Decoding the ABCs of workspace design

Decoding the ABCs of workspace design

In a movie I watched recently, the protagonist, who is a dashing young man who wants to impress his team, pulls down his cabin door on the first day at work. But he soon realises that it is a big mistake: he has no privacy. He later tells his friend that he had picked the idea from a management book and thought it would be a cool idea. Of course, it wasn't.

Workspace design that flows out of such 'me-too' ideas or a fixed template fails to incorporate what an organisation stands for - its identity, needs and ethos. Research shows that if done well, workspace design can further an organisation's business goals and reinforce its brand, culture and values. This is the key to successful workplace design.

Good design equals high output

Good design is not based on management philosophy but insights on those who will use that space. Do the teams need open spaces for collaboration or quiet zones in which they can concentrate on their work? Do most people in the organisation need to sit at one place to work, or do they work on mobile devices and hence need flexibility in where they sit and work? What will improve the company's business and how can office design contribute towards it? When the  design is based on such insights, the result is a work environment that is not just aesthetic but is also one that promotes productivity, organisational ethos, branding, client and employee engagement and the use of technology.

The design of a company's sales, business or front office must enhance sales. Yes, it is possible! On the other hand, back office design must facilitate higher productivity, improve the use of technology, attract and retain employees, and on the whole, create a great place to work. As a rule of thumb, a contemporary look that incorporates the company's ethos or philosophy, business objectives and appropriate technology is bound to succeed.

The first stage in workplace design is to understand and list down the stated and implied business objectives of the office. Then comes the difficult task of exploring design solutions and blending them into the office design.

A multinational company wanted the design team to work on a demo room for its customers. Instead, the designers proposed converting the entire office space into a demo zone. So now the company's wide range of next-gen lighting products is part of the office design, thus helping its customers understand product usage better and promoting sales.

Sometimes, design teams need to spend considerable time to link the design to business. A co-working space provider wanted flexibility in the office layout so that it could adapt the interiors to changing demand and improve the usage of components that were more paying. It took the design team four weeks to understand the dynamics and design a space that fulfilled those objectives.

Something for everyone

Using design to improve productivity can be equally complex. While working on the Bengaluru office of an internet company, we analysed that the company had two departments where employees needed quiet zones to focus on their work, seven departments where employees were highly mobile, and 45 departments where employees collaborated and brain-stormed extensively.

But the answer to this complex problem was a simple design solution: height-adjustable desks and cubicle panels. When someone from the engineering group needs more privacy, he or she can raise the cubicle panels at the push of a button. If the operations and sales teams want  to brainstorm, they can bring the panels down. If the project management team wants a stand-up meeting, they can raise the desk height to the elbow level.

A global company will most likely have its own universal set of standards and values, but it may still want to infuse some local flavours into its office spaces.

A global pharmaceutical company that had acquired several Indian companies wanted to redesign its offices in Mumbai to reflect its global standards, and yet showcase some Indian-ness. The design inspiration for this project came from traditional Indian medicine and the seven chakras of the human body. Taking the literal meaning of 'chakra', the wheel, each floor was redesigned to represent one chakra with its own distinctive colour palette.

If the  design doesn't take into consideration the aspirations, likes and dislikes of the people who will use that space, it is headed for failure. A global IT leader was facing this challenge while redoing its existing office in Taipei, Taiwan, according to its global guidelines.

Employees did not want the traditional work environment in which they had worked for 10 years to be changed. It meant culturally aligning the global guidelines to fulfil people's emotional needs. The final outcome gave them the feeling that they had cultural freedom even while working in a multi-national environment.

The most effective office space designs are the ones that are based on the real needs and aspirations of those who will use that space and the company's business objectives, and not cookie-cutter solutions and inflexible guidelines or workplace standards.

 

(The author is joint managing director-India, Space Matrix)

 

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