As more and more companies come round to the idea of creating ‘Habitats’ in the workplace in order to support different types of activity-based working, the challenge for office designers is to create an environment that addresses the needs of workers in all of their daily tasks, whilst at the same time ensuring they are engaged, happy and productive.
The Collaborate Habitat remains a key part of workplace design; assisting in the speed of the development of ideas and flow of knowledge throughout an organisation. Spaces, where teams can concentrate or engage in confidential collaboration, are pivotal to successful design, as are breakout spaces that encourage interaction and spontaneous conversation, as well as providing light relief from hours in desk chairs. However, whilst collaboration continues to drive workplace design, and offices continue to trend towards open and flexible environments, it’s more important than ever to remember the need for quiet, private spaces in order for employees to concentrate and focus.
New research shows that we still need to be able to complete distraction-free solo work in order to feel productive. Indeed, according to a survey of 90,000 people by architects Gensler, ‘workplace effectiveness is not collaboration, it’s individual focus work.’ Conversely, the report also concludes that ‘focus is also the workplace environment’s least effectively supported activity.’
Cramped office space in which employees have no personal space or control, and open plan offices that offer little privacy, can seriously compromise individual focused work. In addition, open windows, the lack of meeting space, chatty co-workers, and the proliferation of mobile devices in general, only serve to exacerbate the problem. As well as restricting productivity and creativity, office noise and distractions can have a serious impact on employee wellbeing and motivation. It’s reported that ‘irrelevant noise’ not only disrupts work but also increases stress levels and decreases job satisfaction.
Of course, there are numerous solutions to this problem including; introducing flexible work schedules, remote working options, time management training etc. However, within any office environment, there are different personality types, with everybody striving for an optimal level of stimulation to be at their happiest and most productive. Unfortunately, that optimal level varies widely, and as such, it can have a profound effect on workplace design. By far the easiest solution is to create environments with a range of settings that allow people to find the right space in which to work, whatever their psychological, physical, personality, or practical needs.
This model which is routinely described as ‘activity based’ or ‘agile working’, is certainly not new and dates back to the time of the combi-office – a mixture of cellular and open plan that was a common feature of European offices long before we even knew what a laptop was. However, the key difference nowadays is that while the combi-office was frequently specified as part of a hierarchical vision of work, modern organisations prefer to focus on the democratic benefits of agile working.
The provision of zones for private and interactive work today should be far more dependent on function and need, rather than on status. This invariably relies on a thorough understanding of the organisation’s needs, as well as those of the people who work for it. With research pointing loudly and clearly to the importance of offering the right level of acoustic and visual privacy when it comes to making people more productive and happy at work, it appears to be a far better solution than the traditional open-plan office.
From high-performance ceiling products, sound masking systems, privacy screens, and partitions, as well as personal workspace furniture, freestanding office, and telephone pods, there are numerous products available today that aim to create acoustically well-balanced workplaces. However, in addition to products, a well-designed office layout can also help minimise sight lines and help group people sensibly; thereby providing areas that offer privacy and promote individual focused work. By providing employees with areas where they can concentrate and gain headspace, companies will reap the rewards in terms of a more productive and engaged workforce.
Mark Barrell is the director of design at Boss Design
Individual-focused work can be game a game changer in the wellbeing of the workplace, according to new research by Boss Design. The company’s Design Director, Mark Barrell, tells us more