28.09.2016 : Luke Henty

Changing face of the workplace

The design of our workplaces is evolving. What used to be an isolating environment, has been transformed by advancements in communication and technology, and a quest for greater productivity. We now live in a world where our workplaces are places of innovation, interaction, socialisation and collaboration – where the human need to be around others has gradually emerged.

At some point, businesses started to become less reliant on personal office space. Instead they focused more on networks and shared areas and, from here, the benefits and pleasure derived from these rich and engaging spaces was realised.

This new shared workplace design is a draw card for attracting talent.

We no longer evaluate where we work on outputs, delivery and relationships alone – the physical environment organisations provide is just as important. To be creative and innovative, we need a balanced combination of structure and flexibility.

Organisations are now offering a mixture of open collaborative areas for groups and transitional breakout zones for both public and private discussions. Large kitchens enable us to mingle and share ideas, and flexible soft furnishings can be rearranged to suit our evolving needs.

Google for example, encourages long coffee machine lines in an effort to maximise interaction between employees. We see this idea proliferating in entrepreneurial communities, with collaborative co-working spaces such as ‘Generator’ or ’The Grid’ gaining popularity.

Another example is activity based working (ABW) model, which sees no one employee owning a desk. Instead, they are provided with a series of differing spaces to work, with each space being conducive to a particular task.

The future and evolution of workplace is becoming more about employees and what makes them happier at work.

In New Zealand, a nationwide survey of office workers found that, “81 percent of New Zealand office workers believe the physical environment at their workplace has an impact on their happiness and job satisfaction, and nine out of ten workers agree that if they are happy at work, they are more productive.” – Spaceworks Design Group, April 2015.

Many research studies comment on the impact design can have on productivity, job satisfaction and the capacity to create and innovate. Things like:

  • Visually stimulating interiors, using graphics, colour and writable surfaces to promote mood
  • Biophilic design through greenery to maintain natural connectedness
  • Natural lighting to provide visual and thermal connection to the exterior environment.

Offerings such as a central hub café or banquette, or providing casual seating, all support innovation through relaxation and infomalisation – but most importantly they provide choice. The net effect is an increase in productivity – be it through collaboration, innovation or both.

Some believe the next 10 years will see a greater pursuit of life and work (in that order), through spending less time in the office and more time working remotely – heralding the redundancy of the traditional ‘office desk’ and a blurring of office borders. Whilst technology has progressed to a level where it’s now possible to work from anywhere, the counter argument can also be made – that innovation struggles to thrive in isolation and the workplace is becoming a valuable place that brings people together. Thus, the type of workplace that designers should be encouraging is one that invites employees to contribute in an open and relaxed environment.

A workspace that encourages collaboration, innovation and productivity

Working at Beca, I like having the flexibility to choose how we carry out our working day. Our workplace partially subscribes to the ABW model, the difference being the provision of a ‘home-desk’.  The ownership of a desk allows us to retain our immediate workstation, with flexible breakout areas encouraging and supporting informal or impromptu meetings. These spaces vary in size, scale and feel, but most importantly, offer choice.

In 2014, our architects transformed a bare shell of our Auckland ground floor office space into a modern, flexible environment for our Design Practice. This design transition successfully increased social interaction and productivity.

I look forward to witnessing the next evolution of workplace in our Christchurch office – with patterned screens, furniture of varying scales, formal and informal meeting spaces all contributing to a flexible and creative environment.

What would your ideal workspace look like?

About the Author

Luke Henty

Architect - Design Practice

Luke is a registered architect in Beca’s Design Practice and has lead various projects across retail, workplace, residential apartment, commercial and food and beverage sectors. He’s currently project architect for Beca’s new office at the ANZ Centre in Christchurch, and NXN Apartments in central Auckland.

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