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Exploring how office design is transforming to be more like our homes...

On average we spend 40 hours a week at work, 15 hours commuting, 49 hours sleeping and only 64 hours consciously enjoying our homes and personal lives. This means we spend more than half of our week either in the office, getting to it or asleep. This has led to the interior design of our offices to shift in trends and begin to lean towards feeling more homely, with many décor choices or accessory installations giving the workforce their ‘creature comforts’ while at the office. The question is – does this make the workforce more productive with their comforts or just ‘too comfortable’…?

Firstly, looking at an item that in many homes (not my own) is a focal point, the television. Commonly this was restricted to reception areas playing BBC News or in meeting rooms for use with AV equipment, however, it is now being placed more locally to the workforce around the open plan, and not only to show statistics and sales figures. Often these do still display the news and give the workforce a sense of keeping in touch with ‘the outside world’ or perhaps to stream music through, giving the space a more relaxed feel. Although this is an advantageous comfort to have within an open plan in that it can create an atmosphere people feel they can be open in and therefore more creative, it can also become a distraction, especially for the people it’s closest to and so placement is very important. It is human nature to procrastinate at least a little and televisions perhaps encourage this, as notably they are described within a home as the place to be for a ‘lazy day’ with common sayings now, among graduates and the future workforce especially, such as ‘Netflix and chill’ being thrown around, this isn’t the type of environment conducive of genius ideas and hard work & so it is important to keep this as a background noise and not the focal point within an open plan like it is a home, or perhaps place it in the tea-point/collaboration space paired with a soft seating ‘lounge’ area for the full effect and people can spend their break watching and go back to their desks feeling they’ve had the escape they needed.

Following on from this is the way in which design encourages larger ‘families’ of people to eat together either at breakfast or at lunch. It is far more likely to see a large, long dining table or bench within a tea-point now than small round or square café tables and chairs. This longer more collaborative style represents the dining room of the home in which a family will all eat around and talk and catch up on their days and their experiences. This is hugely beneficial to a company as it pulls together people that may not see each other day to day and creates a harmonious atmosphere within open plan as there is a sense of comradery and friendship. This can also then be twinned with a ‘games room’ for lunch time competitions or even after work socials on a Friday with a beer, further increasing the sense of family, with ‘banter’ and inside jokes – all of which benefits the workplace and productivity of staff, not only do they feel refreshed for working afterwards, they also feel lucky to be a part of the company providing this and feel encouraged to achieve more. This ‘family’ environment also extends to pets – more frequently, office design is being produced with a brief inclusive of a dog or cat to house, giving the teams something to focus on for a quick 10 minute break between tasks to play with or take for a walk to get some fresh air – several studies show that getting the correct amount of fresh air can make the brain more productive and so a walk outside for a short time, regularly throughout the day can boost working practices as well as staff mentality.

Sticking with the ground floor of the typical home, the garden can also be included. Many interiors are now boasting either a terrace that can be kitted out with exterior furniture & lighting, or internal spaces that mimic this for employees to go to and feel closer to nature. There have been many studies on planting being beneficial in the workplace and lift employees moods as well as making the space and air feel fresher & add a touch of colour. This being concentrated in to one area as a feature garden patch not only gives individuals a space to go and feel more relaxed, especially within a bustling city, where greenery is few and far between, but can also create a project that encourages team work. It would not be so unusual with new trends to suggest that the employees tend to their interior garden and work together to sustain this feature.

Moving upstairs in a home must first start with the stairs themselves – preferably without the shoes, coats and randomly placed small toys within an office design though! If a company has a multi floor tenancy/building it is becoming increasingly popular for them to put a new staircase between floors creating a better flow, rather than just using the lift. Typically, the lifts of a building will be in a lift lobby or separate from the working space and so it would seem a chore for teams to integrate with each other if on separate floors, however, opening up the core and building a staircase between floors gives a sense of unity and collaboration – reducing the ‘us and them’ attitudes commonly found between teams. If this is then paired with the main tea-point being on one floor with the dining space – just like most homes, then this again gives people the push they need to float between floors and teams, colliding, collaborating and dining together.

A less common practice, that is perhaps on the increase, are nap pods – these have in fact been around for quite some time, with many studies proving that having a timed nap in the middle of the day can increase productivity, alertness, well being and the ability to take on information and process this effectively – which in work terms can only be a thumbs up from management. Quoting David Radcliffe Vice President of Real Estate and Property for google in 2013 ‘no workplace is complete without a nap pod’ I would think the only down side to this would be actually getting people to wake up!

Lastly, aside from just having the key built elements of a home, office design is now incorporating the finishes and fittings to make a space feel more ‘homely’. For some time, workspaces have adopted the more comfortable design of having soft seating/lounge areas, this has acted as a building block for additions such as bean bags, rugs, lamping, soft pendant lighting, textured fabric wall covers, bold pattered fabrics and soft background colour palettes with greys & taupe as the base tones. These accessories and finishes are not only found in receptions, these are the finishes that are making open plan spaces, that were once very white, clinical and cold environments, feel more like a home away from home. There are many physical or built features as listed previously that are similar to a home in structure, but nothing makes a home a home more than the finishing touches and softer finishes. We are seeing an increase in engineered/real wood flooring with plush carpet inserts, pendant lighting in open plan spaces (not for their practical use but for the effect they have on the environment) as well as lamping and the more muted colour tones, away from the bold lime green and pink pops that seemed to be the trend of recent years. This homely feeling is also evident in the encouragement of personal belongings being on show, the ‘clean desk policy’ of the emotionless office is being pushed aside for the more individualised approach of having family pictures, mementos and gifts on display on desks in open plan, giving each individual not only a widely used homely office but also a comfortable personal space….which will also then shine through to visitors/clients who will gain a sense of character and comfort.

It would appear that for so many, as long as there is a balance to not induce procrastination, having an office that mimics the comforts of home can only progress productivity and boost the energy within a space, for colleagues and clients alike.

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