When I first saw the new work space we may be renting, my eyes lit up and my brain started strategizing in full gear. As if a film reel starting rolling before my eyes, I could instantly see all the possibilities for this new space. The nice wide frame and flooring, exposed brick wall, and open window concept instantly appealed to me as the right environment for the work I enjoy doing most. It is amazing how much your workspace influences the kind of work you do but also the quality of work that you do. We are living in an age where many offices are moving to the open concept office to encourage more collaboration. Steve Jobs was famous for using this concept in his design of Pixar’s headquarters and later repeating this design with Apple. However, while the basic encouragement of collaboration is of course a good thing, this isn’t a “one size fits all” model. I believe that it is extremely important that you first come to an understanding of what kind of work environment works best for you and then within your power, try to build that environment.
If you are looking to design more collaborative spaces in your office, it is important to understand whether or not good conversation will take place in those spaces. Take, for example, the contrasting work environments I work in. At Whittaker Associates, when Dean Whittaker and I are in the office at the same time and we run into each other, the conversation very quickly becomes a brainstorming session and sharing of ideas. This ultimately, I believe, is to the benefit of the company. Contrastingly, at another organization I work with, much of the collaborative space becomes filled with your typical “water-cooler” conversation. Discussion of family, weekends, and the weather largely becomes the focus of time spent with co-workers. Of course it is important to develop these more warm relationships with co-workers, but if this is the bulk of conversation that takes place, you are not helping to move your organization forward. Therefore, at this organization, because I know this is the culture, my most meaningful work is typically done away from the crowd where I can be more secluded and do better work.
If you know that a view out your window improves you attitude, and therefore, your production, think of ways to work differently so that this is the case. If you can focus better with headphones on, try implementing it into your day (but also take the time to explain to co-workers why you are doing this). If you spend half your day crossing the hall to knock on a co-workers door to discuss work, brainstorm what a more collaborative space might look like. I am struck by how many people tell me about constant interruptions they receive during the day either from email or people stopping by their office. This is to be expected, but you can change the expectations of others. Only check your email 3 times a day, block off hours where you are to work in your office and not be interrupted (and share this with your co-workers), but also create times where there is time for free conversation. The issue of changing work environments brings to mind for me the movement of individuals working from home. While this very well may be a viable solution, this also is not for everybody. If you are a parent of three children and expect to work from home while the kids are home, good luck! You are better off being interrupted by co-workers all day long. However, if you find that you can focus better at a home office, test it out. The important thing to remember in all of this is to find out what works for you.
I am still in design mode for what we are calling “Whittaker East,” but have high hopes for the work environment that this will become. If your are interested in reading more about the importance of design in the workplace, read the chapter titled, “The Set Designer” from Tom Kelley’s book The 10 Faces of Innovation.