Two Office Interior Design Models that Multiply Innovation

Two of the world’s most renowned brands are revolutionizing office interior design – and you can take the lessons they learned in their offices and put them to use in yours, no matter how small your enterprise.

Let’s start with Leo Burnett, a global force in advertising. Their Sydney headquarters reflects the collaborative nature of agency work – by filling large spaces with natural light, Australian interior designers Hassell intended to create “thought provoking spaces [that] encourage the ‘generation of big ideas.’”

Hassell’s office interior design for Leo Burnett is filled with collaborative spaces; “kitchen tables” that become hubs for brainstorming, presentation rehearsals, or just chit-chat among trusted colleagues.

Speaking as a former advertising copywriter, it’s in these common, collaborative spaces where 90% of advertising agency work gets done – and I’m willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that a correlation exists between an advertising agency’s annual awards hauls and the presence of such collaborative spaces in the office interior design!

Moral of the story: Office interior design can help business performance – particularly in companies like ad agencies or software companies that put a premium on creativity and collaboration. A 2010 study by Gensler found “a strong correlation between good workplace design and business performance” – employees of more successful firms spend plenty of time collaborating and socializing compared to their less successful counterparts.

Such open office designs provide two key benefits. One – teams with more open workspaces are able to make decisions faster, as the ability to make crucial decisions are devolved to the ranks. Two – open-access workspaces support team building efforts, accelerating group cohesion and improving team effectiveness.

Gensler concludes, “providing opportunities and spaces for people to interact is important to creating the trust necessary for a collaborative working environment.”

Our second success study comes from Facebook, the social media powerhouse. Not surprisingly for a company that made their bones providing “ownership” of online spaces to distinct personalities, Facebook has allowed their employees the same free rein.

“Just as people make the space on the website their own, we’ve opted to do the same with our physical space,” writes Everett Katigbak. “We’ve left a lot of the walls white and the spaces unfinished to encourage employees to add the finishing touches.”

Facebook’s office interior design takes this to an extreme, with modular boxes of varying sizes and shapes that can be rearranged into new working spaces.

Moral of the story: In their paper Personalization in non-territorial Offices, Dutch researchers Sandra Brunia and Anca Hartjes-Gosselink find an innate human need to take control over their environment which drives the need to personalize one’s space. In fact, “when objects are prohibited to personalize your work environment, people seek several additional ways to make the environment familiar and comfortable for them and to mark their identity in the organization” (source)

On the other hand, companies like Facebook that implement office interior design options that favor flexibility – like offices with reconfigurable spaces for both individuals and teams – report upswings in productivity. As researchers like Brunia and Hartjes-Gosselink have found out, allowing customization in their environment can provide employees with a feeling of being valued, giving them more leeway to be more productive.

This need not be taken to an extreme – an ordinary company would not be able to personalize to the the level of Facebook, or create collaborative spaces like Burnett’s – but take these examples as something to strive toward, not something to actually accomplish.

For more on the link between productivity and office interior design, download our white paper:  “Designing for Productivity: Key Factors in Building the Ideal Office Environment” (PDF, 210KB).

Spotlight on Collaboration: Does Your Office Interior Design Encourage It?

“The nature of work has changed,” writes design consultant Dorothy Deasy in a 2007 paper on office interior design. “The balance has been tipped so that work is no longer primarily an alone function but rather a collaborative one.”

Such a shift means that office interior design plays a greater role in encouraging collaboration between colleagues. And where collaboration goes, productivity often follows. Design firm Gensler reports that companies report productivity increases when they create environments that invite collaboration, by providing space for people to interact, for instance.

The research points to a new ideal: a workplace that balances collaboration and privacy. This involves an office interior design paradigm that permits both the ability to do distraction-free solo work for workers and teams, and the ability to support impromptu interactions. A study conducted by BOSTI Associates, a workplace planning and design consultancy, found that when an office interior design addressed these abilities, “individual performance jumped 4 percent to 5 percent, team performance 23 percent. Job satisfaction rose 23 percent.”

What happens in a workplace that encourages collaboration? First, teams tend to make decisions faster, as the ability to make crucial decisions are devolved to the rank-and-file. Second, open-access workspaces support team building efforts, accelerating group cohesion and improving team effectiveness.

Workplaces that succeed in inviting collaboration seem to balance three factors, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Proximity: Colleagues working on common projects should be located as close to each other as possible, minimizing distance traveled and potential for interruption inherent in each meeting. The office interior design should naturally direct traffic to shared spaces, and allow them to stay there.

