Tag Archives: future of work

What could a workplace and a Chanel handbag have in common?

My first ever Chanel 2.55 by rosebennet, on FlickrRecently I attended a de.frost* event, the topic was The Future of Workspaces, featuring Natalie Slessor, Head of Workplace at Lend Lease. Firstly let me say I think the concept Frost* have putting on these events is great. I guess you would describe Frost* as a graphic design agency (but they seem to be much more than this could mean) and once a month they organise an event in their office with a speaker, put on some drinks and nibbles (all pretty low key) and invite a bunch of people that they work with ( clients, architects, designers, project managers, builders). This was the first of their events I’d been to (although it is up to number 15 apparently) and I thought it was a great event. I had the chance to catch up with quite a number of people, meet a few new ones and hear a great speaker, I thought it was a really good mix – and that they got a good balance of time between the formal part of the evening and the informal mixing and networking – which often seems to be something that event organisers find a difficult balance.

So onto the speaker, Natalie Slessor. I’ve seen her speak before (at GBCA’s Workplaces of the Future Summit, see my previous blog entry) and she is a great presenter with a very interesting point of view on the workplace. Natalie is an environmental psychologist at Lend Lease – not a consultant that is common on our workplace project teams in Australia (or I think even in psychology here – I know quite a few psychologists and I’ve never met another environmental psych working in Australia. Maybe we don’t train them? Natalie is from the UK and the only other ones I’ve met or heard of are from the UK too…)

As I mentioned, Natalie is also a great presenter, and I’m starting to see that she likes to use different presentation structures as a storytelling technique. The presentation this evening was structured around a single slide with a grid of images with each row and column connecting ideas. It was a very effective technique,and I’m sure whilst it looked simple it must have taken a lot of work to simplify such complex ideas down to a 2 way grid of 24 squares! You can view the slide below.

PowerPoint Presentation

The key question of Natalie’s talk was “What is the Workplace for”.  Now I didn’t take any notes at the talk and I’m going to try and retell the story based on the images alone. So any misinterpretations are entirely my own,and I’m sure I will have missed some great points but perhaps some of my readers will have something to add (I know a few of you were there!). Following Natalie’s presentation there was plenty of time for discussion and questions, some of which I’ve woven into the story – there was of course plenty more form many viewpoints and those of you that we’re there can add your own stories of the night to the comments. (Or even if you weren’t – now you can be part of the discussion).  I’ll also state here that the references to the Chanel handbag are my own…but you will see the link.

First like Natalie did I’m going to explain what each row of the grid represents. The first row is the history reasons why the workplace exists. The second to fourth rows are about where we have been, where we are now and the direction we are moving towards. The fifth row is about psychology and the final row is what Natalie believes we should be aiming for in a workplace.

Now the first image is easy to remember – the workplace was created as a container. A container for the tools and machines to do the work, that were too expensive, too large (or too dirty?) for us to have in our homes. Gathering all these tools and people together created efficiency (this is what the cogs represent). Until recently, work meant physical things – whether it was a product or a piece of paper – so by co-locating eve white collar workers, efficiencies were gained – I can hand you that paper rather than mail it. So the office was also for gathering people together, as shown in the third image. The final image represents the workplace as being inspirational. Creating a place, creates part of the company identity, and historically inspiring loyalty was also part of the workplace equation. This row of images was why the workplace was created, and to some extent the second row, where have we been, covers a lot of the same ground. The workplace was a manual process (film), where ever more process efficiencies were to be gained (a portrait of Taylor – well known for applying production process thinking to workspace design known as Taylorism or scientific management). Buildings were designed as statements about the companies they housed with branding part of the building design. The Money Box building in Sydney was home to the Commonwealth Bank and I’m sure you recognize the Chrysler Building, one of the most branded buildings I’ve ever come across (I recollect there are parts inspired by hubcaps as well as other car parts and the Chrysler logo, I think also it was one of the first buildings to use metallic materials that were more akin to cars at the time). Part of this design ethos was also giving employees something to aspire to – I will climb my way up to the top floor or the corner office.

Not much of this seems quite so relevant today does it? Buildings are anonymous and owned by investors not branded for occupants, and who as a Gen X or younger would ever picture (or likely even aspire to) a corner office with an ensuite? Moving onto the next row of images we are living in a digital world and over the last few years have moved towards more and more mobile technology – Samsung “life companion” pictured. (From this point in the presentation Natalie was moving down the columns not across the row). The future workplace no longer needs to be a container for the tools, however the tools are just as important as they ever were for getting the job done. One of the things that can lead to the most stress is not having the right tools (eg slow or unreliable Internet connections).

