Snow Day Workplace
Today is a rare snow day for our office, but don’t think that we aren’t working! Today I sit house-bound with my husband as we both work from home, networking into our respective servers back at the ranch to keep our projects moving. So as I thought about an appropriate topic to write about, nothing else seemed more relevant than to discuss one of the penultimate questions in commercial design these days: How do we, as designers changes with the times and improve workplace design? How do we use technology in the workplace and how does that affect space, collaboration, and space needs? Because as technology changes and we have greater capacity to work, well, anywhere and at anytime, the shape of our workspaces and what is important to them has changed.
This is a constant and ongoing dialogue in the design community. The major manufacturers of the office furniture industry are constantly revisiting these and related questions: What environments promote productivity? What environments promote collaboration? Creativity? How can we use wireless technology, going paperless, or new software to enhance the workplace? What is really needed in a workspace?
Obviously the answers change based on the type of work being done, the people involved and the company’s values. There is no one-fit answer and that is part of the discovery that a design team goes through with a client. For work like mine – design, architecture and most building engineering – paper will always be a component, so printing and a certain amount of filing will always be needed. I will always need room to spread out and look at physical samples and storage for those samples. I will, therefore, always need something that resembles a traditional workspace. So today, while I can work from home, I am handicapped somewhat. My husband is in the exact opposite position. His work is computer software engineering and never needs to be printed. He doesn’t need filing space at his workplace, because everything is saved on his harddrive or in the cloud. His laptop is pretty much all he needs and he carries it home with him every night from the office. So his work can take place anywhere he feels comfortable enough to work. He is as productive from home as from the office. What space to you design then, for someone that mobile? Or someone who move from site to site on a weekly basis? Or someone who is constantly working in group settings?
Herman Miller, Haworth, Knoll, Kimball, Steelcase, Teknion and many, many other big furniture manufacturing shops are constantly asking and revisiting these questions. They research it and then provide new and innovative solutions to assist in making the types of spaces workers (and managers) want a reality. That includes touchdown spaces for folks who travel from one site to another, collaborative spaces that are causal and help people work together and get things done or dreamed up. No matter what you think you need, there’s probably a solution out there.