Patrick Stennett, Head of Interiors at Commercial Group discusses how the the ‘death of the desk’ in the office could unlock better productivity, creativity, and collaboration as well as how barriers to this newer way of working might be managed and overcome.
‘Monday to Friday, 9-to-5’ is now an archaic concept for many organisations. The digital age has spurred a rapid evolution in how, when and where people work. Catching up with emails at home over breakfast or dialling in to a meeting remotely have become standard practice. There is a growing appetite for, and acceptance of, more agile working.
What does this mean for the office? Progressive employers are beginning to question the effectiveness of high density open-plan layouts. As technologies enabling remote working become more advanced, the one-desk-per-employee ratio becomes less relevant. What’s more, while open-plan offices were intended to foster collaboration and transparency, many find them oppressive and disruptive. Research has shown they also have a negative impact on employee wellbeing and productivity.
One size doesn’t fit all
The question is not so much whether to go for open-plan or closed-plan, as how to create an environment that fosters essential employee attributes. Clearly, employee wellbeing is always a top priority. But factors such as creativity, collaboration and productivity may vary between industries and individual job roles.
The best way to determine baseline office requirements is to audit employee behaviour. Monitor activity over a typical day or week, taking note of factors such as: the number of people in the office at a given time, how much focused desk work takes place, the number of formal meetings or informal group discussions, time spent communicating with colleagues or customers on the phone or via Skype.
Most office workers fall into one of four categories:
Architects work collaboratively in groups. While they may not need a personal desk, they do require tailored work zones.
Planners are highly mobile, working collaboratively across multiple disciplines on a project basis.
Nomads can work anywhere via mobile technology, but come to the office to connect with people and maintain visibility.
Residents are task and process driven. They require dedicated work stations with personal storage and fixed equipment.
Understanding and segmenting the workforce in this way provides a cornerstone for an effective office environment. People’s needs vary, so it’s important to create spaces that energise and inspire different types of worker.
The living office
As more millennials join the workforce, and technologies continue to evolve, the concept of a dedicated personal desk becomes less relevant.
The challenge for employers is providing an effective mix of workspace types, with the flexibility to adapt over time. A balance needs to be struck between the needs of ‘my space’ workers who are more comfortable and productive with a dedicated desk and ‘our place’ workers who prefer to switch between work zones. Catering to these needs is essential to attract and retain the best employees, maximise their wellbeing and boost organisational performance.
The desk is not dead. But it does need to be culled to make room for different types of workspace that foster creativity, efficiency and productivity in the digital age.