With more mobile technology and as what we do for work has changed into knowledge work, the ideas of efficiency are no longer what they once were. Work is not necessarily the place where we get our best work done or have our best ideas. Whilst many offices are laid out like a place to house computers and well suited to a life of email, they are not well suited to either focused work or face to face communicative work. Natalie sees activity based working as a possible solution. Giving people a choice of an environment appropriate to the task should allow people to get more work done, and therefore reduce stress levels. Whilst there is a big focus on collaborative work and spaces in many ABW fitouts, its just as important that ABW design solutions don’t forget spaces for concentration and focused work either (and places for email too I guess).

As the workplace has become more varied, so too have the places that we work. Work has spilled out of the offices and into coffee shops and public spaces (MLC center pictured). The choice of where the workplace is and what facilities the surrounding area offers is becoming more important. No longer do most people want a workplace that is surrounded only by other workplaces. They want access to cafes, shops, entertainment, parks, childcare – places to go during breaks or after work, access to services. New precincts such as Barrangaro (Natalie’s admitted this as her one little plug for Lend Lease), a whole new piece of the city, need to be designed to consider people’s fulfillment and wellbeing, not just as workplaces.

Balance is what many people are seeking, rather than climbing the ladder. Social responsibility is also going to become a moe important driver for future generations (for me this slide/statement didn’t quite seem to fit into the flow of the narrative). There was some discussion also of the authenticity of the workplace design, and the importance of the workplace design being meaningful to what the company actually does and represents.

What will inspire us in the workplace of the future? Can we create more buildings and workplaces that in themselves inspire us by their design? Design that helps us to get work done, to focus or collaborate, to promote wellbeing and reduce stress. And it’s of all design that inspires. And this is where the link to Chanel comes into the story. The last slide is an image of a temporary building designed by Zaha Hadid as a Chanel exhibition. It was demountable and traveled around the world. Whilst obviously not very sustainable, Natalie found the building and the project inspirational. This is where my link to the Chanel handbag comes in, I also see a connection here with the first row, the container and the aspiration to the corner office – maybe now we don’t need a workplace container, or to aspire to space, we aspire to the handbag which also happens to be a container for the technology? (For women anyway) or we aspire to some other symbol that travels with us (Shoes? Laptops? Clothing? Maybe not such good containers?). So perhaps the office doesn’t need to provide these anymore. I know I’d certainly rather see inspiration and wellbeing than corner offices in my workplace anyway.

What would you like to see in your workplace if the future? Do you think we can design to reduce stress and increase wellbeing? What would this look like to you? We know we can design buildings to inspire – what are the hurdles which prevent all buildings and workplaces from being inspiring? Or do you still want the corner office with ensuite plus parking? Would this motivate you to work harder?

Image Credits:

Spaced Out and 5 other mega trends in the property sector

Morocco and Spain (NASA, International S by NASA

Last week I attended the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Building Day in Sydney. One of the notable changes in the professional development events held by the GBCA over the last year has been the broad range of topics impacting upon the design, construction and property industries which are being discussed at these kinds of events – I think this is really great to see as in my view there is a shortage of good professional development and training events available for architects and designers. (Green Building Day is also great for scoring your GreenStar accredited professional CPD points – you can get a whole years worth in just one day.) This year the keynote speaker was Bruce Precious from The GPT Group, speaking on Global Mega Trends and the Property Sector. I’d seen Bruce speak before on the GPT offices at MLC (and blogged about it here) . As I’d enjoyed his previous presentation and I was in need of a few more CPD points I signed up for the morning session. As I got so much just out of Bruce’s presentation and the panel talk following it, I’m going to focus on just that part of the morning. If you missed the day and were hoping for a full wrap, sorry but you will have to hunt elsewhere in the hope someone else has blogged about the rest! (Trust me I’ve picked the best bit for you)

Bruce’s presentation was covering research that The GPT Group undertook in conjunction with CSIRO looking into mega trends affecting property industry. The aim of The GPT Group in looking into these mega trends is to be able to convert threats into opportunities. Bruce noted that if there is evidence of a trend it has already happened, it is historic and doesn’t guarantee the future. I’d also note that if the research has gone this far and now being pushed out to the public its probably not the cutting edge trends of the minute – but then thats part of the point isn’t it, a mega trend is one that tends to last as while as well as have a large impact.

As so often is frequently commented upon in social and technology circles, Bruce commented on the fact that the world is accelerating, the pace of change is ever increasing. Does this mean we can still identify long term trends? This one is my question – but I think when we get to what are the 6 mega trends you will probably agree yes we can.

As well as long term trends there are shocks and tipping points, man made and natural. Whilst these can have just as much impact as the longer term mega trends, they are not something we can predict or our businesses can plan for. Although sometimes these shocks or tipping points could perhaps have been predicted? My question – Global Financial Crisis – shock or trend? But lets not go there – lets go now to what are the six mega trends which The GPT Group identified as having the most impact on their business, the property sector in Australia. Now see if you can guess what they actually mean…I love the names, great idea whoever came up with these catchy sayings.

