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?
In his book How Buildings Learn, the author Stewart Brand outlines the process whereby buildings evolve over time to meet the changing needs of their occupants. He describes each building as consisting of six layers, each of which functions on a different timescale. These range from the site itself which has a life cycle measured in centuries, through to the building (decades), interior fit out (years), technology (months), to stuff (days). The effectiveness of a design will depend on how well it resolves the tensions that exist between these layers of the building. The principles behind this complex situation have been known to us for a long time, at least since the 1970s when Frank Duffy first introduced the world to his ideas about the physical and temporal layers of the building – in his terminology the ‘shell, services, scenery and sets’ which anticipates Stewart Brand’s own take on the interplay of building layers.
It’s nothing new to suggest that the workplace is in a state of flux. Yet, while the underlying drivers of change remain largely the same (technology, legislation, the environment and new working cultures) what does change each year is the focus on different aspects of the revolution in the places we work. Some are new and some represent a more informed and sophisticated take on things we were already aware of. Here are seven key workplace trends that are already reshaping offices and show no signs of letting up during 2017.
Firms have always had concerns about the efficient use of their offices, and for good reason. After staff, real estate is their most expensive and valuable asset. Twenty or more years ago, before the Internet began to unravel the bonds that tied us full time to the workplace, this was a fairly straightforward issue. Up until the mid 1990s, most people had fixed hours in one place of work and a dedicated workstation, the size of which was often determined by their status within the organisation rather than anything else. Even those workers who spent large amounts of time away from the office usually had their own desk to call home.
The announcement by Pantone that its Colour of the Year for 2017 was a bright green called simply ‘Greenery’ was met with the now traditional annual carping about the subjectivity of the whole thing. Whatever your opinion, there are two things we know for sure. The first is that Pantone puts a lot of time and effort into making its decision and looks at a range of social and economic factors as well as fashions and tastes across the globe before making its decision. So you can expect to see a lot more of Pantone 15-0343 next year, which the firm describes as a “life-affirming shade… emblematic of the pursuit of personal passions and vitality.” It’s the color of spring, of new beginnings, of Granny Smith apples and of matcha green tea.
Earlier this year we offered up three proofs of the link between office design and productivity. The article we wrote built on decades of research which prove what we all instinctively know. Namely that the places we work and the things with which we surround ourselves change the way we feel, behave and interact with others. While most people seem to understand this, they often miss out quite how important the link is. That’s why it’s great to see a new report such as The Stoddart Review which not only makes the point forcibly but was also published as a supplement to The Sunday Times last week, meaning that this is now increasingly crossing into mainstream business thinking.
Our need to put off things when we can be doing something we prefer is hardwired into us. We need to keep pace with the demand s of the modern world but we also need to remember what works and is good for us sometimes is to ignore the beat of the clock. Procrastination gets something of a bad rap these days. And, because it’s linked to psychological factors such as the need to do something we deem pleasurable to something we don’t, it’s becoming more of a problem as we surround ourselves with more and more distractions. “Why”, we might ask ourselves, “should we do that job right now when instead we could be taking the dog for a walk in the sunshine, watching just one more episode of Game of Thrones or something on Netflix, making ourselves one more cup of coffee, daydreaming, checking email and text messages or inviting a digital affirmation of our wisdom or hilarity from somebody on social media?”