I don’t want a beanbag chair
Recently, I have spent the majority of my days at work in meeting rooms. I have also been working on the train with my laptop. I have been fingering my cell phone on my couch at home and organized my calendar. At the office, I have been looking for suitable corners for my more and less important phone calls. What has looked like real office work in the eyes of others has included at least me sitting at my desk in front of a big screen and filling in yet another Excel spreadsheet. I have also used my bike rides to and from work for work, as it is the only time when I have time and peace to think.
Ways of working have changed significantly over the past few years. Knowledge workers no longer sit on their chairs eight hours a day. Empty open-plan offices echo, with work having moved to all kinds of mobile devices and being done everywhere, all the time. However, offices are still often planned very conventionally: everyone gets a personal desk and chair, cabinet and drawer. The kitchen has room, or doesn’t, for a couple of people to eat ready meals, while meeting rooms feature a table and eight chairs – and a projector that might work.
People say that there are currently people of five generations at workplaces. The youngest people, who have just joined the world of work, have adopted the new devices and applications and enjoy the interaction and freedom. Those about to end their careers even include people who have difficulties sending e-mail. And there are lots of people who are somewhere in between. Often, decisions on the layout of premises are made by a representative of the older generation at the top of the hierarchy, who might not have sufficient information about different ways of working – and certainly does not have much time to spend learning about them. Therefore, it is not too easy to have a working environment that pleases everyone. But it isn’t impossible, either.
The starting point of everything is to ask questions. You should not make assumptions. Every organization is different, and premises should be designed to support the common goals of the company or organization and so that everyone will be able to get the work done. After all, that is the reason we go to work. The management defines the goals, and once the direction is clear, we start to think about how to reach them. One way is to classify people into mobile, flexible and fixed work profiles and design various working zones to meet their needs. However, one should not forget that people with the same job titles or even, theoretically speaking, the same job descriptions can work in very different ways. Some are more used to paper and folders, while others find it next to impossible to work if their desk does not have their own things or if they do not have a room of their own. A multi-functional space supporting various tasks could be a solution, with people changing places according to the task at hand at each time. This does not mean denying those who still need a room or desk an opportunity to have one. The most important thing is to understand what and how work is done – or should be done.
Professionals in designing workplace layouts are available; it does not make sense to make major changes alone. Decent surveys and, if necessary, measurements of the utilization rates of premises and other methods suitable for the situation should be used in the case of significant changes. Unambiguous communication is key in change management. When everyone knows what is done and when, by whom and why, we are on the road to success. When everyone using the shared facilities understands what can and can’t be done in each room, life is easy for everyone. After all, it is not always clear where one should make phone calls. Should one be completely silent in an open-plan office? How are meeting rooms booked, is it OK to take them up for the entire day? Can one bring guests to the office, or should outsiders be entertained elsewhere? Is it OK to take a nap on the break room couch if you find work beginning to lag in the afternoon?
A working environment that works includes places for working – not simply desks. How we feel while working is increasingly important, not just what we are doing.
Head of Workplace Design and Services