1. Spaced out
2. More from less
3. The orient express
4. Behind the scenes
5. Tangible intangibles
6. Forever young

Spaced Out
No it’s not about the fact we have less office space per person than ever. It’s about tech savvy people, being constantly connected, the change in how we communicate and what information we have available to us due to the massive changes in technology over recent years. It includes big data, but as Bruce pointed out we have to get from big data to big information, perhaps he thought we can then get to big knowledge but will big wisdom ever exist?

In practical terms, GPT are developing apps based around the concept of the shopping centre as the community hub. The apps not only display info about the centre but link social networks. In future,sensors will personalize this experience even further.

In the workplace, technology allows flexibility and movement – the freerange workplace. The empty desk could be used by anyone, not just someone from our own organisation. GPT has invested in Liquid Space – a start up company base on a concept similar to Airbnb and are now trialing spaces in Sydney and Melbourne.

More from less
This one has the most obvious title – using less – less water, less energy, less materials. Bruce took it in an interesting direction beginning with a discussion of the growing intellectual potential of the world is due to world growth, growing affluence, and participation of women. (I thought it was a great rant by the way!)

GPT are looking at cutting use of natural resources – reducing water, waste, energy etc. Bruce discussed recycling and the possibilities of improving recycling – upcycling rather than downcylcing. Eg rather than grind glass up into road base, can it be used as something higher? Aparently there is a company upcycling dirt from street sweepings which contains a high amount of precious metals, as apparently do old mobile phones! These are generating new possibilities for mining resources.

For GPT and the property industry in Australia energy savings have been a key change in recent years. GPT is part of the The Better Building Partnership which consists of many leading property companies in Sydney. Romilly Madew, the CEO of the GBCA is quoted on their website as saying “Partnership is the new leadership”, Bruce questions could mankind’s new force be cooperation? We now have a database of water, waste and energy covering a large chunk of the local Sydney commercial building market. This is a great resource for the Sydney property market and others moving forward.

The orient express
The growth of China and other eastern population centers – a scale of populations that is unimaginable as an Australian. A company sales conference of 3000 people came to Sydney, this was just their top people! They booked the bridge climb for days solid! Can we even visualise this scale? Bruce recommended Gapminder.org as a way to visually see the changes and development of the world across many measures of large population centers. (There is a great gapminder TED talk too).

Behind the scenes
Supply chains and logistics are changing – both due to the internet and globalisation. I think there might be a lot more interesting stories behind this one.

Tangible intangibles
We are moving beyond consumerism as product consumption and into experience consumption – for example travel. Shopping centres for example are now experiential as well as for the function of shopping. Community spaces, outdoor spaces, gathering spaces.

Forever young
The impact of ageing and disability on design. The space requirements for motorized scooters and wheelchairs.

I thought the last 3 trends could have been discussed further, all of them will impact on design and could be quite interesting. I can see why the trend More with Less was a focus at a sustainability event, but it did seem that maybe Bruce was running out of time at the end – I would have been quite happy to listen to more. Bruce’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Romilly Madew with Bruce, Siobhan Toohill (Westpac) and Richard Palmer (WSP) who brought some interesting perspectives as well as answering audience questions on the topic of mega trends and the property industry.

What stories would you add to these last 3 trends? What do you think are the mega trends affecting the property industry? CSIRO apparently came up with eight of which GPT chose to focus on six. Do you think the trends elsewhere are the same as in Australia? Some of the other interesting trends raised in the panel discussion following were the social and sharing economy and the rise of the city.

There is no I in workplace – the role of the individual in workplace design consultation

I for information

A few months ago I read an article by Gary Miciunas, “The design of work and the work of design” in Work+Place. Miciusnas focuses on the collaboration between the Director of Work, Director of Work-Place and the workplace designer – bringing together facilities management, human resources, information technology and business services to deliver new service oriented work place models. The collaboration of these teams would be a significant improvement over current typical model of workplace design where it can be a challenge to get all of these people to even sit down together in one meeting (I’ve talked a little about this before – What makes a great workplace design client). However this approach got me thinking about the question of where and how the individual knowledge worker fit into this collaboration? Given the flexibility to choose a place of work – work from home, work from a cafe or work in the office – may mean that workers vote with their feet. What impact does this have on the design of the workplace? What if we design a workplace and no one shows up?

As the choice of place to work becomes a choice of consumption, does the individual workplace user need to become more involved in the workplace design process? Or can the role of the ‘user group consultation’ possibly be reduced as variety or a menu of workplaces are built into the design? The challenge of involving all individuals in workplace design is already a problematic issue. Workers frequently have very fixed ideas of the settings they need to do their work. Sometimes this is based upon existing layouts or settings, at other times those seen elsewhere or an idealised setting. Whilst the worker knows their work best – are they equipped to imagine other possibilities? Do they understand how their work fits in with other work within the organisation?

