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The term flex space is a description of both the layout out of a business building and the seating arrangements within an office. When used architecturally, the term generally refers to a large commercial building with an open floor plan that can be easily adjusted to fit the tenants’ needs. For workers, it generally means that an office does not have assigned work spaces.
Flex space began as a response to the changing needs of the economy. As manufacturing on a large scale began to decline in popularity, factories and warehouse buildings were left empty. These buildings were often large with very open floor plans. These industrial spaces were often too big for the needs of most offices but could be modified easily to hold multiple office spaces.
The architecture of a flex space building is usually only minimally changed to allow for commercial use. Occasionally, the new offices might have traditional drywall perimeters; however, the inner division of the work space itself is almost always accomplished using movable walls and partitions. The most practical placement of these partitions regularly results in rows of three-sided offices called cubicles.
Increased need for commercial employees has required managers to tap nontraditional worker pools. These individuals have needs that frequently cannot be met with a nine-to-five schedule. Offices have begun to hire more part-time workers. Some have even started offering evening and weekend hours. In addition to flexible office spaces, the corporate world has adopted flexible workdays.
As work schedules have become more varied, firms have begun to notice that their offices are emptier. In most traditional office arrangements, each worker is given his or her own assigned workspace. On the days when that employee is not scheduled, that space is unused. As commercial property is almost always purchased or leased by the square foot, empty offices can waste a significant amount of money.
In response, many businesses have implemented flex space policies for their personnel. In this arrangement, cubicles are usually fitted with the equipment, such as phones and computers, that each worker uses regularly during his or her shift. When each person arrives, he or she chooses a workspace for that shift only. Afterward, that cubicle becomes available to members of the next shift.
In general, companies that operate during traditional business hours will not find open seating to be practical. Those who have several shifts scheduled throughout the day, however, may benefit from flex space. In addition, those organizations that employ large numbers of part-time or telecommuting individuals also could profit from the arrangement.