praise wall systems that can be reconfigured easily and quickly, often selecting wall systems that have height adjustability for privacy. Some environments, such as those in telemarketing departments, require low cubicle walls to give privacy while still allowing verbal communication and visual contact. Conversely, other departments, such as claims adjusting, may benefit from more privacy. Height-adjustable walls allow facilities to be tailored to specific functions.

Although spaces are often furnished with modular components that accommodate power and data connections, facilities managers want even more flexibility for the future. "I have to run miles and miles of cabling. A lot of buildings have a trough system in the floor, so you're really limited on where you can place furniture," says John Cross, facilities manager, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Chattanooga. "There has to be some better way." Currently, Cross handles technology access for his facilities though existing troughs and by running wiring from the ceiling through power poles.

Ceilings and carpet tackle acoustics and more.

Noise in open landscape environments can distract employees, lowering productivity. Facilities managers often handle such disruptive sound issues with acoustical ceiling tiles and sound-masking devices. These technologies, when paired with fabric-covered wall panels and carpet, can greatly reduce noise disturbances.

The sound-absorbing properties of carpet are important in the noisy atmosphere of open-plan offices. Facilities managers consider technological access and acoustical properties as reasons for choosing carpet tile, as well as its easy maintenance and design flexibility. "Carpet tile best suits our needs, wear-wise. You can do things with it, criss-cross patterns and borders. It's easier to replace a few pieces of carpet tile," says William Leaver, facility manager, Sony Electronics, Oradell, NJ. "It comes down to functionality."

With innovations in color, texture, and patterning, modular carpet is mimicking the attractive appearance of broadloom. New and improved carpet tiles are finding their way into more office facilities, including some executive offices - although broadloom is still prevalent in private offices. Most often, carpet tile is being utilized in conjunction with other modular systems, such as wall panel systems and modular furniture, to facilitate relocating staff within an office facility.

Colors and patterns work in harmony.

Whether broadloom or carpet tile, color and pattern trends in textiles include darker hues with bolder patterns for offices. Facilities managers are searching for durable, easy-to-clean, cost-effective finishes that are also attractive. Because some carpet color choices are richer, facilities managers still favor light-colored walls.

Warm earthtone and nature-derived colors, according to end-users, are more frequently used in office finishes. As accents, for instance, soft shades of green are appearing on upholstery and wall panel fabrics within office spaces. At the same time, paint and vinyl wall-covering manufacturers have introduced washable finishes in an array of colors, including metallics. Most facilities managers, however, look for colors and patterns that will complement future purchases.

Achieve a perfect fit - today and tomorrow.

Whether draped in woodsy greens or classic beiges, each workstation isn't complete without a wrist rest. Ergonomic furniture and products have been on the scene for 20 years, and many facilities managers have incorporated a wide range of such products into their offices. Once consisting of simple constructions of foam rubber or plastic, today's ergonomic products are increasingly more high-tech. Adjustable chairs, keyboard trays, and even mouse pads are specially designed to prevent injuries.

There is more to ergonomics than keeping workers comfortable, however. Some ergonomic furniture is designed for alertness. There are height-adjustable workstations where workers can stand or sit, and chairs that encourage the occupant to constantly change position, improve circulation, relieve spinal stress, and be alert. "People fidget. We constantly change positions," says Tom Albin, manager, Ergonomics Services, St. Paul, MN-based 3M Office Ergonomics. "Workstations need to accommodate that." Recognizing that people do not always know the proper ergonomic position for their individual needs, Albin led the design of a company-wide ergonomic education program. If the future of offices is the incredible shrinking cubicle, adaptable, body-responsive furniture will become even more important.

"I think [the future of offices] will be about the effective quality of the work environment," says Calvin Lewis, a partner at Des Moines-based architectural firm Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck. To achieve this end, the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Architects (AIA) is gathering data from the national business community on how facilities impact worker productivity. Analysis of worker proximity, access to vital equipment, stimulating color palettes, physiology of daylighting, and more will ultimately result in design that lends a greater sophistication to the office setting. "We're beginning to create the scientific data that will say, 'If daylighting in an environment is at x percentage, your efficiency will improve x amount.' That's better than saying, 'I think light's good,"' says Lewis.

Despite wry predictions from the pages of Dilbert[TM] that workers will someday be standing in open plans with tiny cubicles over their heads, facilities managers are using the next generation of interior systems to support their employees better. These small changes, from ceilings to flooring, can lead to impressive results in the future.
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Title Annotation:equipment for office design; includes top products; Special Report: Technology Today & Tomorrow
Author:Raiford, Regina
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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