How to improve collaboration and communication through architecture
There’s a lot to be said about our working space and the way it has impact on the way we work, collaborate and produce high quality work. When looking up more about effective working spaces in offices there’s still a numerous amount of articles that encourage the landscape office.
Keep in mind that in this blog post will be about office spaces, not working spaces such as supermarkets, education, healthcare, etc. Although these areas need focus too.
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What is a landscape office
A landscape office is an open planwhere you have a direct overview of who is in the office. The concept focuses on creating aesthetically pleasing office arrangements where collaboration can thrive.
Multiply the image above by the amount of x more desks and you have a landscape office. The image above shows one of my own designs, very first draft when renovating an office. There are many things wrongly designed/ thought of in this office space.
Reasons why the isn’t a good design:
Dreadfully boring: no use of bright colors
Nothing is made personal
It doesn’t evoke collaboration
Some people have to go all around the table to get to their space
People cannot store their own documents, belongings,..
You basically want to run out of the office and never come back again
There were some thoughts to designing it like this though:
Huge landscape offices don’t work. In this place there is a small team of 6 people in the same room. This could work. If they are the same team.
There’s enough natural light coming in
There is some sort of divide which improves
Our behavior in landscape offices
Without going into depth of the history of landscape offices we can see that there are some differences between these types of offices designed in the 1950s and those in the early 2000s. Cubicles made room for our beloved “open plan offices” (i.e. landscape offices). Researcher Allison Arieff says the following :
Managers wanted to be part of the work force to be ‘one of them’. They got rid of their own office spaces and got rid of their chique furniture. It was time to be in the middle of where all the work was produced. Right in the middle of our open plan office.
In the new open plan offices there are no noisy typewriters like back in the 50s
But because of reintroducing the landscape office again we can see that it affects our way of working and our way of collaborating intensely.
The new open plan offices are so extremely quiet that the headphones become our new walls (referring to the cubicles in the 60s)
The utopian belief that spontaneous interactions would occur in this framework inherently clashes with reality: in-person communication dropped by 70%.
It’s awkward to ask someone a question when he/she has their headphones on
It is deathly quiet so if you would start talking, any one could hear
E-mails and Slack became the way to communicate.
Collaboration translated to architecture
A company cannot grow without collaboration. We wrongly assume that collaboration can only exist when bringing people together. It is the combination of coming together and working alone: it needs to fluctuate.
If we look at our offices we see that collaboration in teams occur in meetings and that those gatherings happen in enclosed spaces. But if we look at how meetings will evolve, we will see the following:
“Innovation, problem-solving, and co-creation often use agile approaches — for example, quick stand-up meetings which require visible, persistent content which can be hosted in open spaces, defined by flexible furniture, easy-to-access tech, and other design elements.”
We see that the way meetings will evolve contradicts with the prescribed space. We need more room than an enclosed meeting room to stimulate innovation and collaboration.
Next to gathering the right people, we also need to do individual work. This activity still happens in those open plan offices, but should be reconsidered. Besides that the landscape office decreased in-person communication, there’s also a lot to be said about being able to focus in such an area. Individual work should consist of the ability to go somewhere quiet: in separate office pods, small rooms, architecture that creates calmer atmospheres.
We can see that a major shift will happen in the following decade and that this shift already started! We need to reconfigure our surroundings to the way we are working. Our work can be divided in subtasks. Each subtask is performed better in different surroundings.
Our future collaborative offices
So how can a future potentially look like? Covid 19 taught us that, if needed, we can work remote. Numerous studies already show that productivity increased, but not for everyone. There’s no clear answer to if remote working is better or worse than working at the office, it is to say that it depends on our individual way of working.
Our office landscape (not landscape office!) will probably transform more to a hybrid workplace, where there will be an ebb and flow of people coming in and working remote.
Our work place will be the place to come together to collaborate and communicate. It will be an interesting challenge to not only rethink our working space, but also how to integrate remote work to find that life-work balance we are all so desperately looking for.
“A well-executed (hybrid) workplace can be a magnet that brings people together and helps us work better than ever before.”
Thank you for reading.
An open plan is recognized by a huge space usually with columns so that you can see most employees working. Desks are put together to get the most out of the space.