The Unassigned Workplace | Finding Freedom and Flexibility within Shared Spaces

The modern workforce has become increasingly blended as a network of mobile and remote workers, part-time employees, contract workers and consultants work collaboratively across disciplines. Teams and tasks are constantly shifting, along with the tools and spaces required by each. In an effort to cut costs and increase productivity, a growing number of organizations have converted to an unassigned seating strategy in which employees are free to choose the type of space that best supports the work they are doing at any given moment. While this industry trend has obvious benefits, just like any other popular interpretation of workplace design, it is important to remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model and each organization must find a balanced approach to implementation in order to maximize its benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of the unassigned workplace and how your organization can efficiently incorporate shared spaces.

CDI Features the Unassigned Workplace
Image Source: Office Snapshots, WeWork Paddington Coworking Offices in London

A Closer Look at the Unassigned Workplace

As technology continues to advance and waves of young talent replace our oldest generations, the needs of our workforce have changed. Many, if not most, organizations have unused or underused space as more employees work a flexible or remote schedule. Assigned desks are no longer an efficient strategy for some as a substantial percentage sit empty on any given day.

In an effort to combat real estate expenses and cut down on wasted square footage, companies have started to replace traditional space ownership with a community of shared, unassigned spaces. Some 25% of employers are placing at least some employees in unassigned seating and 52% of the rest plan to do so within three years, according to a 2018 survey of 138 employers by the real estate services firm CBRE and CoreNet Global. This strategy gives employees the freedom and flexibility to choose the type of space that best supports the work they are doing at any given moment. Fewer desks serve the same number of employees and there are a variety of other comfortable workspaces that offer the tools needed to remain productive. Since this design model was created to maximize autonomy and because different people thrive in different types of environments, an emphasis is placed on breakout areas, including phone booths, focus and huddle rooms, collaboration areas and both small and large conference rooms in order to provide a location for every task and occasion.

Whether you are considering a move to hoteling (a reservation-based system), free-address (first come, first-served) or a combination of the two, unassigned seating can create an adaptable workplace that yields numerous individual and organizational benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of the unassigned workplace to help us gain a better understanding of this popular industry trend and determine whether these shared spaces are a proper fit for your workforce.

CDI Features the Unassigned Workplace
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Capital One Startup Virginia Offices in Richmond

Advantages of the Unassigned Workplace

Positive attributes of the unassigned workplace can include: 

  • Save on Real Estate Costs
  • Optimize Space Utilization
  • Easier Collaboration and Cross-Departmental Socialization

The advantages to implementing an unassigned seating strategy within the workplace are substantial. One of the biggest is cost. As we mentioned before, unused or underused space is common within modern organizations in which workers spend a majority of their week traveling or working remotely. Unassigned seating helps cut down on unnecessary real estate costs by eliminating excess space. What was once underutilized square footage can be developed into a meeting room or collaboration area, saving money and benefiting the company as a whole.

Unassigned seating also provides employees with the ability to optimize their space for productivity. Perhaps a sales associate has several important conference calls on the agenda. A small conference room or phone booth may best suit his or her needs for the day. If coworkers from multiple departments are collaborating on a project, a conference room will provide them the privacy and integrated technology they require. Office design that allows for flexibility will ensure that employees are free to choose the type of space that best supports the task at hand.

Finally, shared spaces promote collaboration and socialization. Since there is no permanent seating, employees will more than likely be working in different areas each day. This will allow them to interact with coworkers from different departments, promoting teamwork and improving office rapport.

CDI Features the Unassigned Workplace
Image Source: Office Snapshots, AKEYA Coworking Offices in Tel Aviv

Disadvantages of the Unassigned Workplace

Negative attributes of the unassigned workplace can include: 

  • Inability to Personalize
  • Stress in Finding Space
  • Time to Get Settled
  • Cliques and Territoriality
  • Poor Hygiene

There are many concerns that come with implementing an unassigned seating strategy within the workplace. First and foremost in most people’s mind… “Where do I put my stuff?” The inability to personalize a workspace may negatively impact how some employees view their job. Without a designated desk, employees may feel lost or underappreciated. Looking for a desk each day, as well as the time it will take to get settled into a spot, can be overwhelming and stressful for some, especially if they arrive late to the office. Access to technology and mobile tools are critical in order for employees to be able to sit down and quickly get to work. Not everyone thrives in such a flexible environment, especially our oldest generations, and the uncertainty that comes with an unassigned workplace may negatively impact productivity and job satisfaction.

Once the practice of shared spaces is implemented, organizations may find that employees naturally gravitate to the same spaces and people, forming cliques and a sense of territoriality. Colleagues who work well together will naturally continue to try to work with those same people, building a sense of exclusion and resentment within others. Employers will have to keep a close on eye on how this design model affects company culture and make adjustments if needed. And while it may seem inconsequential in comparison, poor hygiene is also an important concern. Precautions will have to be taken in order to promote cleanliness and avoid the spreading of germs  between shared spaces.

CDI Features the Unassigned Workplace
Image Source: Office Snapshots, WeWork Embarcadero Center Coworking Offices in San Francisco, CA

Designing for Success with an Unassigned Workplace

It comes as no surprise that innovative companies are more likely to attract and retain a talented workforce and maximize productivity than those companies who remain complacent. Change can be difficult, however, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for workplace design. What works for one business may not work for another and it requires a great deal of time, planning and strategy, as well as employee insight, in order to implement a new design model.

Is unassigned seating a fit for your company? That question may be obvious for some. Before making any decisions, however, it is critical that organizations analyze employee performance and how their current space is being utilized. The needs and preferences between departments and individual roles vary, and what benefits some may not benefit others. Whether you are looking to incorporate hoteling, free-address or a combination of the two, creating a balance of shared and dedicated spaces will provide employees choice and flexibility within their work environment.

CDI Features the Unassigned Workplace
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Central Coworking Offices in London

Creating Your Balanced Workplace

Working with a design firm or workplace strategist, like Corporate Design Interiors, will ensure that the necessary steps are taken in creating a balanced office layout that embraces the unique needs of your employees. Follow the link below to contact a member of the Corporate Design Interiors’ team for additional information on how your organization can efficiently implement an unassigned seating strategy and reap its benefits.


CDI Features the Unassigned Workplace


Featured Image Source: Office Snapshots, The Working Capitol Offices in Singapore

About CDI

Corporate Design Interiors (CDI) is an industry-leading commercial furniture dealership whose award-winning product knowledge, thoughtful design coupled with strategic planning deliver functional and inspiring interiors designed to foster employee well-being, productivity and engagement. CDI’s relentless focus on delivering positive workplaces mirroring the culture and vision of companies while delivering a high value investment has earned CDI diverse clients including;  established Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits/public sector and energetic startups.

As a “Select” Kimball dealer, CDI’s excellence in sales, partnership, quality improvement, community involvement and overall business best practices earned it the 2017 Kimball Premier Partner Award.  CDI was selected among 52 other Kimball Select dealerships throughout the country for this industry-leading honor, earning additional praise for its company culture and enterprise practices.

CDI Awarded 2017 Kimball-PremierPartnerView the video below to take a further look into Corporate Design Interior’s award-winning partnership with Kimball.

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1711 Paramount Ct., Waukesha, WI  53186
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