In shows and the media, we are often invited to pass judgement on products and ideas that have been created by other people. The reviews that follow often cement some form of accepted view, even if we often outsource the decision making to people who are better placed to decide, or at least better enabled to express an opinion. Such judgements would not function at all in this regard unless there was some underlying consensus about what constitutes good and bad design at the same time that we all believed we know what good taste is and we all know a good piece of design when we see it. In so far as the consensus is universally accepted, we are all right. But how much do we really understand about the things that surround us and their design? And how meaningful is the consensus? In JG Ballard’s novel High Rise, recently made into a film, he writes of the disdain Anthony Royal, the architect of the eponymous tower has for the tastes of its residents.
One of the enduring forces that shape facilities management thinking is the growing business case for treating buildings as a strategic asset. But the allocation and design of space is not just about cost. It is also about how to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile and flexible workforce and one that is just as likely to see the workplace in terms of technology as it is in terms of a building. The changing work culture of knowledge workers also means that they have been demanding more and more control over how and where they work. So much so that it is now the norm for people to expect autonomous control over their time and space. They don’t want a firm to tell them where, how and when to work, but they would like some great choices.
There’s a good reason why we find it hard to equate our working life (and specific aspects of it such as workplace design) with our personal happiness. It’s because it’s all very complicated. So complicated in fact that you can quickly sidetrack any discussion on the subject by asking elementary questions such as: ‘what do you mean by happy?’ or ‘should it be the role of work to make us happy in the first place?’ While some people may try to tell you that if you do X then Y is the inevitable result, all the research on workplace design and management shows us that things are not that straightforward at all.
Whether you are refurbishing your existing workplace or moving to new premises, how you plan and equip your offices can have a profound effect on your business, no matter what its size. Indeed, in many ways, office design is a more important consideration for small firms than it is for larger ones purely because small firms are likely to experience proportionately more rapid change and growth than a larger and more established business. So, it really doesn’t matter whether you are simply kitting out a room in your own home for use as an office, or fitting out and furnishing a workspace to accommodate a growing team people, there are a number of constants that ring true in terms of layout and design – whatever the nature of your business’ work environment.
There are now over 1,700 housing associations of all shapes and sizes in the UK. They spend around £13 billion each year and, as well as providing accommodation, offer a number of other essential local services including the creation of employment opportunities for residents, supporting them to live independently in their own homes and negotiating lower utilities bills. One of the UK’s top performing housing associations is Herefordshire Housing which owns and operates around 5,800 homes solely in Herefordshire. The association recently appointed Fresh Workspace to design and carry out a major refurbishment of its offices in Hereford city centre to improve and extend the services offered to local people, facilitate better communication between teams and increase the productivity of employees. See our full case study here.
Although the structure of our brains, we are told, is largely the same as that of our hunter-gatherer prehistoric ancestors, that does not mean they are static in the way they function. Research shows that the way our brains change in response to technology and the changing workplace suggests they are subject to a certain degree of ‘rewiring’. For example, a recent study published in the journal Social Neuroscience found that the emotional response of adults to smileys in emails and texts is exactly the same as they would have to real faces. Tellingly, however, this appears to be learned behaviour because babies do not exhibit the same response.
This April, Fresh Workspace Design Director Paul Goodchild and his wife Rachel will be walking the 102 miles of the Cotswold Way to raise money for a South West based homeless charity. The route takes in some of England’s most breath-taking scenery, but the six days planned for the walk between Chipping Camden and Bath Cathedral won’t be any less arduous for that. The duo intend to cover between 16 and 23 miles a day, whatever the weather and in spite of Rachel’s fibromyalgia. This is a condition that can cause her muscle stiffness and fatigue, but does nothing to daunt her spirit.
According to the annual Workplace Survey for 2016 from architects Gensler, the most innovative employees are those given the chance to work in a wide variety of spaces that meet their needs, and use that option to maximum effect – whether they need individual space to focus, a conference room to brainstorm or learn a new skill, or a social space to chat with co-workers during a coffee break. Key findings on the habits of top innovators include that they spend only 74 percent of the work week at the office, they are at least twice as likely to have access to, and use, cafeterias, coffee shops, and outdoor spaces and have twice as much access to amenities including speciality coffee, restaurants, gyms, and childcare facilities.
According to Oxford Dictionaries the word of the year for 2016 is post-truth. This is a slippery little adjective because while some things are pretty much objectively true, the use of post-truth in many contexts is merely a way of shutting down opinion. It’s especially pernicious when it comes to ideas and philosophy because it assumes that the person using it knows what the truth is, yet the world’s sharpest minds can’t always agree on that As the great Ambrose Bierce defied truth in his caustic Devil’s Dictionary: ‘Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time’. And there’s a good reason why in the Bible Pilate’s question ‘What is truth?’ is met with silence.
The workplace has gone soft and I mean that in a good way. Over the past fifteen to twenty years we have experienced the very welcome development of a much softer aesthetic generally when it comes to the design of offices. Often wrongly characterised as the feminisation or domestication of design, this is actually linked to the way that management thinking and consequently workplace design has focussed increasingly on softer business issues such as corporate culture, the environment and knowledge management. To a large extent this has come about as a matter of necessity. At its heart are several interrelated issues that have dominated management thinking for the past two decades. The most important is this; if your main asset is knowledge and that knowledge is largely locked up in people’s heads, how do you attract those heads to your organisation? Then, once they are safely in your employ, how do you make them stay there or at the very least empty some of the contents into computers and other people’s heads before they go?