Thinking about workplaces, design and serendipity

I’ve been noticing lately that on the topic of reflecting about the future of work the sub-topic “designing the workplace of tomorrow” is being much talked of. From articles in more traditional media to stunning photos of vibrant & creative workplaces in websites dedicated to architecture & interior design, offices’ design seems to be in the spotlight.

A couple of months ago these two tweets made me thing about this particular theme:

Pedro’s complaint about the noisy open space in the office is all too familiar for many of us, including myself. I work in one, armed with headphones and Grooveshark in shuffle mode (I cannot work without music).

Most of the days it’s actually fun & important to be in a space that poses little physical barriers to colleagues’ interaction but some days it’s just not what I needed, particularly when I need to concentrate on a specific complex task or, more importantly, when I need to be more creative: look at things from a different perspective, apply different solutions to a challenge or simply create something from scratch. These are the days where I try to find an empty meeting room or private office (difficult to find) or simply sit at a colleague’s desk just to change the scenery and see if the brain cells get stimulated by this. These were actually the days where I’d be a lot more productive from NOT being at the office: a table at a nice cafe with a sea view would do the trick much better…

The other tweet was this little “tease” from my dear friend Ana Neves:

Being an advocate for the importance of serendipity in our personal and professional lives, I’ve talked publicly about the need to design physical spaces, including offices, to stimulate serendipitous encounters and conversations between people. And this means considering spaces that are open enough to facilitate these encounters, yet inviting enough to make people stop and engage into conversations. But at the same time we need to balance this openness with the other elements of work and individual’s characteristics: the need to concentrate, the need for some privacy, the need to disconnect…

The article that Ana shared raised the question of whether open spaces were killing creativity. Several other articles have recently drawn attention to the extinction of a “sacred space” where our introvert side can find peace from the buzz of contemporary offices. And this great article from workspaces designer firm Gensler stated that:

it now seems that we are at a tipping point in the open plan workplace trend, with concerns and important questions about these environments beginning to emerge

Gensler has been studying work patterns and environments for several years and looked at knowledge work under the hypothesis that it is composed of 4 components: focus, collaboration, learning and socializing. One of the conclusions of their study is very interesting and seems to reinforce some concerns about the neglect of our sacred space for productive solitude:

Not only is the focus mode not functioning optimally in most office environments, we found statistical evidence that the effectiveness of collaboration, learning and socializing suffers if the ability to focus is diminished

The implications for workplace design? One size does not fit all:

The optimum work setting for individuals differs based on many factors including personality type

Maybe a good approach is that of Rabobank:

Personally, I believe that even the aspect of having a workplace in the first place needs to be reconsidered, especially for those employees that can work anywhere, provided they have mobility and internet connection. The key, I would say, is flexibility. If one size does not fit all, they a choice of different “sizes” (solutions) might help!

What do you think? What does your office looks like? Where do you do your most creative work?

2 thoughts on “Thinking about workplaces, design and serendipity

  1. I suppose this was one of the first workspaces designed specially for harnessing serendipity
    I was in charge of that project in Jonsuu Science Park 2002-2007, the space opened on December 2006, so we have more than five yerar’s experience in mangement of a such environment. The fundamental idea was to divide the whole space in four zones depending on the social/brainstorming aspect versus privacy, the zones: private, semi-private, semi-public and public, and codes of conduct of course according to each zone.

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