An artist's sketch of a office with a staircase in blue and grey

Famed author Frederic Laloux, who wrote Reinventing Organizations, has long believed that the form of our workplace is undergoing an evolution.

No longer will offices be cold and impersonal. Instead, they’ll favor values of self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose.

In short – our workplace is becoming much more human.

Furniture and Design Houses Are Seeing a Trend Towards ‘The Living Office’

Nicole Ledinich – Furniture Specialist at design and retail house, Facility Resources in London, Ontario, Canada, is seeing this evolution slowly starting to take shape.

Her workplace follows the Living Office Design Principles, created by manufacturing giant Herman Miller, who has built the framework after conducting extensive research on human-centric office design.

“As human consciousness evolves, how we evolve and organize as teams follows suit,” she explains. “And what does this changing paradigm have to do with the world of office design and furniture? I’d say ‘Everything.’”

More and more, Nicole is seeing more and more clients opt to make improvements to their office space.

Open Office vs. Walled Office is Actually a Futile Debate

“When we seek to truly understand what people need, we begin to understand that solutions are never black and white,” says Nicole. “For example most of us have had discussions about ‘open office’ design, which literally tears down the walls in order to break down the figurative silos between people and departments.”

“Although, businesses like Google have made the open office concept famous and many companies try to emulate the environment – like many trends not all see the increased productivity or collaboration they were hoping for.”

So is the solution to ignore the value of an ‘open office’ and build more walls?

According to Nicole, the open office vs. private office question is not the right question at all.

Creating an Open Office Doesn’t Immediately Create a Better Office

There’s much more to creating a collaborative and ‘human centered’ workplace than simply removing walls.

So following the Living Office Design Principles, Nicole focuses instead on ensuring that different work activities, as well as the cognitive, social, behavioral, and physical needs of their staff – are taken into account and provided proper space and resources.

Understanding Staff’s Desired Level of Interruption is Key

Creating collaborative, open and engaging spaces can be accomplished by most businesses with ease. However, this increased engagement shouldn’t be confused with leading to more productivity, or happiness.

It turns out that what many dissatisfied offices are missing is a plan for the quieter, heads down ‘activities’ that are necessary to creating a balanced environment, as these kinds of activities have a lower tolerance for disruption.

In the Herman Miller Living Office design principles, two of these ‘alone activities are known as ‘Contemplate’ and ‘Create,’ and they should be accounted for when designing an effective space.

About the Contemplate Mode of Work

“Supporting ‘Contemplate’ means providing a space that allows individuals to pause and consider the best way forward in their work, or ignore it momentarily and provide respite,” explains Nicole.

“We’ve all experienced it at work, where we receive a difficult call – it could be work related or it could be about your child or your family or on the contrary are buzzing with ideas after a meeting. Allowing there to be space for someone to go to process the experience is one way that companies acknowledge that their workers are people, not machines.”

The Contemplate mode doesn’t typically involve using technology or even writing in a notebook.

And the reflection it supports isn’t just for dealing with challenging emotions, it can also be supporting the generation of new ideas.

“If you ask a leader, ‘When do you get your ideas?’ you will likely hear that it wasn’t when they were sitting at their desk or in a meeting, but after a walk in the park,” says Nicole. “Although you can’t force creativity, you can support it by allowing people time to reflect.”

Preventing Interruption Needs to be Supported in Any Work Environment

Unlike Contemplate, Create is all about solving problems and executing deliverables.

“Create is about work that’s specific to your role,” says Nicole. “It’s ‘heads down’ work that requires focus, like generating your month-end spreadsheets or working on a presentation.”

But while many are used to doing this work in an open office environment, the key to this mode of work is that it is not tolerant to interruption.

“When I ask people, ‘Where do you go when you need to do focused work?’ I often hear, ‘Oh I do that work at home or at night,’” says Nicole. “What’s interesting is this response is most often stated by those with private offices, because culturally, many managers value an open door policy and consequently are interrupted frequently.”

“At work, we don’t know how to communicate our tolerance to disruption – so when people move to an open office and they get frustrated, often there’s a different issue that isn’t being addressed, space is a way that workers can communicate the level of interruption needed. For example, working at my desk communicates I am available to meet, but when I move to a quiet room (which Herman Miller calls ‘Havens’) I am doing focused work and interruptions are not tolerable.”

Are You Interested in Learning More About How Office Design Impacts Your Culture and Productivity?

In her Sound Stories podcast interview with Stephanie Ciccarelli, Nicole Ledinich shares additional considerations for designing an effective office space to foster creativity and to support workers on a holistic level.

Listen in on the Sound Stories Podcast now.

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For over a decade, Tanya has been helping organizations and individuals alike tell their stories. A graduate of Western University, Tanya holds a Bachelor of Science degree, as well as a post-graduate diploma in Public Relations. As an experienced marketing and communications professional, she has helped individuals, start-ups, and multinational corporations craft and amplify meaningful communications across the arts, culture, entertainment, health, wellness, and technology industries.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good read, but falls short in describing the innovative changes that are occurring and should be occurring in the world of office design innovation.

    The argument between “open vs private” has been dead for some time, if you work in the industry. Companies like WeWork were ahead of the curve, understanding the earliest adopters were graduating from the metaphoric “kumbaya” communities (defined by their lack of private space, and in some circumstances lack of professional hierarchy) and into a space that recognizes each individuals working style.

    Unfortunately the term “working style” was defined by ones personal preference for “private vs open space” and nothing else. While the idea of distractions and interruptions is important, these principles, yet again, limit ones personal working preferences to “with or without fries,” I mean “open vs private.” Under these principles one may be by themselves or surrounded by others, but in either circumstance the office is still a box, the room is a still a box, and your desk is still a box!

    If we want to talk about innovation and personalization, beyond private/interruption-free vs open/filled-with-interruptions, we need to consider the environmental impacts on the individual rather than posing a utilitarian design principle. One’s environment has a direct and meaningful impact on one’s perception.

    Personalization however, cannot be reviewed under traditional criteria or we are doomed to remain in our “box-shaped” lives. We need to experiment with new physical shapes for buildings/rooms, materials/scenery/imagery for finishes, sounds for setting, lighting, aroma and so much more.

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