Lockdown fatigue, increased feelings of isolation and an overall decrease in happiness are proving that a pure work from home model is not sustainable. There has been a significant negative impact on mental and family health, and the absence of a beginning and end to the workday means anxiety levels are extremely high.
Whilst it is true that there is no time like the present to make a change, we were unexpectedly flung into “the work from home” environment en masse in 2020. This gave us limited time to rise to the challenge of using our available resources to properly consider the design of our spaces and how it supports our mental and functional health. Now the question is, how can we proactively address the human needs of our workforce whilst they work from home and facilitate productivity?
Kim’s unique approach that uses human behaviorism as a guiding principle makes her uniquely qualified to advise us on how the work world is set to evolve and provides us with her top insights.
Innovations in the Property Market
We are going to see innovation in the kinds of properties emerging into the market. New ideas such as apartment blocks that include work hubs, that walk the line between office and internet café environments, are already popular. These spaces will likely incorporate pods to create space for focused work and private meetings. Seating in our new spaces will be more spread out than before and attention will need to be paid to creating space that encourages creative collaboration.
Colour in our new spaces will be used to create a sense of stimulation and as a softer way of segregating spacing. I believe in zoning particularly for offices, as moving physically into different areas as you move from task to task trains your brain to associate a certain space with the work you do there and this helps you manage energy. In a professional space, it is important to consider the company’s corporate identity and how your colours will feel in the space when you are working on your brand. Bright stimulating colours and sharp lines work well for meetings. Softer colours like green and pastels are great for concentration in areas where you have to do intensive tasks or work on your own.
Designing spaces that are adaptable is the future and the use of flexible furniture like high desks that can change levels is a giant leap forward for the workspace. Being able to change your experience of sitting at varying levels, desks or seats can help invigorate your thought process. Remember, not all seating needs to be at the same level particularly if you are discussing creative topics. Sitting at varying levels can stimulate us as it changes our perspective. Seating can also be used to manage time.
In my workspace, I use a round table for my meeting areas with ottomans as people seem to have shorter meetings on slightly less relaxing chairs. That said, comfortable seating in spaces dedicated to focused work is also imperative and I have comfortable chairs if I’m sitting at the round table doing writing work.
I also have a comfortable chair in another space within the office for reflection and I have my actual workstation with my proper ergonomic chair for work that requires long focused periods.
The Home Office
As companies downscale the size of their rental contracts, many are helping their employees set up a home work environment that supports their mental health and therefore their capacity to complete excellent work. We have seen the emergence of a campus-like vibe for many individual companies but I think the concept will expand to include communities of professionals co-working for different companies in many facilities. The requirements of the space will still include bringing people together in larger spaces because that element of how you build and connect people is fundamental in all work environments.
The Physical Impact of Space
We fundamentally experience a space both physically and psychologically, so you need to be aware of environmental factors like temperature, light and the sun. The more sun there is the more comfortable people get which can lead to increased feelings of lethargy. Insufficient sun on the other hand can lead to a cold and clinical environment. Again, adaptability here is your friend and considering solutions that allow you to change the space, such as blinds and air conditioning, is very important when budgeting to design a space.
The Psychological Impact of Space
We are complex beings that are affected by all of the stimuli around us, including the shape and line of objects. When we see sharp angular shapes and jagged lines, we physically react by becoming hyper-alert and defensive. I like to use a lot of soft lines in offices because they bring down our defence mechanisms. I also use elements that will make the space feel more comfortable than office-like, as a beautiful aesthetic has been proven to increase productivity.
Pause Areas are Essential
Pause areas where people can relax, revive and eat are essential, but just as important is their size. If they are too big people simply tend to avoid them. If they are too small they will get cramped, overcrowded and no longer be compliant with Covid regulations. Outdoor seating and spaces are very important for being able to refresh yourself in your day and make great pause areas for a quick coffee and a bite.
Understand the Organisation
Great design all starts with understanding the purpose of an organisation, what they want to achieve, what the customer experience they want to create is and what their corporate identity is. Only once you understand the personality of the organisation can you incorporate it into your design and align it with their CSI. In commercial design, I give the organisation an experience for the people who work there, and their customers, that sets up the guideline of how they need to engage with the organisation. The project we are working on now is in a medical environment and we want to create a spa-like relaxed environment that people want to come to rather than put off having treatment.
Understand the Workflow
The most successful collaborative teams have a diverse range of personalities, ages, skill levels and cultures and managing diversity is essential. It’s very important to understand the company’s values, objectives and workflow to successfully design the environment that facilitates the workflow of the business. You design around the value system versus designing around the people. If you are an organisation that is focused on innovation, teamwork and fun then those become aspects that I will design to facilitate. I will create spaces for innovative thinking that bring people together and that encourage play and creativity.
Sociocultural understanding of the people that make up the organisation is imperative if you are going to bring elements that make the environment welcoming by evoking nostalgia. It can be a colour, specific pattern, a pop-culture image, music or pieces of furniture as long as it is intentional it can bind people. A lot of the design is about managing culture, and design does impact culture because when you design a professional space, you build a common value system and it is the value system of what people believe in that connects them over age, skill, race, or gender.
Enable Versus Disable Behaviour
When you design a space, you are there to facilitate people, not to police them. And the design should make the actions you desire of them easier. If someone’s screen time is up, or someone needs to focus more on what they are doing – where they want to put their energy is their decision. Your job as a designer is to make sure you provide a space for all their professional environmental needs. I think accessibility to facilitate the different types of focus required is far better for productivity than policing ever could be.
A well-designed workspace improves productivity, your mental state and well being and generally enables performance. It is important to understand that our workspaces do define our behaviour and that in a physical space you are ingraining certain behaviours. They have the power to heal us, empower us, inspire us. They have the power to do the opposite. They can drain us, and make us feel despondent and weigh our energy down.
For more Insights from Kim Williams, sign-up for her blog at www.kimwilliams.co.za or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @kim_williams_design.