The idea of ‘the design of work’ perhaps provides a good starting comparison point to the ‘work of design’ of the work place. As anyone who has ever worked within a large organisation knows many individuals design their own processes, systems and software optimising these to suit their own individual needs to best get their job done. However if there is too much individualisation and not enough organisational standardisation, this comes at a huge cost. Each individual worker has spent significant time to customise their work process and it differs from the work process of the other 50 people doing the same job. This is not efficient for an organisation. However too much standardisation and the individual knowledge worker is likely to get frustrated – because whilst there might be 50 others doing the same role, the way they do their job and apply their knowledge is not, and does not need to be identical. Could some of the same thinking apply to the workplace? How can we give people the individuality and flexibility to optimise their work place without losing the benefit of standardisation?

To me, the idea of Activity Based Working can be seen as a potential solution. A variety of different workspaces and settings are offered within the work place ranging from different size and shape workstations, differing levels of privacy and enclosure and different styles of furnishings. The worker has the choice of where to sit each day or each hour depending on the task at hand. The worker may also have the choice not to be in the workplace at all but working elsewhere. By offering a variety of workplaces, can the worker gain sufficient control to improve productivity by enabling choice of environment?

What happens if the workers do indeed vote with their feet, and large parts of the workplace remain unoccupied? This is surely not the aim of a workplace, and would appear to suggest that the design has failed. How do we as designers determine what types of environments to offer? Is it through user consultation, co-desgin (an even more intensive user involvement) or can we start to combine these activities with a more objective evidence based approach?

Currently workplace design (especially in Australia) tends to be based upon the experience of individual designers or companies, with very little high level research applied across multiple sites or projects (what research there is tends to be focussed on green building measures or space utilisation and is not necessarily comparable across studies). Through more research that captures what workers do across similar task types or industries and what design elements provide improvements to productivity, job satisfaction or collaboration – best practice can be defined. This kind of research could give a design team the confidence to know what kinds of spaces to design, based upon defined activities.

Research on the design of the workplace needs to be both qualitative and quantitative – this is where it has the advantage over traditional user group consultation which tends to be qualitative. Quantitative research needs to include testing of actual workplaces. The idea of beta testing our workplaces is already is use on larger projects. Frequently organisations with many thousands of square metres of office space will install prototype work areas for testing during the design process – from the scale of 1 or 2 workstations for workers to drop by to look at, up to the scale of whole floors where staff are working and formal research is being undertaken of how the space works. This is not always practical for smaller projects and if the knowledge of larger projects was made available to smaller projects could give more small to medium size organisations the encouragement and hard reasons to move towards different workplace models. Perhaps through benchmarking and physical testing, in the future simulated computer testing based on previous project data could also become a reality.

Whilst benchmarking and best practice need to be considered, each workplace still needs to be designed for individual organisations and teams. Ideally each individual work space should be be evaluated and tested to ensure it is providing value to the organisation. This can’t occur as part of the way the design process is currently structured, where the design is completed before the work begins. Perhaps the design process needs to be enlarged, to encompass ongoing evaluation and if necessary redesign with testing of workplace continuing beyond day 1 occupation. Therefore the space that remains unoccupied is not seen as a failure of design but as simply as an area which needs more development. Perhaps it also needs to be considered that it is not design that is the issue, but that the workers need to learn how to use this new kind of space. This then has impacts upon how we procure work place fitout. Can furniture and fitout companies offer components that are offered on rotation for changing needs over time, with leasing instead of outright purchase? Or designs with common component parts that can be reconfigured from a workstation setting to a meeting setting?

Are clients prepared to invest in these kinds of workplaces and the research required to achieve best practice? In Australia, in particular, research into workplace design and productivity has always been very limited and as in many other places has suffered further as a result of cost cutting in tough financial times. However does the changing nature of work and the workplace mean that the creation of great work places is no longer a choice but a necessity in order to attract and maintain the best workers, and get the most out of them?

Are today’s interior designers equipped to manage this process? Do they want to be? Unfortunately there are still too many clients who view interior design in a similar category to interior decoration. A strategic collaboration between interior design, research and the new Director of Work could see this change – or will this see interior design marginalized by a new genre of workplace productivity and strategy experts? What do you think as a designer or as someone who works in an office? Do you think workplace consultation is necessary? Would you like to be able to chose between a variety of work environments each day?

Image Credits:

Workplaces of the Future: Will the office look like my son’s bedroom?

Oliver’s ’Big Boy’ Room by Jug Jones, on Flickr One of the questions raised at the Green Building Council’s Workplaces of the Future Summit held on 12 April, was will my office look like my son’s bedroom? The answer is apparently Yes. Now I like to think that this relates to all those cool crazy things like the car bed pictured, and not the mess of a teenagers room, but possibly it could be either! Today I’m covering the second half of the summit, if you missed my post on the first half of the Summit – Freerange Working, click here.

