How Workplace Design is Changing to Foster More Meaningful Interactions

A hundred years ago, if you worked in an office, you would probably have been crammed into a large room, sitting side by side with your colleagues in endless rows of desks. Designed to maximize productivity, these offices made it easy for managers to oversee staff, but were terrible for morale.

By the 1960s, the offices had evolved into a cubicle layout, providing team members with small private spaces within a larger office space. These three-wall cubicles aimed to create a more personalized experience in the workplace, while allowing people to converse with their colleagues. Unfortunately, this had quite the opposite effect, siloing workers and discouraging interaction.

Today, as technology drives greater autonomy, the office exists to better serve the needs of team members as businesses increasingly realize the value of employee satisfaction.

“Business leaders are reinventing their use of physical office spaces and digital infrastructure in ways that allow them to meet employee preferences and compete for top talent,” says Eric Anicich, assistant professor of management. and organization at the University of Southern California.

Since the pandemic, which has resulted in flexible working arrangements, the function of the office has also changed to provide more experiences that we rarely encounter at home – connection, engagement and collaboration, all of which are key elements in creating a place inclusive work.

While designing for inclusion isn’t the easiest or quickest task, it’s certainly worth the effort for a variety of reasons. “At the team level, inclusive environments promote the exchange of a wide variety of perspectives and ideas, which can improve decision-making and creativity,” says Anicich.

Rethinking open space

The inclusive workplace is broadly defined as a place where all employees feel empowered to fully engage and thrive within the organization. In terms of design, business leaders can leverage the layout of offices, common areas, and entryways to foster interactions among team members from diverse backgrounds.

While an open-plan office design is often the strategy of choice to facilitate inclusion, results from a 2018 study at a Fortune 500 company found that 72% of employees spent less time interacting after moving from a closed space to an open space. office frame.

“At the team level, inclusive environments promote the exchange of a wide variety of perspectives and ideas, which can improve decision-making and creativity.” – Eric Anicich, assistant professor of management and organization, University of Southern California

“We’re learning that the open office did the exact opposite, causing people to isolate themselves from overwhelming distractions and communicate less,” says Sergio Lechuga, Design Principal for Interiors at HMC Architects.

“We need to challenge ourselves and our customers to rethink how we can provide choice and flexibility in a multitude of spaces and settings to foster the greatest collaboration and communication, while providing privacy. and areas of concentration,” says Lechuga.

The future workplace

One of the main ways companies can design for inclusion is to create spaces where people can meet their personal needs, which communicates to employees that the company they work for cares about the person in their entirety. together, not just its results.

“Companies that provide ‘non-work related’ spaces such as quiet rooms for meditation or prayer, nursing rooms for breastfeeding mothers, gender neutral restrooms, gym/yoga room with free equipment , or even a small outdoor garden space, are seen to be more concerned with the welfare and well-being of their employees, improving employee morale and ultimately financial growth,” says Lechuga. .

For Anette Bjerring Gammelgård of award-winning Scandinavian architecture firm AART Architects, the provision of shared facilities in the workplace is particularly appealing to younger generations, who are more spontaneous in the way they structure their time. She believes the future workplace will be more like a community where employees have access to the facilities they need to be able to thrive at work.

Along the same lines, Jennifer Herr, senior interior designer at US-based Eppstein Uhen Architects, encourages businesses to design a mixed-use office environment that caters to a variety of work and non-work activities. related to work.

“Removing or reducing physical barriers such as walls that divide or separate departments or areas, eliminating private offices, and creating opportunities such as shared collaboration areas or a common break room for Chance encounters help foster communication and collaboration. – Sergio Lechuga, Design Principal for Interiors, HMC Architects

“During the day, whatever your role, you might need two hours of headlong focus time, and then you might need to meet someone who would require a different kind of setting, like a meeting in a conference room,” she says.

“And then there’s the socializing aspect of things, where maybe you go to the break room and have a cup of coffee and you meet a colleague there and the two of you talk about your plans. for the weekend. And that’s also important because it actually helps build trust between employees.

Design for unexpected encounters

One of the greatest benefits of working in the office is the direct exchange of ideas that happens quite naturally throughout the day. For many of us, working remotely involves a very structured experience, even when using collaboration tools like Zoom.

Peter Ippolito, managing director of international design studio Ippolito Fleitz Group, believes that good office design should allow for planned and unplanned encounters, and should actually enhance those lucky moments.

“It’s like meeting people by chance and talking and suddenly there’s a new idea, isn’t it? It’s meeting someone in the hallway and having a little chat,” he said.

Whether you deliberately create more intersections, lounges, or cafeterias as informal touchpoints, it’s important for companies to align their office design with the culture of the company and its employees.

“Removing or reducing physical barriers such as walls that divide or separate departments or areas, eliminating private offices, and creating opportunities such as shared collaboration areas or a common break room for chance encounters help foster communication and collaboration,” says Lechuga.

Read next: Simple ways for leaders to create a productive, stress-free workplace

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