Google always seems to make every “Top 10 coolest offices” list in the blogosphere. There’s a reason for that; they have some very creative thinkers doing the decorating! The company’s latest office design at their new satellite location in Tel Aviv does not disappoint. Check out the photos at officesnapshots.com to see the stunning interiors at this enviable workplace. One thing you’ll notice is the use of graphic printing on walls and dividers throughout the building. There are sweeping natural vistas and close up shots of intriguing yet simple subjects such as water droplets. You’ll even see some text-based images. There’s also a diorama style setup in one room with faux orange trees growing out of the floor matched by a citrus grove on the wall. We think that would be an interesting concept to bring into your own office. Why not have custom printed desk dividers that carry a theme from the 3D into the 2D around your workplace? What design would you choose? Let us know in the comments.
Herman Miller’s designer Bill Stumpf says he designs furniture with himself in mind. This self-serving mindset is what gives his pieces (like the Embody chair and the Envelop desk) their high level of user comfort. It’s designed for the individual and not for some imaginary “standard humanoid”.
What do you think of this concept when it comes to the rest of your office furniture? What about accessories? What about the design and layout of the office itself? Here are a few reasons designing a “selfish office” might work well for you and your employees.
Stay in Your Comfort Zone
Find a setup that works for you and stick with it for at least a while. Working in a familiar office layout enhances flow and productivity since everyone knows where everything is. Moving things around all the time just to see what happens can be very disruptive. Make changes only when you can do so deliberately – always based on a well thought out plan. That way, you can actually track and evaluate the impact of each change. Then, wait a while before the next round of changes to give people time to settle in and get used to the new setup.
Indulge in Creature Comforts
If you are selfishly designing your office space and selecting your furniture to be the perfect fit for your work style, this almost always includes some flexibility. From your adjustable ergonomic chair to your articulated monitor arm, the ability to fine tune your workspace is a perk that’s too good not to share. If you have some discretionary money in your departmental budget this year, treat yourself and your employees to a couple of nice accessories that boost morale and help get work done.
Give Yourself More “Me” Time
It may seem selfish not to always have an “open door” policy. But the truth is that you need some privacy at work – we all do. That’s why it makes sense to add privacy enhancing technology or accessories to your office space. If you have a real door that will shut to give you a couple of hours per day of focused work time, that’s great. If not, you can still create a more private work area with the use of privacy panels or cubicle wall extenders. When you have fewer interruptions, you’re less stressed and make a better boss for your employees.
At OBEX, we like to encourage employers to give workers some leeway to “make their cube their own”. But not all employees are actually interested in personalizing their cubicle. If you’ve ever wondered why, you may find the conversation happening over at LifeHacker enlightening. The comments are in response to an article about how to make a cube more comfy and less boring. Here’s a rundown of some of the perspectives from those who feel no urge to decorate:
- Work is a place to work and not a place to be “comfortable”. Being a little uncomfortable at work helps you maintain work/life balance by ensuring you want to go home at the end of the day. Decorating at work would blur the lines too much.
- There is no need to be reminded of home while at work. Either it’s simply distracting or it makes you wish you were home instead of at the workplace. Focus on work and not escapism!
- Having no decorations is a sign of ambition. The cube dweller is ready to move up the ladder (or out the door to greener pastures) at a moment’s notice. Having a cubicle full of personal stuff means you’ve been there for years and are “stuck”.
- If the desk is in an open area, people might steal stuff that has sentimental value. It’s safer to only have things at work that you don’t care about.
- Getting relocated over and over means having to move your stuff every time. It’s easier to travel light.
Of course, there’s something to be said for “undecorating” a previously personalized cube. One commenter revealed that it was fun to strip down all decorations. Her boss freaked out, thinking she was quitting (three months later, she did).
It is important to note, however, that even those who are against decoration still enjoy adding functionality. If there’s something they can do to make their cubicle support their job more effectively, they see no problem with adjusting their workspace. So, they may not care about what color or pretty pattern their cubicle panel extender is. But if it helps them focus more on work, they’re likely to love it anyway!
Last week, we took a look at a Haworth paper about workplace privacy. As a follow on, you might enjoy this companion paper on The Impact of Architectural Privacy Features on Performance Stress and Informal Learning. It refers to many of the same studies, but has an emphasis on how employees learn and interact. One interesting finding is that employees value more than just high cubicle panels around their own workstation. Many also advocate panels at least 50 inches high around collaborative group workspaces. This makes sense if you consider the often undifferentiated landscape of the typical open office. On those occasions when coworkers do get together to collaborate, they still want to have a sense of being brought together by the architecture of their meeting space. They don’t necessarily need a conference room, but a cluster of furniture with panels around the perimeter at least serves to keep everyone focused. Higher panels that include acoustic shielding can also help reduce distractions to those working outside the group.
Haworth’s workplace library has a wealth of resources to help you design a great workspace that boosts productivity and enhances employee satisfaction. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a peek at some of these research documents. The “Privacy Matters” whitepaper is a good place to start. This paper by Drs. Bellingar and Kuprit takes on the topic of environmental psychology and workplace privacy.
