Were a businessman from 1980 to stumble into a time machine and fall into a modern day office you might forgive him for wondering just exactly what it is people do for a living. Gone are the closed cubicles of yesteryear, gone are the white striplights failing to fully commit to their job – much like the workers beneath. Gone are the fixed desks and the cigarette stains. In fact almost everything would have changed; the only thing left would likely be the coffee machine, but even that would somehow taste different.
The modern office is not just a place to work. As companies take note from the cutting edge of design, technology and wellness psychology it’s becoming a place to socialise and develop more meaningful relationships. As well as a shift in culture, a willingness to invest in the environment is a key driver in this change, not only creating a happier workforce than ever before, but a more productive one too.
Open plan, Open mind
No matter where you go virtually every modern workplace has one thing in common. An open plan design. In an age where the benefits of cross disciplinary collaboration are becoming ever more apparent, it makes both business and personal sense to create an atmosphere where communication channels are as open as possible. By encouraging dialogue an open plan space also acts as a social enabler, creating a sense of camaraderie between colleagues not found when the first port of call is an email directory.
The best offices employ a selective style of open plan, providing breakout spaces and soundproof booths for individual meetings. This is emblematic of the few downsides of open plan, namely noise from other stations taking focus away. However despite this, it has been found that open plan workspaces are truly effective at breaking down feelings of hierarchy and inequality in the workplace. Therefore a hybrid model that incorporates quieter areas is thought to be ideal.
Embrace the identity
The most effective companies are those with a clear mission and the workforces motivated to achieve it. While open plan offices will go someway to creating this, having a flag to rally behind can be the next step in seriously helping to galvanise a workforce behind the cause. By introducing a consistent brand identity into the office, smart companies add a personal touch. Google, for example, tailor each of their offices to reflect the local culture. The same psychology can be put in place on a relative shoestring however – as long as the external environment matches the internal values of the company. Be it disruptive, relaxed or serious, employees have been shown to display demonstrably more commitment in such workplaces.
One of the major trends of the last few years is that of biophilic design. Simply put, it’s the idea that humans are still fundamentally animals at heart and as such, are happiest when outdoors. The proliferation of indoor greenery, large windows for natural light and the use of non-synthetic materials is testament to the fact and is increasingly being used by all kinds of workspaces to help manage emotional wellbeing. In fact studies strongly link this kind of human-nature interaction with a whole host of physical and mental benefits, including (but not limited to): stress reduction, healing, attention restoration, perceptual development, cognitive capacity, social capacity and an increase in imagination. Needless to say, it’s a trend that looks to be staying for the long term.
Recharging the batteries
It’s a well known idiom that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. As it turns out it also blunts his ability to think creativity. Some companies are therefore embracing the idea of serious play, providing unique breakout rooms where workers can truly disengage from the environment around them. Sometimes this is simply a place where eyes can be closed and noise shut out, other times it’s a collaborative space where Jack and Jill can sit for twenty minutes over a game of Mario Kart. Even five years ago such practice might have been seen as a parody of the millennial workforce, however taking just a short period of time reset can result in much larger long term productivity gains, as well as being a trigger for those so called “aha!” moments.
You need to be more… Flexible
As discussed, every workplace should be different – a reflection of the values inside. It should also be practical – there’s little use in placing a call centre in a bare walled echo chamber. However using sound absorbing, natural divisions such as bamboo achieves an ideal balance, demonstrating how modern office design should be, above all, flexible. It’s a cliche of sorts but adaptive space also encourages adaptive thinking. Indeed, it’s a well known phenomena that the biggest driver of innovation and creativity is the environment.
Recently there has been an upsurge in the application of ‘Jugaard’ thinking, the idea that unusual environments essentially force people to think about solutions in unique ways. Taken from rural India, it’s an approach that has roots in resource constrained environments but is only now drawing the attention of multinational companies. Sometimes you really just do need a change of scene.
As much as the nature versus nurture debate rumbles on, it’s difficult to deny that thought processes, communications and wellbeing are all fundamentally linked to the surroundings people find themselves in. Were that businessman to go back to where he came, back to his slightly grey cubicle with it’s even greyer chair, he might wonder if it was all a dream. He might be tempted to knock down those walls and actually enjoy his work. He’d probably take a sip of his coffee and wonder why it tastes so different. At the end of the day he’d realise. The only way to think outside the box, is to leave it.
Uncommon takes pride in helping businesses thrive. Our workspaces are designed with your wellbeing in mind. Every single detail helps create an environment in which you can feel good about where and how you work. Visit our locations in Borough, Highbury & Islington, and Fulham to experience our unique vision of working life.