Psychology and the Workplace
Natalie Slessor – Lend Lease
Natalie is an environmental psychologist and talked about what is needed to design places that connect with people, attract staff and promote well being. The workplace should to be synonymous with the organisational culture and values.

Using clever groups of three words beginning with the same letter Natalie identified key issues in designing workplaces to achieve these outcomes.

Competence, Control, Confidence – does the environment facilitate work/productivity, can the occupant control the environment, does the environment make the occupant comfortable, safe and give confidence.

What is the vision? What is the experience? What is the question we need our workplace to help us answer?

End State, Engagement, Evidence – understanding and addressing both organizational and individual drivers and fears, honesty is important as part of the engagement strategy, strength of evidence based research to help in decision making.

Bruce Precious – GPT Group
Bruce was a self admitted naysayer of activity based working – until GPT moved into their own refurbished offices in the MLC Tower, and now he is a dedicated convert.

As a major property owner and landlord, GPT Group embarked on a major fitout of its own space within the MLC tower to demonstrate that existing buildings can indeed keep up, with a showcase fitout designed by Woods Bagot. Bruce spoke on the process of behavioural change management, moving from an environment which housed “more paper than people”. There were certainly many staff for whom the move to non allocated desking and only 1m of storage  space provoked fear and anxiety, Bruce himself among them. However by starting the conversation with staff early and the CEO taking a leading role, the shift has been successful. Within the first 3 months, 88% of employees would not have gone back to the previous environment. The idea of the ‘biggest loser’ competition where staff competed to reduce paper/storage brings some fun into the change management process (I wonder if ‘gamification’ could perhaps be taken further in the context of stakeholder management?)

Whilst research suggests that an office environment in itself might not be motivating it can be demotivating according to well known psychologist and “pioneer of job enrichment” Frederick Herzberg. After the staff had moved in extensive post occupancy studies were undertaken using BUS occupancy survey method and compared to previous studies for the old GPT offices (also in MLC but on different floors). GPT now rank as the most satisfied office occupants out of the offices surveyed in Australia! Bruce believes the GPT fitout may not be motivating but it is certainly inspiring.

GreenStar Interiors – Beyond Office Interiors
Jorge Chapa – GBCA
The uptake of the GreenStar Office Interiors tool and its impact on the market for environmental products has been significant. However rather than just update the existing tool, the GBCA has extended the reach of this rating tool with the release of the new GreenStar Interiors Tool. The new tool takes GreenStar interiors to other environments beyond the office being applicable to any type of interior – education, healthcare, retail, industrial (I must say I was left wondering what an industrial fitout might be?) and is currently in pilot version.

The new Interiors tool focuses on sustainability for people. It is also a simpler tool with less documentation and instead of prescriptive metrics defines criteria that design teams can use to find solutions to suit their projects.

Brett Pollard – HASSELL
The new HASSELL Sydney Studio fitout is aiming to be the first project certified under the new GreenStar Interiors tool. The new tool has a more human centric focus and will help improve a wide varitety of work environments. A wide range of spaces such as healthcare buildings, retail environments and law courts are covered by the tool – and are all workplaces too.

HASSELL has long been a supporter of the GBCA and have designed many GreenStar projects including SA Water House, which achieved a 6 star rating for both Office Design and Office Interiors tools. HASSELL has also obtained ratings for its own studios in Melbourne, Brisbane and Shanghai (LEED rating), which are also located within refurbished industrial buildings rather than new building stock.

Brett spoke of the human need for choice and how we can design the likely choices to be more environmentally friendly, ideas coming from the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein).  This book uses the term ‘choice architecture’ to describe how human choices can be ‘nudged’. For example if we design the default settings for a meeting room to have the lights and air conditioning off instead of on,  many users will then simply leave it off, only turning on if needed, resulting in energy savings.

Amanda Steel – Stockland
Amanda spoke of how the use of retail space is changing and already includes spaces such as art galleries and community rooms. Shopping centres have become a social hub and are no longer just for shopping. All Stocklands Centres now include community rooms which are used for a wide variety of purposes. Wifi in shopping centres is essential. Shopping centres may already act as a third workspace, and in the future it is likely that coworking spaces will also become part of a retail environment (I am aware of The Milkbar in Canberra which is a coworking space in a former retail space/strip, not in a centre).

25% of people are in shopping centres to do something other than buy a product. Unlike in office spaces, the outcomes of sustainability and human centric measures in shopping centres are easily measured in terms of sales and time spent in centre. For example with an increase in daylight, shoppers will increase time in the centre by 30%.

Image Credits:

Workplaces of the Future: Freerange Working?

