Business

Live The Office (Remodeled)


Last month I went to the office for the first time in over a year. It was a pleasure seeing colleagues and heresy I don’t prepare my lunch. But after a while, I wanted to go home again – because I had to get some work done.

Office buildings are designed so that people work in them. Nor were the hastily constructed home “offices” (my small desk in the corner of the bedroom) either. However, I don’t think I’m the only one finding that I can do some elements of my job more effectively from home – a fact that tells us something important about 21st century office design.

I am not a refuser office. Actually, I’m impressed. over there Lots of evidence To show how important it is to meet colleagues face to face. Without the office, we don’t bump into colleagues we haven’t seen in a while when making a cup of tea, or listening to conversations that spark new ideas or plans for collaboration. I realize that I miss my colleagues with whom I did not work directly.

Research indicates There is value in these “weak bonds” – relationships between people who don’t work closely together but who still get to know each other over time. awkwardly trying to recreate moments like this during lockdown (one Request Posting questions in Slack to encourage “coincidence” conversations like, “What movie can you quote the most?”) just shows how impossible it is to force it.

Over the past few decades, offices have been redesigned with the value of interaction in mind. The walls of the cabin fell steadily. Finally, they completely disappeared in favor of large open spaces. The idea To promote transparency, innovation and communication. It was also a great way to save money by grouping people together more tightly. data From the British Office Council that the average area per workstation has decreased since 2008

But in pursuit of more interactive spaces, we have lost sight of how the human brain actually works. Search Offers Noise volumes in open offices can cause elevated levels of adrenaline, the hormone that helps us fight, run, or freeze, rather than focus on our work. Hearing “halfversations“When colleagues are on the phone, they can be Distraction Because our brains are trying to fill the other half.

Not having any private space in many offices makes us uncomfortable very. Lena Neholm and Mia Oren, Swedish interior designer Strategists Who want to introduce neuroscience into office design, say even decor matters. Our brains respond best to blue and green, says Niholm, because it involves a fertile landscape with plenty of food. But many offices have white walls, black chairs, hard edges, and a few plants. “When we look with our eyes at the workplace, it feels like winter – the brain is tense, there is no food here, there is no warmth.”

In fact, open office problems may undermine the very benefits they were meant to provide. Ethan Bernstein, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, studied two large American companies that switched to open-plan designs. Use wearable trackers and email data to measure how worker interactions are changing. In both cases, the volume of face-to-face interaction decreased significantly, while email and instant messaging increased.

“Instead of stimulating increasingly direct, face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appears to lead to a natural human response to social withdrawal,” he concluded. in another place a study, found that intermittent rather than continuous social influence produced the best performance among people trying to solve problems together.

The pandemic gives us a chance for a fresh start. We need to get together, collaborate, shoot and enjoy the bustle, but many of us also need to get into quiet corners to do some elements of our jobs well. It will probably take some trial and error to find the right balance.

Matthew Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Leeds who studies post-Covid office design, says some employers are turning their offices into flexible “collaboration” spaces on the assumption that people will do their focused office work at home. He says employers ask themselves, “How do we get the space to encourage more chance encounters, and more social activity?”

It’s too early to tell if this will work in practice. Would it be strange to put a “conversations in the office” box in one’s diary? Davis also warns that these new social office designs can “unintentionally exclude” some employees if they don’t have the space to work at home.

Still, employers are right to experiment. The office is not dead yet. If we admit her weaknesses and play to her strengths, she may get a whole new lease on life.

sarah.oconnor@ft.com





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