The days of the spacious corner office are numbered.

So say a number of local and national advocates who have been encouraging businesses to reconfigure their office environments to save space, boost collaboration and accommodate today’s mobile worker.

Several companies in Maine already have jumped on the modern-office bandwagon, including IDEXX Laboratories, WEX Inc., athenahealth Inc. and Martin’s Point Health Care, according to Jim Baker, senior vice president of office interior-design firm and furniture supplier Red Thread, which recently moved its Maine office from Westbrook to downtown Portland.

“There is a realization that space is an asset,” he said. “They want it to work harder, work smarter.”

Inside these revamped workplaces, individual offices and cubicles are replaced with large common areas, workspace clusters and desks assigned to no one and usable by anyone. Workers move around the office as they assemble in various teams to work on projects or seclude themselves to focus on individual work, Baker said.

“The place needs to support focus work, collaborative work and also socializing,” he said.


The concept of flexible office spaces dates back to the 1960s, but has evolved significantly over time, said Liz Salamone, architecture and design account manager at Creative Office Pavilion in Portland. Like Red Thread, Creative Office Pavilion helps clients redesign their offices to make them more functional, comfortable and efficient.

That often includes removing walls that isolate workers and creating workspaces that are specific to particular job functions, she said.

“The space (you work in) used to reflect your status,” Salamone said. “Now it reflects what you do.”

Employee comfort is a major goal of modern office spaces, she said. Companies want meeting areas that look more like living rooms or coffee shops.

“People don’t have to leave to go to Starbucks,” Salamone said.

Employees who work in a comfortable environment with many of the amenities they find at home generally are willing to work longer hours and are more likely to stay energized, she said.


One company that has embraced the concept of flexible workspaces is CBRE Group Inc., the world’s largest commercial real estate firm, based in Los Angeles with an affiliate office in Portland, CBRE|The Boulos Co.

Even CBRE’s president and CEO, Bob Sulentic, no longer has his own office, according to Chris Hood, a Virginia-based expert on what he calls “office 3.0” who visited Portland last week to give a seminar on cutting-edge workplace design.

Hood, managing director of workplace strategies at CBRE, said the latest statistics show that on average, only 35 percent of all work is done while sitting at a desk. Therefore, it makes no sense for each office worker to have his or her own assigned workspace, he said.

“That’s a waste of money, a waste of space,” Hood said.

The more logical approach is to create a range of settings that anyone can use at any time, he said.

The rising cost of real estate is one reason companies have decided to embrace the office 3.0 concept, Hood said. By adopting a modern workplace design, companies can reduce the amount of necessary space by as much as 50 percent and lower their real estate costs by as much as 40 percent, he said.


Another reason to make the switch to office 3.0 is that younger workers tend to prefer such environments.

For them, the main draw is that such workspaces allow employees to choose how and where they want to work.

“Some people feel more comfortable working in the cafeteria,” Hood said. “Other people will go out of their way to find the deepest, darkest place they can.”

He conceded that for certain job functions, it still might make sense to provide designated workspaces, such as for employees who provide support to a large group of co-workers, or those who manage confidential files.

But, even those jobs don’t necessarily require assigned seating, Hood said.

“The minute we decide there’s a rule, somebody’s there to break it,” he said.


Mobile technology is another driver of the latest office-design trends, Hood said.

As a growing number of companies replace landlines and desktop computers with smartphones, tablets and laptops, the need for fixed workspaces has diminished, he said.

But what about older workers? Don’t they object to such radical changes in their office environment?

Hood said the bottom line is results. If workers of all ages find that their revamped office allows them to work smarter, faster and better, they tend to embrace it.

“When this is done well, the personal space becomes an irrelevance,” he said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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