WHAT THE OFFICE? - Elite Magazine
The offices of today are becoming a far cry from their predecessors. Workplace perks and contemporary design, once reserved for the tech start-ups of Silicon Valley, are increasingly being adopted across a range of industries. A proliferation of ping-pong tables and even a two-storey slide can be seen (and slid down), a long way from its Google head office roots. But whereas Google employs a fantastic range of data to inform and guide their workplace development, what do you expect from a company that calls its HR department ‘People Analytics’, the blurred lines between office and playtime are not so well orchestrated elsewhere. Go Karts scientifically proven to improve productivity… more like improve publicity. Without proper monitoring, these seeming perks can moreover become a distraction, and in the worst case scenario – an isolator. Not all employees want to play tennis on their lunch break or attend extra-curricular activities.
With this in mind, we started to think more deeply about the office environment and what truly benefits the employee. What should you consider when you consider working for a company? And what should the company consider when constructing the office environment? And it’s not just a race to equip the work place in the latest gaming gizmos. According to the London Metropolitan University, the average adult will spend a solid 12 years of life at work. A whole 15-months of that time will be above and beyond contracted hours, that’s over a year in pure over time. To top that off, we spend an average of two years in meetings – so perhaps the layout of that boardroom you always find yourself in on the second floor is a little more important than you first thought?
How best to improve employee productivity is an age old question. Those distant offices of yesterday we mentioned, full of individual cubicles reminiscent of horse blinkers, worked under the assumption no distractions more concentration. In recent years we’ve seen a complete rejection of this philosophy. A couple of years ago you saw big corporations scrambling to commit to the new, improved way of working. Gone are the cubicles, say hello to open plan. We saw examples such as Facebook and Samsung catering to this trend, removing walls and encouraging a hop desk mentality; the motive behind this change being to increase serendipitous interactions. Not only do these new open plan offices have a tendency to come with more natural light factored into the design, and the encouragement of stair-taking through undesirably placed elevators, they often come complete with trendy breakout areas to further promote interoffice socialisation – let the innovation commence. However, this is not a new trend; in fact, it’s flopped once before and it’s flopping once again. Experiments with open plan offices occurred in the 1970s with the trend originating in Germany under the name ‘Bürolandschaft’ – which translates as office landscape. The issue with working entirely open plan is that yes, it encourages conversation across departments and may improve upon collaborative efforts, but it also provides a greater means for distraction. Not only this, it also only caters to a percentage of the workforce that may be more interactive. Not everyone you employ will be an extrovert and like not everyone wants to have a game of tennis, the same can be said about enforced communal working. Headphones are becoming the office doors of the 21st century.
In light of this, what direction are businesses meant to take? Is the optimum work environment in reach? With the lines between leisure and work become increasingly fragmented, particularly with millennials taking the workplace by storm, and a seeming inability to switch off, employee well-being and its link to office design is becoming more and more prevalent. A well-designed office not only impacts positively on a company’s bottom line, it also shown to improve employee mental health. Interior designer Hannah Mann, of Johnson Naylor Interior Architecture, spoke with Elite about this growing topic and remarked “It’s about making enough room for everyone’s personality”, essentially acknowledging that there are those who prefer to work in an open plan space and those that need privacy to be productive. Employees should have the choice and the opportunity to create a space of their own, and it is this combination that is starting to emerge - with offices starting to have the flexibility for everyone to feel comfortable.
“We are also seeing a growing movement to increase domesticity in commercial space, with companies taking more risk.” says Ms Mann, “this could be to do with social media, we’re far more visually stimulated and brands are therefore willing to be more experimental.” Kinfolk Magazine’s newly designed workspace is a perfect example of this proclamation. Instagram ready in every way, you’d be mistaken for thinking you’ve stumbled into someone’s ultra-chic living room. “Even the pooling of fabric on the floor from the curtains is something more typically associated with the home. Traditionally office spaces opt for more durable fabrics and more practical cuts.” This forgoing of the practical for a domestic aesthetic might just be another trend but its motive is one of increasing wellness. Sydney-based Memocorp recently unveiled their new offices, with the interior designers for the project stating they wished to create a “warm domestic penthouse-feel”, while still offering a variety of practical work spaces. The results are stunning, with employee well-being centre stage. While we don’t know where the trend in office layout is going next, it may be wise to look to domestic space designers for the ‘must have’ of tomorrow – and maybe leave the ping pong table for a trip to Bounce.