“How can I create a workplace people will be passionate about?”
This is a common question among business owners and others responsible for thoughtful, purposeful design of “work”, effectively embodying brand values and mission. A litany of workspace trends create a compelling narrative about how to foster culture using the “place” component of our contemporary workplace. However, fully subscribing to the narrative can result in ill-conceived attempts to reach the cutting edge of workspace while neglecting the very real needs of its occupants.
So, how do we get there? HBR published an article with an index of 7 workspace attributes, measured in continuum, that can help identify the desired way of working in specific spaces before embarking on an office design project: location, enclosure, exposure, technology, temporality, perspective & size. In this blog, we explore these attributes and the questions posed by each workspace.
Off the Beaten Path, or at the Center of the Action?
“Location” refers to the relative proximity of a workspace, taking into consideration the accessibility and the degree to which it is positioned on regularly traveled routes. When interior designers or architects number the rooms on a space plan, they begin with the outermost space and essentially work around the entire floor plan in a circle, ending with the innermost space: in this case, low-numbered rooms are “periphery” locations and the highest-numbered rooms at the center are “core” locations.
Workspaces on the “core” end of the spectrum are generally a hub for work, people & processes – centrally located common areas, busy bullpens, and similar areas given to high traffic and activity. A well-cultivated space at the core of an office can be leveraged to influence chance encounters, collaboration & connectivity. “Peripheral” spaces are those out-of-the-way offices: rarely visited without specific purpose, these workspaces are best outfitted for individual or private work – especially that which begs a higher degree of privacy. Examples of spaces on the periphery include conference rooms, private offices, and similar spaces designed for concentration and/or privacy.
Walled Off, or Open Air?
“Enclosure” refers to the degree of physical barriers present to define a workspace – walls, doors, ceilings and other partitions meant to create separate atmospheres. This is pretty straightforward, and a common topic with the popularity of open office layouts. The “open” end of the spectrum is best represented by an office that is literally outdoors – no division of space, completely unenclosed. More common examples include benching stations meant for collaborative work and lounge areas serving as casual meeting spaces. On the “closed” end of the spectrum is your traditional layout of private wall offices – a workspace made up of hallways with spaces on either side, fully defined by walls, doors & ceiling. If this sounds like it could only be a drawback, consider the specific needs for privacy in different functional areas of business: employee confidentiality and HIPAA-compliance in a collaborative hub? Probably not.
Cubicles are a good example of the importance behind striking the right balance for your space: cubicle workstations are basically comprised of partitions but aren’t enveloped by outer walls. Although office furniture systems are dead center of the “enclosure spectrum”, it is a foolish assumption that all can be remedied by meeting in the middle.
Office Troll or Fishbowl?
“Exposure” refers to the level of visual and acoustic privacy inherent to a specific area. This attribute is very similar to the previous “enclosure spectrum”, which has to do with physical barriers, but the “exposure spectrum” has to do with how shielded a space is from sensory stimulation (ability to see and hear others).
Workspaces on the “public” end of the spectrum have little to no perceptual separation of individuals, and create minimal levels of privacy – generally geared toward face-to-face communication, transparency, and collaborative work settings. While the open-office layout is top of mind, an exemplary “public” space would be an office with glass-wall partitions: physical dividers offering high visibility. The “private” end of the spectrum is similar to a “closed” space – instead of a physical enclosure, however, the definition of these workspaces provides a modicum of privacy from the eyes and ears of the uninvolved. Partitioned offices and closed meeting spaces are generally good examples of “private” spaces.
Credenzas or Cloud Storage?
“Technology” has less to do with devices and more to do with the degree of integration.Technological outfit varies in every office, and seldom rests at one end of the spectrum. Every business operates through a compilation of information systems, which have people on one end and hardware on the other: in between are procedures & software, used by both ends to convert raw data into something meaningful. Long story short: this attribute is about how integral technology is to operations.