Privacy: If workers want to focus on their jobs without distraction, the spaces should allow them to do so. If they want to collaborate without being overheard, the space should let them do that, too. “This gives workers the freedom to speak freely, creating an atmosphere of expression and trust,” opines consultant Lisa Gardner. “Sometimes an open floor space plan can actually inhibit collaboration, as employees may feel vulnerable about being overheard and overexposed.”

Permission: Policies that encourage collaboration should be encouraged by the leadership. They can send positive signals by providing comfortable furniture and modeling desired behaviors.

An office interior design that invites collaboration provides for all 3 P’s, no less. “Having only one or two usually isn’t enough, and over- or under-emphasizing any of the three can backfire,” the Harvard Business Review authors warn. “Build flexibility into your design so that you can test permutations, and measure the designʼs effects.”

The success of the 3 P’s revolves around the use of informal spaces in the office – a coffee corner, or impromptu meeting rooms. These spaces encourage informal meetings, which in turn build trust and encourage the free flow of ideas between colleagues, completing the collaboration circuit.

“Informal spaces may exude a “personality” that helps members connect and relate,” writes Dorothy Deasy, noting that her research finds an association between informal spaces and a perception of “better” meetings. “Meetings that were more high energy, involved freer exchange of ideas, more enjoyable, felt more relaxed and continued for longer than anticipated because of the productivity of the content tended to take place in informal spaces.”

For more on the link between productivity and office interior design, download our white paper:  “Designing for Productivity: Key Factors in Building the Ideal Office Environment” (PDF, 210KB).

Office Interior Design and Increased Employee Comfort.

Is there a link between comfort in office interior design and increased productivity? Yes, and it’s stronger than you might think. According to Productive Solutions: The Impact of Interior Design on the Bottom Line, a paper released by the American Society of Interior Designers, a positive relationship exists between feeling comfy and being productive at work.

As the paper explains, 42 percent of ASID respondents say focusing on employee comfort pays dividends – a more aesthetically pleasing, comforting and inviting office interior design increases workplace efficiency and worker morale. The flipside to the office interior design argument is also apparent – decreased employee comfort results in losses to the enterprise, in person-hours lost and liability costs.

The ASID paper joins the growing volume of scientific literature demonstrating how designing for comfort is an imperative in office interior design, one you ignore at your peril. Look at the matter closely, and you’ll see that there are three general areas within the general concept of “comfort”: (Read more)

Office Interior Design and Improved Accessibility.

When office interior design encourages people to work together, productivity happens. A recent survey initiated by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) found this to be the case when office interior design focused on improving accessibility – to both people and resources.

When companies create environments that invite collaboration – by providing space for people to interact – companies benefit more, compared to environments that encourage mostly individual focused work. The workplace is increasingly seen as a place where people meet to interact, instead of a place where people hunker down to do isolated work.

Companies are now finding this out for themselves, leading to new office interior designs that bring workers closer to their colleagues and to the common resources they need to get their jobs done.

More on accessibility and interior design after the jump. Read more…

Office Interior Design: Key Factors in Building the Ideal Office Environment.

Office interior design should maximize productivity at every instance, but this is a maxim honored in the breach more often than not. That’s because most people think that office interior design deals primarily with aesthetics, instead of productivity.

Productivity results when four key benefits are delivered by effective office interior design: Improved accessibility, increased employee comfort, limiting noise and distractions, and flexibility & customization. In this white paper, we devote a little more time and effort going into each benefit. By the time you’re done, you should have the knowledge and insight you need to know how you can apply them to your office.

Download our white paper, and read more – download “Designing for Productivity: Key Factors in Building the Ideal Office Environment” (PDF, 210KB).

What IT Engineers Need in Their Office Interior Design.

Office interior design often does IT workers a disservice – while many managers extol the modern open floor plan, many IT workers actually prefer to work in more secluded quarters. IT workers are bucking a trend in open office layouts; unlike other creatives, IT workers need quiet environments that encourage concentration and creativity.

“Asking programmers or network administrators to do their jobs in an open space where noise, distractions and interruptions abound can be akin, for some of them at least, to departmental decimation,” writes Computerworld’s Cara Garretson.

This presents a conundrum for the facility manager, who must weigh team interdependence and the intensiveness of the work when creating an office layout for an IT department. To use Bell and Kozlowski’s model of task dependencies, IT engineers represent an excellent example of an intensive workflow.

More on what IT engineers look for in their office interior design, after the jump. Read more…

What Creative Workers Need in Their Office Interior Design.

