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How repurposing space and furniture is changing the office

Companies want more 'we space' for employees, says design expert

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The hoop table by Haworth is popular for repurposing office space, as its design encourages and supports impromptu collaboration. Image courtesy of TW2 Marketing.

Repurposing or breathing new life into underused space is now driving the changing dynamics of today's workplace. Companies that repurpose its space or furniture can update an office layout while keeping costs down and integrating a more connected atmosphere for their employees.

How is repurposing done? Picture a space that houses a company with a mixture of open cubicles and private offices. By repurposing the space, the company could shift its employees into smaller cubes with a dense, yet open, floor plan and repurpose the offices into huddle rooms, conference areas or private spaces for nursing mothers. The footprint would stay the same, but the landscape would be open. This would allow a company to put greater emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.

“Avoiding (demolition), preventing building costs and reusing your existing furniture can save a company a lot of money,” said Anne Benge, president of Unisource Solutions. Unisource Solutions assists organizations with their commercial interior needs and is one of the leading furniture management companies in California. The company is also the exclusive distributor of Haworth office furniture and designs in San Diego. Haworth’s products are built around reconfiguring, so buyers can change how they use them and purchase more of the same items when they want to expand.

Benge has been in the commercial office furniture industry for more than 33 years and has seen many trends in corporate office settings. “Collaboration is a very hot trend right now,” she said. “If you can get your employees all moving in the same direction in the same place, your business will thrive. The two biggest items on your income statement are people and real estate.”

Unisource Solutions recently repurposed a space for AudaExplore in Rancho Bernardo. The building now has an open floor plan with areas that allow employees to collaborate.

“We believe we are an uncommon company and we take great pride in creating an office environment that cultivates uncommon thinking and teamwork,” said Greg von der Linden, AudaExplore’s vice president of human resources. “Shifting to an open space has helped us be true to our culture and be more innovative for our customers.”

Medical device company Sotera Wireless also recently upgraded its space by repurposing existing space and furniture. Rooms were kept and transformed into conference and multiple-purpose collaboration areas at its Mira Mesa headquarters.

Capital Partners in Carlsbad will soon be moving into its new space created by RBN Design. All doors and doorframes were reused. Most of the offices were left in place from the previous tenant to avoid using the landfill and incurring the cost of demolition and construction, making repurposing also a greener solution.

Several of the old offices were converted to meeting rooms, guest offices, phone rooms and other spaces for workers to move to when they need privacy or want to meet and not disturb others.

“A misperception in the market about open-plan, lower-height cubical walls and denser footprints is that the amount of space per person is dropping,” Benge said. “When a company repurposes its space, employees can expect 200 to 250 square feet per person, but how the space is being broken out is changing. Less ‘me space,’ more ‘we space.’”

Companies can find out how to best use their creative space by understanding what needs must be met on a daily basis.

“Collaboration to a defense contractor and other heavy-engineering-based companies is dramatically different than a software company or marketing company,” Benge said. “Engineers collaborate wherever there is a table, a white board and good coffee. Add in a shared monitor or TV screen, and you have nirvana.”

Repurposing space brings developers, marketing professionals, sales executives, project managers and business leaders all together instead of breaking them up by departments. At the end of the day, this will mean fewer emails and more open communication.

-Bustillos is a consultant with TW2 Marketing, a San Diego-based public relations and marketing firm.

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