Chickens by Richard Elzey, on FlickrOn Friday I attended the Green Building Council of Australia’s Workplaces of the Future Summit in Sydney. I thought I would share with you some of my notes and thoughts for the day. One of the key messages from the day is that the workplace is changing and there is a big focus on the experience of the user – many of the presentations dealt with this issue and it forms a larger part of the new GreenStar Interiors tool (which is now is pilot version). A number of the speakers used the term ‘freerange working’ to describe a new way of working where the user has more choice and space in which to move as well as a more enriched workspace experience.  The summit was a fantastic opportunity to hear from a wide range of speakers including designers, occupants and researchers.  As I have so much material, this will be a two part post.  Part 2 next week will include an update on the GreenStar Interiors Pilot tool. (Part 2: Will the office look like my son’s bedroom?)

Bilophilic Design – Dr Stephen Kellert (Yale)
Dr Stephen Kellert is a Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology from Yale and was the keynote speaker of the summit. His presentation was an introduction to biophilic design, what it is and a summary of research showing why biophilic design is beneficial to building occupants.

Biophilic design is based upon the idea that we are biologically predisposed to attach meaning to the natural world and therefore incorporate nature into buildings and urban spaces to improve the human response to the built environment. The design can include the incorporation of the actual natural environment through plants, water views or the like, or by the influence of nature through patterns, complexity and variation of design and the use of natural materials. Much of the world’s most famous architecture – for example Gothic Cathedrals or the Sydney Opera House exhibit principles of biophilic design.

Dr Kellert also discussed a number of studies which have shown that such environments improved outcomes for human health and productivity. These studies included healthcare, social housing and factory settings.

Those interested in finding out more should visit http://www.biophilicdesign.net/ where you can purchase the film Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life or various books written by Dr Kellert.

The Workplace Diaspora
Sarah Kay (Woods Bagot)
Sarah spoke of the “Google Generation” – those born after the mid nineties, who have grown up with the internet – and the impact their coming into the workforce in coming years will have. Sarah described this generation as always on with a need for stimulation and choice, access to information and an ease with technology and virtual communications. As a result the office space is likely to become more of a place for physical collaboration.

The “Google Generation” are also used to being switched on and communicating 24/7 and as a result working hours are likely to shift and line of sight management may become a thing of the past. This will lead to the physical space of the workplace being utilised more intensively both in terms of utilisation (which we are already seeing), but also in terms of hours of working. Trends such as Activity Based Working, Real Time Working, Agile Working and Alternative Working Solutions are already heading in this direction and Australia has seen a number of high profile examples including Macquarie Bank, National Australia Bank and GPT.

Lauren Haas (Brookfield Mulitplex)
Lauren spoke on the need for developing high performance buildings, which she defined as buildings where the value of the built environment can be objectively demonstrated through independent research.

Lauren looked at the changing design of zoos from providing an environment where animals simply survive in small bare enclosures to today’s zoos where animals thrive in environments that are designed to mimic nature and provide stimulation [I thought this was a fantastic analogy!]. This would lead to higher performance of our building stock. The focus of building performance measures to date has been on energy efficiency, rather than the benefits to the human capital of the business. As salaries and the costs of turnover make up such a high percentage of business costs then the cost benefits to be reaped by improving the environment for the human capital through increased productivity, health and well being are huge.

Lauren was involved in the World Green Building Council report “The Business Case for Green Building”, in the chapter on Workplace Productivity and Health, summing up some of the key research undertaken in this field.

Paul Auglys (Commonwealth Bank of Australia)
Paul spoke on the process of change management in the Commonwealth Bank move to Activity Based Working at Commonwealth Bank Place.  Key elements in the decision for a fairly conservative organisation to make the move to ABW were to visit a number of other projects (Microsoft and Interpolis being key influences) and to prepare a business case identifying benefits across employee engagement, productivity and customer service, environmental and space utilisation measures. It was also important to find the ABW that suits the individual business model.  For  the CBA, the concept of staff having home zones rather than a totally free desking environment forms an important part of their ABW implementation.

After making the decision to move to ABW, key to the successful implementation of the project were the intensive stakeholder engagement process, the construction of a large pilot project were 200 staff worked and an integrated project team including Property, IT and Change Management.

Paul’s advice for other organisations looking at moving to ABW:

  1. Don’t underestimate the amount of change, provide support for change and ongoing training.
  2. Technology is a key aspect and must support the environment.
  3. Tailor ABW for your business – connect your ABW with the culture you want to build.

Carol-Ann Pickvance (HASSELL)
Carol-Ann spoke about the future of work beyond activity based working.  ABW is rapidly moving towards the mainstream in Australia and likely to become the norm.  Workplace trends beyond ABW inlcude coworking and codesign.

