The hybrid workplace is here to stay and positive human experience is key to making that work for businesses. How then can property developers and building owners incorporate features in their office design that cultivate inclusiveness and cater to the diverse individual needs of their employees? The answer to this lies in creating cleverly-designed workplaces that perfectly combine personal and professional human experience.
Why is Human Centred Office Design Important?
If we try to recall the best restaurant we visited and picture it in our heads, we’ll likely remember details about the surroundings, the smells, who we were with and at what time in our life that was. It may not have been the best food that we’ve ever tasted but it’s the way that the overall atmosphere made us feel that impacts how we remember that experience later and how likely we are to return.
This is the concept that can be brought into office design too - great design should be less focused on the output (the work) and more concerned with creating experiences that make the process of getting there more immersive and engaging on a personally curated level.
Although, as mentioned, the output and the physical space itself are somewhat secondary to human focused office design, they’re also unquestionably linked. Developing spaces that resonate and make employees happier makes for a more creative and productive workforce and this will generate long-term financial gain for businesses in all sectors.
Offices can no longer serve a single-purpose as four walls and a desk for employees to work from for five days a week. Business owners need to recognize the blurring of lines between life and work, empowering employees with innovative workspaces and putting more emphasis on health and wellness; over 61% of employees stated employers’ commitment to their health and wellness would be the top factor in their retention according to a recent survey by Mercer Canada.
Components of Human Centred Workplaces
The new office needs to cater to each employee’s unique style and personality, giving them a level of control and autonomy over the way they work in the office environment. Depending on the nature of the business, employers might want to consider a number of ‘zones’ to accommodate different tasks alongside more general features that are widely accepted as enhancing experience.
Active areas enable employees to get up and move around as they’ve been able to whilst working from home, where social sections allow for the informal sharing of ideas over a coffee and soundproofed solo offices are a way to focus on a project requiring complete attention without interruption.
Humans are innately drawn to light and nature too so many of the best examples of modern office design combine more enclosed, private areas towards the centre of the space with big windows and lots of natural light coming in around the perimeter. They also try and bring some of the outdoors into the office, like in the new San Francisco headquarters of Uber where they positioned the wellness centre on the eighth floor, opening out onto a roof terrace to give visitors the feeling of being in a treehouse. Not only has the building been developed to encourage vibrant life in the surrounding community, therefore enhancing human experience for the neighborhood, its sustainability features including its active facades mean it’s on track to achieve gold level LEED certification.
Source: Shoparc.com. Accessed: 22.03.2022.
The Uber building was developed on the basis that no one should feel that any part of the office is off-limits because they don’t recognize themselves as part of that ‘club’. Their architects suggested it was more about incorporating subtleties that were inclusive to all rather than showy features which only few could enjoy. Many other examples of fantastic office design are coming to fruition with similar ideologies around human experience and creating spaces for diversity.
Innovative office product and services company Steelcase have implemented many of the principles of human-focused design at their own HQ in Michigan. Interestingly, their 2021 research into what employees want from the office is primarily a home within the office; somewhere where they can work either alone or collaboratively on video calls for example, without disturbing others. The research highlights an important point in that work weeks cannot be neatly separated into collaborative and non-collaborative work and so an office needs to provide space with the same comfort and privacy as you’d have at home.
Steelcase Office Solutions inc. Boundary Tents, Marien 152 collection, Flex Mobile Power and Hosu Lounge Seating.
Steelcase work tents in use at their Grand Rapids location.
Bringing Office Design Home
The pandemic has brought employee retention to the forefront of business’ challenges. Lots of those issues that were bubbling under the surface prior to 2020 - women juggling childcare, cost and time taken commuting, work-life balance and accessing quality healthcare during the week, have been mostly resolved by remote work. Whilst many employees do want to reconnect with colleagues part-time and feel less isolated, it’s difficult to argue with the many benefits work at home has offered. Possibly the biggest single change for any employee is that there is now less separation between life and work than ever and workplaces need to evolve to reflect this.
Business owners and management must really get to grips with the needs and emotions of their returning employees and ensure their needs are covered by the office design, layout and sensory features. In an existing space there are lots of simple measures that can be taken to enhance employee experience; providing sit-stand workstations that are ergonomically configured, soft furnishings and tactile blankets that make ‘colder’ bodies feel warmer in winter and onsite fitness activities combined with a range of complimentary healthy foods. The careful use of color and exposure to natural daylight are thought to be the most important factors in workplace design. Bright colors can be used to stimulate energy and creativity in social spaces and more neutral colors for concentration in calmer, focused areas. Giving employees sightlines to outdoor space and natural light in the workspace is considered a prerequisite to sleep and quality of life and is crucial for office workers' health and wellness.
Those that can and want to go a step further can assist their employees in creating a space at home that also works for them, maybe through a home office allowance or access to consultants to assist in setting up an ideal workspace. The human centred office design must start with and finish with understanding human nature, something that perhaps hasn’t been in the nature of employers before now.