Lost in the debates?
Which design options and strategies would work best for your business?
- open plan or private offices?
- hot-desking or individually allocated desks?
- standing desks, treadmill desks or traditional desks?
- standing meetings or traditional meetings?
- working from home or working form the office only?
These are some of the hot – and highly debated – topics in the realm of workplace design in 2014.
All these options have pros and cons. (For example, in an open plan office it’s easier to communicate and collaborate, but it’s more difficult to do focused work due to distractions. Hot desking provides more flexibility, but can create confusion and inconvenience.) So when people ask me, for example, if open plan offices or hot-desking are good solutions, I can only say: ‘It depends.’
In fact, balancing conflicting interests is the nature of workplace design, and solutions are rarely universal. To tell which options / solutions could work better for a specific organisation, we / [designers and decision makers] really need to think through: Who are we designing for? How do they / these people work? What are their goals, values, challenges, strengths, priorities and personalities? What does high performance mean for them? What is their culture like?
Questions are an excellent resource
People often ask me: ‘So what’s the Magic Pill?’ For me, it’s about asking well-targeted questions from the business owners and space users, facilitating focused conversations to explore problems and opportunities from many angles, and listening of course.
I am astonished at how much most knowledge workers know about [workplace design and] the influence of the space on their work, and what brilliant ideas they can come up with. Although they might not be experts in workplace design, they are experts in the way they use the space. They just need to be given the permission to think freely and creatively about their workplace, and be reassured that their insights about this subject are valuable.
When space users have the chance to explore different options, their contributions are even more valuable. This can be achieved in several ways:
- Generating discussions about how the different design options would influence work – perhaps using role-playing
- Experimenting and testing out ideas before they are implemented (for example, getting a couple of standing desks for shared use to see how they work, or implementing hot-desking for a trial period)
- Creating a diverse and flexible space which allows people to choose where and how to work, and to make changes to the space as needed (This way design decisions can also be made during operation.)
Debates will still happen and that’s a good thing. But through these interactions, either clear answers will emerge, or it will become easier to find the solutions that work best for the organisation.
As a bonus, your team will become more engaged and committed, as they develop a stronger sense of ownership over their workplace.
Putting all the pieces together
Of course, designers, business owners and decision makers don’t need to (and shouldn’t) let go of control and leave all decisions to the users. Workers tend to focus more on immediate issues, like distraction, and less on hidden problems. Also, their perception about their own performance tends to be somewhat distorted.
So it’s worthwhile to seek expert advice and assistance. Having a third party perspective is important, and the expertise to support informed decision making. It’s also useful to look outside of the organisation and learn from the examples of other organisations as well as insights from research studies.
But those times have passed when the answers to the challenges of workplace design came from creative masterminds, working in isolation. Nowadays, good workplace design starts, develops and evolves through conversations.