Opting for open offices

The production floor from the first level lounge The production floor from the first level lounge at Widex-USA, at 185 Commerce Dr., Hauppauge. The hearing-aid manufacturer has followed a design trend that many think improves work conditions, moral and production. (Sept. 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday. ...

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Even in the stairwell, often a dark and dreary part of traditional office buildings, light pours in through large windows at the new headquarters of Widex USA in Hauppauge.

The hearing-aid manufacturer's 70,000-square-foot building at 185 Commerce Dr. boasts an almost all-glass exterior, low cubicles with glass partitions, open lounge areas and meeting spaces, and a production area with no ceiling and high windows to let in more sunlight.

Previously spread across four locations that offered little natural light and left some employees windowless, the company spent almost a year on the design and renovation of its new facility, which opened in February.

"We wanted something very open and airy," says Francesca DiNota, Widex's senior vice president of finance and operations, who hired JRS Architect P.C. in Mineola for the design. "There's something about having windows and light and open space that makes for productive employees."

Apparently other employers agree. The open design concept, utilizing lots of glass and natural light, is a popular choice in office design these days, says John R. Sorrenti, president of JRS Architect.

"Companies are trying to foster more communication between employees," he explains. "People tend to be more collaborative" in more open environments; hence the lower cubicle walls and glass walls, he notes.

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Even many high-level executives are doing all-glass fronts to their offices to allow light into their interior spaces, says Michael Harris Spector, principal of Woodbury-based Spector Group Architects.

And they don't seem to mind losing that wall of privacy.

Glass walls

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Spector's office has two walls of glass, one on the exterior and one on the interior, to allow light to pass through.

"My door is open all the time," he says, adding he wants to foster conversation and collaboration.

Even the firm's 18-seat conference room has two walls of glass. It also has an "open living room"-style conference space with four walls of glass and a coffee table and chairs rather than a traditional boardroom table.

"It's a different, relaxed environment," says Spector, noting many of the firm's clients have asked for "living room" conference spaces, including Yahoo and Google. "They're really collaborative areas."

Widex has similar lounge areas with leather chairs and cube coffee tables where employees can meet or grab coffee.

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Cubicle walls are coming down in height, too, says Sorrenti.

"When you sit down, it's almost eye level to the person adjacent to you," he notes.

At the same time, to maximize space, office cubicles are shrinking in size, he says.

"People are trying to be more efficient in the amount of space they take," says Jeffrey Kleinberg, a partner at MKDA, a corporate interior-space planning and design firm in Manhattan.

The need for private offices is way down as well, with many executives opting to work among their staff or team in a workstation, says Kleinberg.

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"It's all tailored to the type of company you are," he notes.

Differing needs

When thinking design, analyze your own needs, he recommends. Don't do it in a vacuum. Talk to your department heads, something Kleinberg says he always insists on doing.

"If you just talk to the owners of the company, you don't get the full picture," he says.

Let the design represent who you are, adds Sorrenti.

Weber Law Group in Melville, which had Spector Group handle its office design, wanted a "sophisticated look," says senior partner Morton Weber. They moved to their space in 2008.

The firm incorporated white porcelain flooring in the entrance area to create a different look than that found in a traditional dark law office.

"It's inviting, and it's open," says Weber.

This kind of open atmosphere makes for a better workplace, says Widex's DiNota. "It's a pleasant working environment."

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