Every coin has two sides and every idea has two opposing opinions. The debate surrounding the ideal modern workspace is no different.
The modern office is a complex space that changes often, with everyone from CEOs to entry-level staff vying for the perfect space to inspire creativity, productivity, efficiency and job enjoyment. Only thing is, no two people are alike, and no two ideas are perfect in scope – so how does the evolution of the office manage to keep up? How do you keep everyone happy? By providing as many unique spaces and representations as possible, while striving to adhere to time-tested office practices – all in one space, at the same time.
Sound a little out there? The modern interpretation of the office ‘neighbourhood’ is drastically changing how people balance work and real life.
Old Office Characteristics
The ongoing push and pull from the popular semi-private cubicle style of office design, made internationally popular in the 1960’s by Robert Propst, funneled people into tiny 3-walled enclosed workspaces to reduce potential for distraction. The idea was that by reducing the potential to be interrupted, either by a co-worker or a public spectacle within view of an open work space, productivity would sky rocket and people would feel satisfied in thinking they’d been able to achieve more in a given day. The ‘Action Office’ as it was called, even won the 1985 Worldesign Congress ‘world’s most significant industrial design’ award for the years 1961-1985.
Later, the isolating qualities of the cubicle were denounced by one of its main co-creators, George Nelson, who called it “dehumanizing” and a way to cram “maximum number of bodies, for “employees” (as against individuals), for “personnel,” corporate zombies, the walking dead, the silent majority. A large market.” The cubicle has since been painted in the mainstream media in a negative light.
The open concept office was meant to cure the ails of the cubicle-induced unhappy office landscape. Nowadays, around 70% of the US works in open concept offices. But their critics, and staff around the world are finding that their utopian ideals of wide open spaces are also affecting productivity, job satisfaction, and even health.
A recent study from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that open concept offices can cause conflict, high blood pressure, and increased staff turnover.
The chief complaints of open concept office environments are the lack of visual and sound privacy. Similarly, the layout contributes to people not knowing if they’re being watched or not, leading them to reluctantly believe that they are being watched at all times. In this regard, open concept offices work against fostering creativity and productivity.
The irony being: both concepts were created by people trying to make the world a happier place, trying to make the office a better place to work. So when both ideas have
Apparently failed, where do we go from here?
Understanding how employees like to work is key to creating viable neighbourhood spaces that contribute to workplace enjoyment and productivity. These internal spaces within the office offer the flexibility to move around and to be inspired by different workspaces within the office depending on the pending task.
The office neighbourhood design is the new-aged answer to the open-concept office design, as well as an again cubicle-inspired mentality. The concept is rooted in providing different activity-based environments, offering in-house flexibility for staff that open concept offices can’t offer o so instead of owning a desk, employees become members of a specific community within the office. The idea is to actively support and encourage collaboration, concentration and connection, as 80% of work today is collaborative in scope.
As some spaces within an urban environment or neighbourhood may feature a park or green space for stress free public gatherings, these new office spaces can also feature customized spaces that offer a similar respite from the daily grind. They could feature greenery, a café, or even a quiet space for internal reflection to aid in concentration.
The key is giving the team the ability to work in, and own, a space that feels like it’s theirs – this gives employees a home base with the capacity to move around within, tailoring their work experience to the types of projects they’re working on.
Further, the office neighbourhood concept offers the best of both the outgoing cubicle and open concept work spaces by accommodating the openness and inclusive nature of a wide open workspace, and provides quiet, isolated spaces for introverted employees, or those seeking solace in their work.
The bottom line of the office neighbourhood ideal seeks to encourage innovation and demand employee cooperation and collaboration, while allowing for privacy and individuality as well.
The Harvard Business Review notes in a recent article that the use of quantitative information – traditionally used in urban planning for things like traffic flow, crime rates and spread of infectious diseases – are particularly applicable to office spaces by helping organizations optimize their spaces to accommodate the unique working styles of their employees. Further, urban physics has the power to transform the spaces to reflect the companies “true ethos and values.”
By building a neighbourhood style structure into the offices of the modern day, companies can increase overall job satisfaction, happiness and improve the workflow and organizational structure of their businesses – all by simply allowing people to move and settle where it feels right.