A Changing Privacy Landscape
It turns out, the definition of privacy can vary depending on the person, the specific activity they are engaged in at a given point in their workday, and the expectations in their particular field of employment. Privacy used to primarily mean being alone. But this definition has shifted to be more about selectivity and choice in who has access to your time, your space, or your mental resources. The element of freedom is particularly important. As we discussed last week in the Swedish study, employees may have a greater sense of privacy even in a completely open workspace if they aren’t tied to a specific desk.
In the Haworth paper, the term privacy is used to talk about the amount of control employees have over limiting incoming stimuli (such as distractions) and protecting outgoing information (such as private conversations). A drop in productivity occurs when workers are exposed to too much incoming distraction – either visual or verbal. A drop in satisfaction and personal security occurs when workers are exposed to too much observation or eavesdropping.
Supporting Workplace Privacy with Furniture
Offices with doors, taller cubicle panels, and even floor to ceiling walls are architectural configurations used to support and indicate zones of increased privacy. The greater the degree of enclosure, the greater the sense of privacy. In fact, one study quoted in the Haworth paper revealed a linear increase in the perceived privacy rating of the space with an increased number of enclosed sides. So, a desk with three privacy panels or a cubicle with 3 high walls would be 50% more private than one with just 2 sides shielded.
Some of the most interesting information in the whitepaper has to do with the types of features different workers value for creating privacy. For some, having access to a conference room to enhance the privacy of group meetings was most important. For others, having a fully enclosed individual workspace for solo tasks was critical. Some types of workers found that facing away from distractions or being located far from activity hubs was the best way to cut down on interruptions. Others found that higher cubicle panels were more important than orientation or distance.
One result that held true across studies was the need to have easily reconfigurable tools to increase privacy as needed. In other words, it’s all about having the choice to limit access. Since our privacy panels install in just a few minutes with a simple Allen wrench, they definitely fall into the category of lightweight tools that are easy to reconfigure!
We all know that record numbers of office workers now bring their smartphone to work and spend time on social media sites while on the clock. But face to face socialization with other employees still reigns as the biggest workplace distraction. That’s according to a recent survey sponsored by CareerBuilder. Fewer than 40 percent of office workers claimed to spend a full eight hour day actually working. More than 10 percent admitted that they only work four of the hours for which they are being paid. Most fell somewhere in the middle. Chatty coworkers were most often named as a distracting factor. One third of respondents said this issue as their number one distraction – and the topics under discussion around the “water cooler” had nothing to do with work. While it’s certainly important for team members to build bonds of camaraderie, a workplace culture that doesn’t encourage a focus on actual work is going to struggle with productivity.
What policies and managerial practices do you have in place to help workers concentrate without destroying the friendly atmosphere? Share your strategies in the comments.
A research paper called “Noise and Perceived Privacy – Flexible Office Space Matters” published at acoustics.org by Christina Danielsson reveals some very helpful information about how employees respond to different types of office layouts. A study of about 470 employees in various Swedish companies gathered data about the satisfaction level for seven different office types including:
- All private offices (fully enclosed)
- Open plan offices (with assigned workstations and few or no dividers)
- Flex offices that had no assigned workstations but lots of options for where employees could work within the layout – including “backup spaces” featuring varying levels of enclosure
Not surprisingly, private offices were most prized for acoustic and visual privacy. However, those in flex offices reported just as much visual privacy as those in private offices. They also reported better acoustic privacy than employees in open plan offices. Open plan spaces that housed a lot of employees were at the bottom of the list for both types of privacy. Interestingly, satisfaction with privacy was better in flex offices even if they did not specifically offer truly private spaces. Apparently, having the freedom to move around instead of being pinned down to just one place to work makes a big difference. In other words, the perception of autonomy is linked to the perception of privacy.
The paper concludes with this statement: “It is highly important to recognize the relation between perception of privacy and noise, since it is known that privacy has a mediating effect on negative stimuli such as noise. With knowledge of the architectural and functional features importance for these issues costly mistakes for organizations such as a decreased environmental satisfaction and job satisfaction among employees can be avoided for organizations in the design process of offices.”
Whatever type of space you create, be sure there is some built in privacy for all employees. This can be provided in terms of:
- The layout itself (architecture and floor plan)
- How each space is furnished (perhaps a mix of individual workstations, collaborative and lounge furnishings)
- The inclusion of enclosed spaces for individuals or groups (private or semi-private areas)
- A work culture that permits greater freedom of movement within the office environment
How are you ensuring the perception of privacy at your office? Share your ideas in the comments.
Last year, Workspace Design Magazine published a very interesting article on workspace utilization. It discusses ways to monitor and manage facility usage:
- To lower energy costs (e.g., lighting and climate control) on a space by space basis
- To decrease the square footage needed for hosting a workforce of a given size by increasing the flexibility of the office environment
- To assess and reduce the number of workstations required for all employees to have a desktop when needed
- To increase the utilization of available space to maximize efficiency and productivity
The author suggests that the future will hold more and more granular inspection of workspace usage including at the individual workstation level. This is already taking place with seat occupancy sensors, adjustable lighting and electrical consumption management technology that can deliver real time reporting on resource usage.
What’s next? Perhaps you can start putting in decibel meters to track the level of sound in each area throughout the day. This could help you manage workplace noise levels by indicating which spaces could benefit most from acoustic shielding with higher cubicle walls.