How Office Design Impacts the Way We Work

Office workshop at Voices.com

Over the last year, we've been excitedly planning our new office space. If you've ever been through an office renovation, you have a unique appreciation for what this endeavor looks like!

You'd be surprised to learn how important being intentional with space is. Admittedly, this isn't something I would normally think of unless there was reason to in the moment. Going through this exercise has been a much needed and growth-oriented opportunity for me as a leader in my company. What I've come to see is that good design, like a good voice-over, shouldn't stand out. It blends in because good office design, like a good voice-over communicating a message, is merely a vehicle- it's a palatable expression that supports the ultimate goal. To say it differently, the spoken word is how people hear a message. Design is how people experience their work.

Maybe all this talk has got you thinking about whether you should give office design more thought. My hope is that you will as it will teach you so much and broaden your appreciation for the more functional aspects of life.

Before getting too deep into the process, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I do in a given day?
  • What specific activities do I do (list every task)?
  • How long do I spend doing each task?
  • Are there activities that require a quiet space?
  • Where do I go to relax or take a breather?
  • Can those activities take place anywhere or do I gravitate toward a particular room or area to accomplish them?
  • Do I enjoy working in isolation or does being away from other people for long stretches of time make me feel like I'm going to die?
  • Whom or what needs to be close to each other (adjacencies and proximity) to get the job done more efficiently or better?

* If you have multiple departments at your company, you'll need to run through this list for each one and then determine how those realities influence your design.

Creating space to support certain kinds of work activities has played a prominent role in the overall design of our new digs. Adopting modern office design philosophy has introduced us to a new vocabulary of workplace orchestration. Over a series of workshops, I gained a clearer understanding of why it is important to factor in different modes and methods of work when architecting an environment and tailoring it to the needs and workflow of our team.

Trust me, as someone who lives in real time and relies upon concrete facts to make decisions, the initial phases of design, including conducting research, Gantt charts, blueprints and more can be challenging. Thankfully, I have a partner who lives in the realm of big picture thinking, theory and vision, translating what he sees here and there when I need clarification or have questions. His way of seeing things opens up new ways of me seeing things. Likewise, my perspective helps shape his while bringing detail and nuance to the larger picture.

When starting a new project, it's always wise to begin with research. The first thing we did was create a short survey for our team to involve them in the process. Consider asking your team these questions:

  1. What do you like most about our current office?
  2. What do you like least?
  3. If money were no object, what should we incorporate into the new office?
  4. If we only had a thousand dollars left, what should we spend it on?

What we found useful with this line of questioning was that it gives the team confidence knowing that we are going to retain office elements that they currently enjoy, set about fixing those problem areas, and dream big but also prioritize the budget in those areas that most need attention.

Your next step is to plan the project from start to finish. Project managers will be familiar with a Gantt chart which is a series of milestones and due dates, shown on a single document that creates a visual cascade of when key tasks need to be complete.

When it comes to the floor plan, initially to avoid drilling down to the nitty gritty too quickly, a block plan (departments represented by a designated area) will keep you focused on the bigger picture at these early stages. In this phase, you're trying to make sure that you've charted out the adjacencies appropriately and make sure that people who need to work within close proximity of each other are doing just that.

Not surprisingly, designing the office environment has much to do with personality types and how people interact with each other. The office cannot be designed solely to the benefit of introverts. Similarly, the office environment cannot be arranged to exclusively satisfy an extrovert's sensibilities. People need to feel comfortable, motivated and respected where they work. It's amazing how subtleties in design can meet those needs. In order to create a workspace people can thrive in, you need to take psychology into account as well as good use of space and ergonomics.


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