The Guardian recently published an article exploring the idea that better office spaces have the potential to increase productivity and make employees happier. It is based on research from Warwick Business School, which argues that there is a direct correlation between our daily environments and our well-being. This concept has, in the recent past, been actively advocated by some of the world’s top tech firms. It is unsurprising that executives and chiefs are keen to increase employee well-being because, naturally, when workers are happy, productivity levels and the quality of work generated tend to improve.
It was Steve Jobs who, famously, restructured the offices at Pixar. Whereas workers from different departments were initially placed in separate buildings (animators in one building, computer scientists in another), Jobs felt that in order to get the absolute best from employees, there needed to be constant interaction between them. The idea was that colleagues can learn from one another, potentially increasing creativity as well as fostering a sense of teamwork. Forcing employees to ‘collide’ with one another throughout the working day encourages them to exchange ideas.
This notion of ‘colliding’ is just one modern method of office design. A popular adherent is Second Home, a company which offers co-working, unorthodox office spaces to creative companies, teams or individuals, and which quotes Winston Churchill on its website: “First we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
Second Home encourages collisions with its almost completely transparent design. There appears to be an absence of walls or dividers between offices, making it possible for everybody to see everything. It is supposed to be inviting, so if a person sees someone they want to speak to, they will. You could say that this represents a loss of privacy, and this, understandably, does not appeal to everyone.
While some may argue that the advent of technology in the workplace has increased isolation, co-founder Rohan Silva disagrees, telling the Guardian, “good things happen when people collide. People say technology has made the world more flat. In fact, it’s getting more lumpy. Clustering is more and more important. It’s to do with the speed of innovation, and the fact that ideas spread so quickly.” (Take a look at Second Home’s office space here: http://secondhome.io/gallery/).
One of the most popular office designs across the business world is that of Google – so original in fact, that plans for the new headquarters in London were delayed by its co-founder, Larry Page, after he thought the design was “too boring”. The multinational technology company recently won planning permission by Camden Council to build an eleven story building, and Google said they plan to spend £1 billion on it.
Its main concept for office design is play, so some employees have Lego play stations; there are ladders that connect floors, which stand as alternatives to the elevator and stairs; there are treadmills so people can walk while they work; and employees scribble their ideas on walls. Engineers are even allowed to design their own desk spaces, and some choose to stand. A rule many would be happy with is their ‘150 feet from food’ rule, which ensures snacks are always close at hand. And since each floor covers five acres, those Razor scooters prove to be extremely useful.
But co-author of the “The Progress Principle” and business administration professor at Harvard Business School, Teresa Amabile, maintains that although she personally is impressed by Google’s workspace, there is very little research which proves their theories are correct. Rather than giving credit to office design for improving productivity and creativity, Amabile states: “In over 30 years of research, I’ve found that people do their most creative work when they’re motivated by the work itself.”