Coworking is a rapidly growing way of working where members rent space within shared office environments. Originally envisaged as spaces for start ups and individuals looking for work communities, corporate memberships are growing as the coworking space is seen as an environment which offers different opportunities for collaboration or innovation than the traditional corporate workplace. The Hub in Melbourne is an example of a coworking space. Key to the coworking space is that the workspace needs to attract people to it, the space is self organising and user appropriated (everything is on castors for instant rearrangement) and merges the facilities and atmosphere of traditionally different typologies – coffee shop, education space, workspace. The other concept from the coworking space that offers users additional benefits is the concept of the host, who not only manages the space but also seeks to understand the different projects and people and assist in connecting members and creating networks.

Carol-Ann also discussed the role of technology, and identified that the speed of change means that many corporations are just unable to keep up. Frequently consumer technology at home is ahead of corporate technology. The coworking space is based upon bring your own device and therefore the only technology must is wifi. However in some places coworking spaces are also offering members the benefits of shared high end technology such as telepresence.

Carol-Ann believes that many of the elements of coworking will become important in all workplaces, and in particular the element of user choice. The idea of codesign takes user consultation to the next level incorporating the workplace user group in not just the functional requirements but the whole design process and aesthetic. This could be quite confronting for interior designers and changes the focus and process of design.

I will be going back to discussions on the business of architecture and interior design, but the next few weeks posts will focus on a number of conferences I am attending. As well as part 2 on the Workplaces of the Future Summit, in coming weeks I am attending TEDx Sydney (May 4) and attending and presenting and the Revit Technology Conference in Auckland (May 16-18) and will blog further on topics of interest from these conferences.
Image credits:

Great workplace design = great business leadership?

OFFICE by jk5854, on FlickrFrequently the question is raised “Does office design increase workplace productivity?” or some other slight variation of this such as increases to staff motivation, retention, collaboration or other desirable attributes to enhance business performance.  I came across one such discussion just this week on Linkedin with some great discussion points. With the current trend towards activity based workplaces and the groovy workplaces of Facebook and Google frequently featuring in the media, many organisations use the time for moving into a new office as an opportunity to question how their new office should differ from the previous one. However, the problem that I have frequently seen is that frequently the business leadership are not highly involved in the decisions of design.

On a regular basis, our clients are often represented by the facility managers, project managers or people with a financial background. They will say to us I want x number of desks at x dollars/square metre by x date. And often and this is how big/shaped the desks are to be.  Their brief (or performance metric) is to provide an office with a certain number of desks at a certain cost by a certain date.  And if the desks are the same as what the organisation has now, they believe no-one will complain too much.  However this is not the way to create great work places.  “…a clear understanding of the organizations cultural inclinations (motivations) and therefore their desired behaviors, is the only way to create a workplace design for the future that is truly effective and supports a particular organization.” (quoted from a comment by Jack Webber on Office Insight: The Business of Workplace Design and Management)

How can we as designers help to educate our clients about the human value of office space when the people who care about the bigger picture – usually the leadership team or the human resources staff are absent from the design meetings? These are the people that can provide the cultural information about the organisation to the design team and who should appreciate the project of the new workplace as it impacts upon the overall business – not just as a one of project to be ‘delivered on time and on budget’.

In larger organisations, all too often the business decision makers are only brought into the room when a significant amount of design time has been spent and many basic decisions have been made. They are there to be “presented to” so they can “sign off”. Sometimes the interior design team never have a chance to even present to those with the authority to make the final decisions.

Frequently this means that key players in the business are not party to much information, discussion and preliminary design materials. They miss the opportunity to input into strategies for cultural and business change through design – perhaps because they don’t understand that a new workplace will result in cultural change or they don’t understand the need to align and prepare the business and manage the staff in advance of the move or that design can be used to reinforce desired cultural changes.

Human resources staff are often left out of the equation altogether unless brought in to manage staff consultation (a whole topic for another day). One of the best projects I have worked on had the HR manager as the key representative. It made a huge difference as to what was seen as a priority and what was presented to the higher management. The needs of staff were taken into account in an intelligent way at a high level, not simply giving in to or providing every small thing that was asked for or denying everything, but decisions made with a real understanding the roles the staff performed and the functional requirements.

Whilst facilities managers are quite frequently very knowledgeable about their organisation and its staff and may have an interest in design they are not usually the drivers of change within organisations. One FM once said to me something along the line of “but why would I want to get involved in trying to change the culture via the new office design, it’s not my job and my job is hard enough trying to keep everyone happy with the new office as it is – I have no desire to change too much”. And I guess that’s fair enough, it’s not their role, background or training. Cultural change and change management is a high level leadership issue. However perhaps as the design of the workplace is changing, facilities management will also change. The Sodexo Workplace Trends 2013 report states that

“To be effective, FM leaders must change their behaviors, and indeed their very identity. FM is not about managing facilities per se; rather, it is about enabling the workforce to be productive and engaged, and to produce value for the organization.”

