When we think productivity, we rarely think of workplace design as a major contributor or detractor, but compelling ongoing research shows that it plays a much larger role than initially thought. According to research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, an empowered office environment can increase worker productivity on cognitive tasks by 25%, and possibly more.
Workspace design today is undergoing a major creative shift. We've gone from cubicles (people are productive in isolation) to open-plan spaces (collaboration leads to success) to what I believe is the next major step - integrated multi-function design which recognizes that people need multiple spaces based on their ongoing and changing needs within a business day.
Instead of looking out across rows of cubicles, today's office worker needs a mix of team meeting rooms, open lounge-like areas, and private workspaces.
This is the "empowered office" - an office in which workers can choose their work environment. It's a design concept that's gaining traction - and not only because it creates more pleasant workspaces. It also has a powerful influence on worker productivity.
Great office design isn't just for startups anymore
Major tech companies and Silicon Valley startups were among the first to embrace the concept of the empowered office. The New York Times recently highlighted Microsoft for its forward-thinking office designs, which incorporate everything from "isolation rooms," or soundproof private spaces, to comfy central lounges with large tables and couches.
What's really exciting, however, is that this way of thinking about space - specifically, about the ways that spaces influence behavior - is becoming more mainstream.
"The great thing we are seeing, as far as transformative spaces in the workplace, is that these principles are being adopted across all disciplines - all fields and industries," says Architectural Designer Jared Skinner, co-founder at MADE Design. "Companies are realizing that these best practices are bolstering not only creative collaboration - often seen as a soft skill, but productivity and results. It's impacting the bottom line."
Striking the perfect balance between privacy and collaboration
When it comes to progressive, transformative workspaces. some of the most successful companies have been the ones that aren't afraid to experiment.
At Microsoft, for example, designers began testing open team workspaces in one specific area in one building. Through experimentation, they learned that the spaces they'd started with were too open - they were built for 16 to 24 software engineers, and those who worked in them found them to be too loud and distracting.
Working with that knowledge, Microsoft then adjusted those team spaces till they held just 8 to 12 engineers, which the company - and more importantly, the employees - believe to be ideal.
To achieve higher productivity, then, companies must embrace the need for creativity and flexibility. They must allow themselves to try out new configurations and change them as needed, adding in more private spaces, perhaps, or bringing in standing desks, or creating smaller collaborative work stations.
Workspace design must embrace our digital, connected reality
Just as today's consumers are constantly connected, so are today's workers. What's more, they're mobile - work no longer has to be tied to a desk or an office.
When designing workspaces, it's crucial to take these realities into account. But it takes more than an espresso machine or a pingpong table to make your workspace truly progressive, and thereby productive. If you're not baking the principles of empowerment, connectedness, and mobility into your office design at its most basic level, then you can easily end up with a workspace that feels gimmicky and disingenuous.
That's not to mention that you won't be reaping the real productivity benefits of empowered office design.
Integrated design is a must for attracting talent - especially among Millennials and Gen Z
Millennials and members of Generation Z take connectivity for granted in their workspaces, so companies that want to truly stay ahead of the pack must go further.
We need to create designs that engage members of these generations. This isn't the old model of engagement, either - Millennials and Gen Zers have a completely unique approach to engaging with spaces that's based on more than just technology. To be successful, companies must keep these new sensibilities in mind as they design or renovate their workspaces.
This shift in workplace design is both responding to and influencing the new ways we're defining work in the digital age. It's an incredibly exciting time to be working at the intersection of design and branding, as we do at MADE.
To quote my co-founder, Jared Skinner, once more: "We're living in an evolve-or-die day and age. Smart companies are being proactive and taking initiative to welcome this much-needed change."