0845 094 1255

How to create inclusive office design for everybody and all they do

Posted on February 15, 2018 by Charles Marks

Although it is much maligned, it is also clear that the open plan office remains an incredibly popular model of workplace design. Even as we enter 2016 it remains the default form of office, based on its relative simplicity, low cost and the way it fosters interaction and transparency. Even a company like Facebook is not immune to its charm. When Mark Zuckerberg introduced people to his Frank Gehry designed tech palace (pictured), its most prominent feature was what is claimed to be the world’s largest open plan space. That is not to say that this approach doesn’t have its drawbacks. Two of the most important are that it may not accurately reflect a company’s working culture and that it may not take account of the different personality types who work in the building.

On the first point it is important to remember that, although it is vital and helpful  to look at case studies of how other organisations have planned their offices, there’s no universal solution that’s applicable to every firm. Case studies are helpful but so too is an awareness of the culture and identity of your own organisation and the ability to work with a designer capable of listening, sharing ideas and translating them into a unique design.

However, it is the second point that leads to most of the criticism aimed at open plan offices. While there’s no doubt that for many people, open plan offices do indeed deliver on their promise of fostering creativity, enhancing collaboration. improving light levels and creating a democratic working environment, for other people they can be seriously counterproductive. This idea is encapsulated in this video published recently.

Often this kind of trade off is presented as a dichotomy between the needs of extroverts who thrive in an open plan environment and introverts who need more privacy. There is a lot of truth in this but in practice things are a little more complex. For a start people are not quite so easy to pigeonhole and their needs for openness and privacy are likely to change from hour to hour regardless of their personality.

So the challenge is to find ways of creating choices and balance. Fortunately, the choice between open plan and private work is not a zero sum game. We can have both by creating an interiors that offers choices and is flexible to respond to changing needs. The real challenge lies in understanding how the company ticks, how knowledge is exchanged, how people work, what sorts of people are employed and where they gravitate to work in the most productive ways.

Nowadays, the creation of a well designed office is often analogous to how we create other spaces, such as homes or schools. In these spaces, we find different areas for different activities and the office is no different. A typical office layout these days will incorporate open plan spaces, break out spaces, private rooms, chill out rooms, training and collaborative spaces, libraries, games rooms and so on.

However, it is always the case that such spaces must always be aligned to company culture to work to their potential. Not least, workers must be empowered to choose the best space for their personality type and whatever they are working on then move somewhere else to achieve something else. As Bob Propst, the pioneer of the office cubicle is quoted as saying: “One of the dumbest things you can do is sit in one space and let the world pass you by”.