Workspaces on the “low” end of the tech spectrum use more traditional methods of communication and record-keeping. Demonstrative aspects of these low-tech workspaces include physical documents in file cabinets, post-it reminders and emphasis placed on face-to-face meetings. The “high” end of the tech spectrum is occupied with workspaces leaning into Cloud storage & sharing, instant messaging, and furniture that rises to specific challenges.
Make Yourself Comfortable, or Move Along?
“Temporality” has to do with the degree to which a space invites lingering. Considering spaces’ orientation to the passing of time may seem to be way out in left field, but the applicability of this attribute is surprisingly simple. Influencing behavioral outcomes (i.e. how long people are “supposed to” spend in a space) via office design can involve as little as reserving the placement of clocks for individual workstations, or as much as creating a lounge area outside a workspace that needs people to keep it short so they have an immediate alternative for places to be.
Workspaces on the “long” end of the temporality spectrum are intended for longer visits – comfortability, exposure to natural light, colors & amenities are all characteristics that influence how “inviting” a space is perceived to be. An example of a “long temporality” area could simply contain few visual cues of time and have plentiful seating options.
On the “short” end of the spectrum, you’ll find standing-room only, few to no opportunities for interaction/activity, and plain walls adorned with clocks. This is another one that sounds strictly like a negative, but can you imagine a DMV or pharmacy counter that encourages people to hang out? Ushering people in and out quickly can be interpreted as offensive, but necessity is the mother of unattractive spaces with roped-off queues and revolving doors.
Into the Work, or Into the World?
“Perspective” refers to the direction in which the space focuses the user’s attention. This attribute could be interpreted as “introspective” and “extrospective”, in terms of purpose for the space. Determining said purpose might be easy, but how are these spaces created?
Workspaces on the “inward” end of the spectrum are meant to direct focus unto the task at hand – prioritizing concentration, comfortability & few interruptions. These spaces generally center on a workstation with minimal external cues to direct attention elsewhere. Environmental factors play a large part in cultivating these spaces for individual focus – sensory stimulators such as noise, temperature, light and color all have affects on productivity that can be leveraged one way or another.
The “outward” end of the spectrum encompasses spaces meant to draw the user’s attention away from the internal – emphasizing interactions and external events. This type of space is wrought with environmental stimuli, and has parallels with “long temporality” spaces in the previous attribute – inviting atmosphere and visual cues to notice what’s outside yourself. Important for getting dedicated workers to stop and smell the roses, “outward perspective” spaces often contain collaborative furniture settings, vibrant colors, and activities or amenities strategically positioned to provide a respite from the grindstone.
Spread Out or Squeezed In?
“Size” is as straightforward as it gets: the usable square footage in a space. However, this attribute isn’t necessarily about the number of square feet as much as how they are utilized. The placement of a space on the size spectrum is often due to prioritized necessity, as it is a physical constraint.
On the “small” end of the spectrum are workspaces that make use of limited square footage. Small spaces can be that way because a company had to “make it work” by squeezing in, but can also be purposefully created to support certain activities. Workspaces that are physically minimalistic can support focus simply by not having room for proximal distractions. Spaces with a high concentration of individuals, regardless the total size, are generally on the “small” end of the spectrum because of the minimally allocated real estate for individual spaces. These touchdown/flex spaces can have great affect boosting your ratio of footprint to productivity.
“Large Size” spaces have a surplus of square footage, but effective ones make sure it doesn’t go to waste. Think about any entrance to large corporate building: while it may be mostly empty relative to volume, the sheer volume of the space creates an impressive visual cue. Dedicated spaces, especially those that have been designed accounting for potential growth, often have occupants that require less adjacency (physical closeness to coworkers) and/or have more specialized work processes – all reasons to allocate a greater amount of room to stretch.
Thanks for Reading!
Office design is an invaluable tool for any business, affording opportunities to make a brand live & breathe through a physical space while simultaneously supporting the occupants’ work.