Ad agencies take their office interior design cues from a vast variety of influences. To see the variations in design among a number of top agency offices, it’s apparent that they take their inspiration from the gamut of human creativity.

Leo Burnett keeps it simple, with raw brick and timber; Moove Media incorporates plenty of “found” elements in their office interior design. Hemels van der Hart’s office interior design is modernity personified.

Still, the rules are not totally flexible, as the example of ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day shows. Agency head Jay Chiat decided to remove all personal spaces within the ad agency, putting virtual offices in their stead. People would check out laptops and phones at the front office, then plug into any available space.

But good spaces were hard to come by, and people became hard to locate. Productivity took a hit. TBWA’s open office became a byword of what not to do with ad agency office interior design.

At its core, ad agency work boils down to teamwork; agencies are made up of teams with a certain degree of interdependence. To use Bell and Kozlowski’s model of task dependencies, advertising creatives represent an intensive combination of reciprocal and sequential workflow: an ad agency’s work and activities flow unidirectionally from one member to another. But not entirely in one direction: feedback from clients and suppliers can send a project moving back down the line for revision, and then back in the right direction again.

The “open office” plan may not work completely for the modern ad agency’s workflow – privacy-enhancing spaces, such as conference rooms, private offices, and high-walled cubicles, ought to be in place alongside conference rooms and open collaborative spaces.

More on creative office interior design after the jump. Read more…

Office Space Planning for Pooled Workflow: Working Alone, Together.

The Internet’s growing importance in the office has caused a major rethink of office space planning practices. A “team” has ceased to depend on members working in the same space; today, teammates can be widely distributed across the country, or across the world.

The Internet has given rise to the telecommuter – though nominally part of a team, such workers are separated by time and space from a regular office, often working individually to contribute to the overall group effort.

“In a virtual team, members are dispersed geographically or organizationally. Their primary interaction is through some combination of electronic communication systems,” explains Wayne F. Cascio in his paper Managing a Virtual Workplace. “They may never meet in the traditional sense. Further, team membership is often fluid, evolving according to changing task requirements.”

More on office space planning for pooled workflow after the jump. (Read more)

The Shrinking Office Cubicle: Making More Out of Less.

A recent study shows that the average office cubicle has shrunk, compared to its size from the 90s. The average office cubicle worker enjoys about 17% less cubicle space than his equivalent from 1994, who had a glorious 90 square feet of space to work in, compared to today’s measly 75 square feet.

The same study, published by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), finds that most cubicles have shrunk from 8×10 to about 5×5. (Check out this article from the Chicago Tribune to see exactly how much space has been trimmed out from under us!)

The Score: Cost Cutting 1, Office Cubicle Space 0

Where’d our spacious office cubicles go? Part of the blame for their disappearance goes to our tottering economy – soaring rents, among other rising overhead costs, are behind the push to cram more workers into smaller spaces. After all, real estate costs are known to be amongst the largest cost for businesses, after the payroll.

“In recent years, we’ve seen how companies are trying to shed real estate cost,” says Shari Epstein, director of research at the IFMA. “When you have less space to work, you will try to cram as many people into one space.”

“Knowing the rents with the spaces they have, they’ve got to cram people in,” said Don Wehr of Office Furniture World in Santa Rosa, California. “Mathematically, it makes sense.”

More on shrinking office cubicles after the jump. Read more…

Binge Computing: Get Off of That Office Chair!

Image © Tamer Tatlici








[Image © Tamer Tatlici.]

Hi, I’m Mike, and I’m a binge computer worker – my bottom is practically glued to my office chair. This blog entry, in fact, is the end  result  of a long binge on my PC, having come out of several hours’ work producing a couple of blog entries, several emails, and now ?  a few Twitter and Facebook updates.

Binge computing is no joke, really. Defined as intensive computing for long stretches without a break, binge computing is commonplace among college students and office workers alike.

In a survey of college students at two college campuses, a link was discovered between binge computing and musculo-skeletal disorder (MSD) symptoms; longer hours of bingeing led to greater MSD severity and concurrent hampering of lifestyle.

Binge computing for more than six hours seems to be connected to a greater than 100% increase in the risk of severe MSD, compared to computing hours of less than 4 hours per day.

Such health problems are a growing risk for coeds who can’t get off of their office chair – as the Herman Miller Well-Being Blog reports, “increasing numbers of university students [have] computer-related musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. Surveys at two American colleges found that 40-50 percent of undergraduates suffer from upper extremity pain due to computer use.” (Read more)

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