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Beth Thompson

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More spaces for solitude at work, not just collaboration.

Why is it that as interior designers, all we hear about these days iscreating collaboration in the workplace? I know all about the benefits, but watch Jason's video. Clearly workers need longer stretches of solitude to create and think, to be more productive. Heck, I need it! While we've been busy designing these open spaces with low screens, all along our clients have been telling us that they need quiet spaces for concentration (not just a phone room). I seems old school, but, are we really doing them a favour by taking away personal privacy?

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    Jan 2 2012: I've been reading the Steve Jobs biography and am struck by how much he enjoyed walking while thinking and conversing. I've always noticed that thoughts come to me while I'm brushing my teeth, while I'm driving, while I',m lying in bed half-awake.
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      Jan 3 2012: So true. Maybe original thinking can only happen when we change our environment. I get a better birds-eye perspective of life and work on a run.
      How can this make me a better workplace designer? Are they completely unrelated?
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        Jan 3 2012: There is a TEDtalk on the subject of the changing workplace that I can't find.... it suggests that the physical workplace is disolving because people are more productive in a fluid work environment. Technology has enabled people to both multitask and be productive in a variety of unconventional workplaces - especially from home. I think we are moving in that direction and that eventually the need for the traditional "workplace" will be greatly diminished. It will allow people to be more productive, save on overhead costs and produce happier people. I wish I could find that TEDtalk!!
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        Jan 3 2012: Btw, I completely agree with you that solitude is a valuable counterbalance to collaboration in our efforts to be productive in the workplace!
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    Dec 28 2011: I agree with you; your words 'Clearly workers need longer stretches of solitude to create and think, to be more productive' - to my mind, are very right. I've read an article about some scientists saying that open work spaces 'damage' our minds and simply do not get our brains concentrated.
    But is it not, in many cases, simply less expensive to create an open office rather than a room for each?.. That's probably the reason why 'open spaces' became so popular =] 'Collaboration' is more like a 'cover'.
  • Dec 31 2011: I would argue that, yes, it IS merely cheapness disguised as 'innovation'. On the other hand, I think it is job or industry dependant; I've worked in jobs where open space and common areas were far more productive than rigid, discrete spaces. I've also worked in jobs where we DID need closed off office spaces and privacy.
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      Jan 3 2012: Yes. Brokers and lawyers are not interested in sharing information with those around them.
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    Dec 31 2011: There are multiple things which goes in designing of the office. The companiies, vision, mission, attitude towards its workers, etc.

    I have seen few films of the best companies to work with and working in google seems to get the highest rating. It comes down to the point that every one requires his/ her own space. It is true that more creative juices are created in solitutde than if you in open spaces.

    On a lighter note it would be a delibrate effort by companies to create fewer cabins and more open spaces for making everyone strive to work hard and get in those cabins :)
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      Jan 3 2012: Many ideas and thoughts also come from osmosis- obsorbing or listening to other conversations around us. Openness in an office setting facilitates this.
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    Dec 29 2011: Thanks for those thoughts, Parris. Did you find you were actually more produtive in an enclosed office?
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    Dec 29 2011: 1. Why is it that as interior designers, all we hear about these days iscreating collaboration in the workplace?

    Businesses want to be more productive, and their approach to that is making the office space more personalble for people. That sounds great on paper and for mission statements, but unfortuantly it turns out to be more of a negative than positive.

    2. I seems old school, but, are we really doing them a favour by taking away personal privacy?

    This is a interesting topic. I think that taking away a persons privacy would be a negative and potentially reflect negatively in their work on a daily basis. Speaking from personal experience, I worked in a office cubicle for a few years and initially it was terrible but it eventually grew on me, I adapted. Fortunately for me, that did not last, as I was eventually given an office. Now I can say that I truly understand the jealousy behind the "office" phenomonon and desire to be in that position. Its much better, giving the comfort needed to work. I believe peoples thoughts turn negatively first toward "cubicles" or Open spaces" to work, you just have to do the best you can to create workarounds.
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    Dec 29 2011: Oh...not sure what happened there...
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    Dec 28 2011: Thanks for your input, Gisela. Another point- demolishing walls to create movable systems furnishings partitions seems good in the long run sustainably, but it still involves sending a lot of material to the landfill during construction.

    I like your idea of an open lunchroom- an area that is non-work designated social sharing.
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      Dec 28 2011: The other problem is that in trading existing structures and furnishings for new they are often creating an environment full of volatile organic compounds from new carpeting, paint, etc. What was there may not have been great either, but with age the outgassing process would have diminished, and they're just starting it all up all over. :/
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        Dec 28 2011: Yes, but thankfully offgassing is almost a thing of the past in interior construction. Standards have become higher throughout the chain of specification and supply- from the landlords and designers to the carpet and paint manufacturers- it's hard to get away with installing toxic materials. Maybe we're all finally changing our ways. I've been the most impressed with the major carpet tile companies, like Interface and Shaw. Still miles to go.
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    Dec 28 2011: The situation is more complex than this. Often workplaces take DOWN perfectly good walls because they've been sold that the open plan increases natural light, air circulation, and communication.

    But the reality is that cubicles disrupt flow time, through increased background noise and distractions, and lost privacy (this latter can be a big indicator of workplace culture - if you have a cut-throat environment people want to know that what they are working on is safe until thy are ready to present it).

    The solution is a hybrid - and bringing back features that employers view as time-wasters - the water cooler, open lunch areas, etc. spaces where people select to congregate and share ideas without sacrificing flow time.
  • Dec 28 2011: I would agree that it is a cover for being cheap.
  • Dec 28 2011: I like my office and couldn't imagine working in a cubicle, that would be distracting. In my office I hang my photographs and paintings, I have some of my antiques, it's like home. Others are comfortable in my office also if we need to collaborate we meet my office where it's comfortable. If I want solitude all I have to do is close my door.
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      Dec 28 2011: Yes, that's what I seem to hear over and over from clients. There is also a sense of identity in having your own office space, rather than a workstation where there is little opportunity to make it 'yours'. There are ways, however, of creating personality and a neighbourhood feeling if it is designed well.

      There is an interesting balance between giving employers an opportunity to express a corporate culture or brand (like Google) within an office space, and letting people feel like it is their own personal space by displaying personal items.