Blurred Lines — Why ‘Homey’ Office Design Is On The Rise
Work culture is changing. The combination of new technologies, health concerns and a generation who don’t ‘live to work’ are blurring the lines between office and home life. In a bid to keep up with the changes in tech, health and employee happiness, commercial spaces are going for a more residential, homey design. Today, ‘hot office appeal’ is a human-centric home away from home. Workspaces, are competing with cafes and people’s actual places of residence. Design needs to work hard to contend with that and make the option of going into the office irresistible. The answer is the ‘liveable office’.
Let’s Set The Scene
Imagine a 30-something, urban-based employee. We’ll call her Sarah. Upon arrival she checks in using the touch screen floorplan and while her work station buzzes to life she pops over to the secured smart lockers to grab out her laptop and put her bag away.
Looking at Sarah’s workspace, it’s a multi-desk co-working area that allows her to easily kick ideas around with her colleagues. When it’s time for a break, she pops up to the fully-functioning kitchen (that’s better equipped than her one at home) and grabs a healthy ready-meal from the well-stocked fridge. Once cooked, Sarah joins other colleagues at the communal dining tables.
When she’s done, she heads to a brainstorming session that’s been booked in the ‘lounge room’, so called because it’s decked out with sofas and modern wingbacks. But it’s defining feature is the large whiteboard wall which she and her managers use to jot down ideas.
After her meeting, Sarah heads to a quiet booth in the office to write up her notes. She fires off a few more emails, locks her stuff in the smart locker and then takes an hour to work out in the dedicated fitness space. Before returning to her desk she hits the showers. As the clock ticks round to 5:45pm, a few of her colleagues are heading back up to the kitchen to grab a beer or glass of wine on the office garden balcony. She joins them and, because she’s decided to work late, she grabs dinner at the office too. It’s well into the evening by the time she gets to her actual home, but that’s OK. Apart from sticking on a load of washing and checking her Slack channel before bed, she’s managed to get everything done today that she wanted.
Reasons For The Rise In The Liveable Office Trend
Even though hypothetical, Sarah’s day will probably sound familiar. This is what the modern workforce are coming to expect from their place of work. And there’s good reason for it. Realistically, the average number of hours a UK employee works per week is around 40. That’s a large chunk of time. And if we’re honest, it’s probably more than that. It’s so easy these days for people to check work-related communications on a device outside the office walls. Before they know it they’ve racked up another few hours, adding to the 9,024 hours of unpaid overtime that Britons clock over their career. It’s a fair assumption that the rise in flexible technology to better facilitate remote working may well be the catalyst for the liveable office trend.
Employees Can Work From Anywhere
When faced with the choice of working in the office or working from home (WFH), the temptation is to work remotely. Doing so removes the need to commute; distractions are fewer, and other tasks can be woven into the day like appointments or exercise. The flexibility provided by technology means there are very few things the workforce can do in the office that they couldn’t just as easily complete when WFH.
Although remote working has its benefits for the employee, it can be detrimental to a company’s productivity. Take Yahoo as an example. Back in 2013, a leaked memo from former Yahoo chief Marissa Meyer told the company’s 14,500 staff that remote work was being banned. Her justification, according to the memo:
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
Certainly, the collaboration aspect of an office environment can’t be achieved when working solo at home. But how to tempt people back so they feel like they’re getting the same benefits of WFH, but in the office? The answer is that contemporary commercial premises should facilitate both ‘me-time’ and spaces for collaboration. Everyone works differently and how they work can be dictated by the tasks they need to complete. Successful homey office spaces facilitate this. They should give employees the option of both traditional office and less office-like environments so they can be at their most productive in the setting that best suits them. As Gordon Wright of global design firm HOK explained to qz.com,
“Let’s give them places where if they want to curl up on [the] sofa and do email for half an hour, that’s acceptable.”
Indeed, if home can be flexible in terms of balancing work and life, then why couldn’t the office be that too? Cue the comfortable sofas, fully stocked kitchens and dedicated exercise areas which satisfies the very real problem of how to remain healthy and active at work.
Health Is Important
Another big reason for the rise in the liveable office trend is our understanding of how office work can negatively impact health. Both physically and mentally.
The risks of sitting for too long and remaining sedentary have been thoroughly studied. Recent research from the Australian National University revealed that working more than 39 hours a week can be a risk to wellbeing. That’s a problem when, as we know, the average working week for a Brit is around the 40-hour mark.
Responsibility for work place health tends to fall to Human Resource (HR) departments. A common response is to seek ergonomic office furniture that helps employees fit activity into their day, easily. A relatable example is the evolution of the desk. Knowing that sitting at a desk for too long has negative health impacts has made it clear that one desk size certainly doesn’t fit all. HR personal may struggle to find the correct desk for short and tall people, as well as those who have musculoskeletal conditions or require the use of a wheelchair.
To fit with this liveable workspace culture change, items like adjustable desks have become important workplace furniture assets. They at least give employees the opportunity to move away from their chair and stretch their body when they choose. Little touches like this enables any employee to adjust their environment to their personal circumstances and get on with their job, allowing HR to focus on other things.
Of course, there are companies who take this whole idea further. One Austrian based office has adopted the idea of liveability into their design so much, that they’ve got climbing walls, a swimming pool and a garden for employees to maintain and tend. All are there to stimulate activity for both body and mind. While that’s potentially an expensive option, having different office areas or zones that allow the workforce to move around, hot-desk and enjoy a change of scenery can facilitate the liveable office trend.
A Workforce Who Want Experiences
Currently, the UK workforce is a mixed bunch. It includes Baby Boomers who are nearing retirement, Gen X and Millennials. It’s this last group that Deloitte believes will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Should this predication come true (very likely) then business needs to take it seriously that Millennials don’t just want ‘a job’. They want a positive work-life balance and companies who can provide experiences as well as pay cheques.
Homey Offices Equals More Attractive Prospects
When it comes to companies who are providing a growing Millennial workforce with that work-life balance, one of the distinctive traits is office design reflecting company culture.
Liveable offices have become synonymous with trendy tech companies like Facebook and Google. The connotations attached to a liveable office design are those of forward thinking companies who understand that a successful business should be flexible, have a genuine purpose, and are committed to improving society.
More and more companies are choosing to demonstrate that they understand the importance of these values by adopting the liveable workspace trend. To get a flavour of how popular it’s becoming, take a look at Tech Crunch’s MTV Cribs style video series. Each episode showcases the many innovative ways start-up and established companies are putting the homey office trend into practise and the benefits their companies are reaping from it. Like attracting top new talent, developing the skills of existing employees, and seeing an increase in productivity. It’s a design trend that has the potential to be a win-win for everyone.
The Practicalities Of Adopting Liveable Workspace Design
Of course, from an architectural and office design point of view, the challenge now is not just considering the structural aspects. But how these spaces can best support these new business cultures. There are of course the big gestures, as we’ve seen. But for companies wanting to adopt the liveable workspace trend in more subtle ways, establishing an agile hot-desking environment and using modern office furniture can represent the values of a flexible workplace that balances that work-life ratio.
Are you currently working on a homey office project?
If so we’d enjoy hearing how you’ve adopted this trend into the brief. Is there any modern office furniture you’ve found works perfectly for the homey office feel? Let us know by sending a message to us on LinkedIn or tweet us.
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