Part of the point though is that it is not just involving the business leadership or the HR team, it is about these leaders valuing their staff and valuing the part the design of their workplace plays in business processes and staff satisfaction. If the business leaders are involved in the design process but do no more than focus on the size of their own office then they are not effective contributers either. In the end a great office design that enhances an organisations business and improves staff motivation and morale comes out of great leadership. Most people wouldn’t stay working in a google type office just because it had a slide and a ping pong table if that was the only positive thing their company could offer them.

How do we as interior designers get our clients to appreciate the role of business leadership in workplace design? Or do they appreciate it already but just not have the time? Do we need to change our approach to business leaders? Does the role of facilities management need to change? Can HR play a greater part in workplace design? And do you think all of this really lead to better workplaces?

Image credits:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jk5854 

Social media – design collaboration via digital means?

Water cooler by Jason Pratt, on FlickrIn my last role I used to spend a lot of time working with remote teams – often remote from me and sometimes from each other. Over time I realised that one of the biggest challenges in working this way was the lack of informal “overheard” conversations. For example I might be briefing one person in the team on a task but start talking generally about how the meeting I had that day went, someone else in the team sitting near by might overhear and join the conversation with a new idea. This lack of proximity and informal collaboration is also a traditional problem in the relationship between interior designers or architects and engineers. The question is, is it possible to replicate this casual form of interaction digitally?

Social media is frequently described as the new water cooler, just one recent example can be found here. HP’s internal social media platform was also called WaterCooler.  Although I have to say – the image I found looks just the opposite doesn’t it – and I’ve always found coffee to be more popular than water! Regardless of your drink preference, is social media the current or future digital means for casual work interactions and collaboration though?

Personally, I found social media useful on certain occasions – I became the first person in my company to post my redundancy on yammer the internal network – for me this meant a lot of people found out in hours rather than weeks (and I also had posted personal contact details).  However on a day to day basis it wasn’t a tool I used extensively. I found instant messaging to be much more useful, but the limitation is that it is generally a one on one conversation. The guy that sits next to me can’t overhear and put his 2 cents in (this privacy is in fact often becomes the reason people chose messaging as the means of communication).

However, I still don’t believe that social media can completely replace the informal, overheard, in person element of communication. Firstly by typing something into a social media site it is much more of a deliberate sharing action. Secondly I find that people are less likely to respond. If I speak to you in person or on the phone you are more likely to say something than in front of a large meeting. If I instant message you rather than email you, you are more likely to respond partially because of that annoying flashing but also just social convention. If I post something on social media (or to this blog!) it has become a combination of email and the large meeting – for most of us it becomes too public, too deliberate and just too much effort to respond with a comment. Perhaps partially because we know that if we start commenting on everything we will be there all day – and maybe no one will notice – unlike if we spend all day at the water cooler or coffee shop!

I think the issue of informal communications and collaborations remains a challenge to be solved in order to fully realize the benefits of working remotely and globally. I started to think about the part that videoconferencing could play in this and then I came across this suggestion:

“One fix, he suggested, could be a screen set up in your office space that shows a colleague who is working somewhere else. It could enable the types of informal conversations that often lead to fruitful ideas, and maybe “frost up and go into privacy mode” when that person takes a meeting or a phone call.”

This came from yet another blog on the workplace of the future, but its certainly the first time I’ve seen this suggestion (and I do have quite a lot of time to read blogs right now…hey its research for you right?) http://www.eweek.com/mobile/intel-offers-an-image-of-the-workplace-of-the-future/

I started thinking about this one, maybe this means the whole office will become like a giant telepresence room where half the office is a mirror image of somewhere else. Or maybe through one window we see one place (say Perth) and through another we see another place (the engineers down the road). For anyone not familiar with telepresence – right now its typically limited to meeting rooms.  Traditionally you have 2 identical rooms, each one is only half a table though, the other side is a video screen. Its still pretty expensive so not that commonly installed. The technology has been around since about 2006 but doesn’t seem to have made much impact – probably due to the cost and the need for the 2 identical locations.

Today I found another alternative on – that holograms will be the next big thing.  (though I do admit this was posted to you tube in 2010 so obviously I’m behind the times)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAIDXzv_fKA
Maybe we all sit in different places but have our holograms working in a shared project office?  This hologram would seem to have more potential as an architectural or engineering collaboration tool. because not only can we share ourselves, we can share our models as holograms too.

All of this moves away from social media as a solution, and back towards physical solutions – even if they are driven by technology, they are still attempting to replicate a physical environment. Do we need a physical environment to collaborate best or is social media already taking over and replacing this? Will this perhaps change as the workplace demographics change?

What is your experience worth social media in the workplace? Do you think social media is the new water cooler? What are your success stories (or horror stories) of using social media for collaboration in interior design or architecture? Do you want your engineers (or interior designers or architects) right there with you? If we were having this conversation in person would you comment?

Image Credits: