The New Work, Part I

Desso is a major carpet manufacturer, selling primarily to corporate and commercial customers in more than 100 countries. In this 2-part series, Andrew Sibley from Desso looks at how the workplace is changing.

 

The last decade has seen unprecedented change, driven by technologies that have forever altered how and where we work, so that, not long from now, there won’t be offices – or at least, not offices as we understand them.

In that future-world, which is almost on us, the concept of office hierarchy also won’t much exist because, without offices to work from, we will simply have skills.   In that changed new world, we will mostly be consultants, working when and from where we want, often from home.

There already are more than 20 million people regularly working from their homes in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One of the first comprehensive studies on “home-working” was The Distributed Workplace.  Ãƒâ€š   This two-year study looked at “Sustainable Accommodation for the New Economy” (SANE) and was supported by the European Commission.   Its purpose was to create debate about the future of work.

Its remit was to consider the combined impact of the new economy on place, people, and process and it found that the information age has exposed the inadequacies of traditional ways of working.   It concluded that there is likely to be a blurring between work and home-life because technology has rendered obsolete the concept of the workplace as the only place to work.

Instead, the report concluded, in an age when people can work from anywhere, the office will become valued more for its “social and cultural role,” rather than a place simply to work.   With more people teleworking from home, the office will be an extension of our homes, and vice versa, with no clear demarcation between the two.

However, when we’re at home, we eat in the dining room, watch TV in the living room, or read a book in the bedroom.   We use the rooms in our homes to do different things and, increasingly, according to research, that’s what we also want from our offices.

In other words, in the same way as our homes are now our offices, we also want to feel more at home in the office.

Some office designers have already embraced that office-as-home concept, designing innovative workstations that are entirely flexible, with moveable walls and partitions, and with designated break-out areas with an accent firmly on collaborative informality.   The old cubicle can be consigned to history: today is about collaboration and informality.   It’s about finding new ways of working that put the occupants of offices center stage.

Broekman Stadgenoot

It’s no longer about use design, concentrating simply on functionality, but user design.

The office of tomorrow — let alone today — is slowly and surely being built with the user in mind, rather than the functional use of the office space.

The new user design — looking at the needs of its occupants, and how they actually use the space — is helping to illuminate how we work, what we want from our workplaces, and how we can perform better in them.

That trend from use to user has created a new breed of interior designer who use observational and interview methods derived from psychological research to find out how people really use space.

This is becoming more common in office design, but particularly so in the design of schools, hospitals, residential homes for the elderly, and other places where people can be either vulnerable or under high levels of stress.

Broekman Stadgenoot (2nd View)

That move from use to user is actually good business.  

A report, Impact of Office Design on Business Performance, found that the workplace environment is responsible for nearly a quarter of job satisfaction.   That can affect employee performance by as much as 5 percent for individuals and 11 percent for team workers.

Furthermore, the report found, how an office is designed can affect productivity and responsiveness to technological change.   It adds up to an important lesson for employers and HR professionals: incorporate good interior design or risk losing key staff and business advantage.

Backing up that report, a U.S. Workplace Survey conducted by a global design consultancy, estimates that poor workplace design costs American businesses $330 billion annually in lost productivity.

Interior designers are recognizing that the “new” work of the 21st century is all about shared knowledge and collaboration and can better be fostered in an environment that responds to an employee’s needs at a human level.

As a result, the once featureless office is developing color and character, because user philosophy is all about creating workplaces that are fun, aid productivity, keep employees happy (for however long they’re actually in the office) and help retain the best staff.

Desso Apeldoorn

It’s about using interior design – color, furniture, layout, flooring, lighting – to also add competitive advantage.

That analysis is particularly pertinent now, with the global downturn forcing companies to look at downsizing or shorter working weeks, among a myriad of other strategies to reduce costs.

Technology and the economic climate have therefore combined to accelerate an emerging dynamic – the home-based employee with no need to commute to work every day and occupy expensive office space.

While technology has been the major influence on how we work, some of the changes it has brought about in the office are subtle.   For example, in an age of shared texts and email, it now means that we don’t need to talk to one another.   We expect instant communication with groups of workmates and that, in turn, influences our sense of private and public space.

But when we need to meet, we don’t always want to sit around a boardroom table.   Sometimes meetings can best be held in informal breakout areas, with coffee tables and sofas – places where we can still plug in electronic devices, but which take us away from the rigid formality of our offices, transporting us back “home” to a place where work can also be informal and fun.

It’s all about integrating workstations, conference and break-out areas in new ways.   At its simplest, carpet and color can help delineate those formal and informal areas within offices, or provide visual walkways to contextualize the interior space.

In Part II, Andrew will describe how color, culture, and practical design is furthering the “new” work in December.

Headshot for Andrew Sibley

Andrew Sibley has worked in the flooring sector for many years and has occupied a number of senior roles. He is currently a sales and marketing director with Desso, with responsibility across many territories and countries worldwide.

1 Comment

  • November 14, 2011

    Patrick ODell

    Andrew, great article. I really like how you highlight the connection between the “human experience” and productivity. They are definitely related but the relationship is hard to quantify. Maybe this is why many companies don’t put too much emphasis on how their workers “feel” when at work i.e. the ROI is not easy to calculate. This is very unfortunate not only for the worker but also, as you pointed out, the company.

    I’m looking forward to reading Part II !

    Patrick