The Way We Work
June 12, 2013 by Amy Sept

If you step into oDesk's headquarters, you'll find walls covered in dry-erase and chalk boards, live creative mood boards, splashes of color and bold iconography. "These design choices really help stimulate and encourage creativity and collaboration among teams," explained Art Director Lorena Pinon. “The wall doodles, wireframes and sketches left behind help spark up conversations and interest among other teams.”

oDesk isn't alone. Businesses increasingly recognize that work environments make a difference; the cool office spaces that were once the domain of creative and tech companies have spread to banks and law firms.

Businesses that fail to focus on “transforming where and how work gets done rather than what type of work gets done” will find it hard to adapt in a cost-effective way to the workplace of tomorrow, according to a new study from the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

For many, the office has already left the building; according to Forrester’s 2012 Workforce Employee Survey, those working in an office at least once a week dropped from 100 percent in 2010 to 89 percent in 2012.

However, with a majority of people continuing to check in at the office, where work happens is still a hot topic. In response, an increasing number of organizations are picking up on this craving for flexibility and more creative surroundings, and are ditching the “cubicle farm” vibe for friendlier office space design.

Changing Office Space

“The office as work center has become less essential,” says the Urban Land Institute, highlighting the ongoing reduced demand for office space.

At oDesk, the writing is (often) on the wall.

At oDesk, the writing is (often) on the wall.

That this change is partly motivated by the bottom line is clear: In a survey of UK companies by Rackspace Hosting and the Manchester School of Business, 71 percent of respondents said remote work helped cut office expenses, by an average of $320,000 (USD) a year.

In Canada, for example, traditional corporations like Toronto-Dominion Bank and telecommunications company Telus are among the organizations who've revamped their work environments.

However, it's not just about cutting costs; a global survey into new ways of working found that while space optimization and cost savings are leading factors, employee work/life balance, attraction and retention — even productivity — are close behind.

“The traditional office was designed to house people doing their own tasks,” John Peets, vice president of leasing for Oxford Properties Group, told the Globe and Mail earlier this year. “The future is doing knowledge work in collaboration on devices that don’t need to be plugged in at a desk.”

Ready to start your own workspace redesign? The Deloitte report identifies three main goals to keep in mind:

  1. Define high-impact challenges: Help workers and teams focus on areas of highest learning, business impact and sustainable improvement.

  2. Strengthen high-impact connections: Make it easier for people to build relationships both inside and outside the organization.

  3. Amplify impact: Create infrastructure that helps individuals have greater impact through things like shared ideas and ownership.

Open Workspace Reflects oDesk's DNA

When redesigning oDesk’s office, Pinon sought to create a space that projects confidence and promotes collaboration using deliberate style choices — like streamlined furniture, careful use of color, and conference rooms that reflect oDesk’s global reach.

“A working collaborative space should represent the people who work in it,” explained Pinon. When people are at ease, she said, they’re more likely to produce their best work.

"In my opinion an office space should feel like a home, in essence," she added. "It should project personality, voice and productivity, giving the visitor a feeling of ease, trust and comfort. We all know how to be good hosts at home; that's also an integral part of office design."

What’s changed within your office space to make it easier to connect, collaborate and communicate? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As Managing Editor of the oDesk blog, Amy Sept has more than a decade of communications experience and a passion for helping nonprofits and small businesses succeed. She is an experienced freelancer and the founder of Nimbyist Communications, a marketing and public relations business specializing in nonprofit promotions. She has previously studied both journalism and music, and before launching Nimbyist was manager of communications for… read more