Designers Need User Input When Planning Workspaces

November 17, 2015

The workplaces of the world are undergoing a rapid change. Technology is driving process and system evolution that, in theory, can lead to much greater efficiencies. The problem is, the physical design and structure of most workplaces represents a major obstacle to tapping into that potential. And designers should be playing a larger role in creating a workplace that reflects how employees want to do their work.

So says Joyce Bromberg, vice president of innovation and design for Convene. Until office designers gather data and input from the users of offices themselves, facilities will continue to inhibit productivity rather than enhance it.

"We need to allow people to work in the way they need to work, and not create rules that force them to work in some other way," she said at the Agile Workplace Conference in Arlington, VA this week. "If you give people the opportunity, they will tell you how the workplace should be designed."

Bromberg, a former Steelcase facilities design manager, said most businesses have floor plans that are reflective of a much earlier era and influence.

"We are still living in a world of work stations that understood work as a lineal activity. We modeled the workplace after the assembly line. But work no longer happens that way."

Most recently, Bromberg has been focused on getting feedback through a variety of means from office workers. Through interviews, photography and video observation and other methods that capture the "user" experience, she has found that shopworn real estate and office design practices have failed to integrate individual needs into the "modern" office environment.

"Millennials are changing everything," she said. "They've grown up with technology. They can work anywhere any time in any posture. They like to work in comfort. Why cant they work that way in the office? Why can't most offices accommodate them?"

Bromberg said in her experience, most designers never tap into the wealth of information about office ergonomics and layout that resides within company staff. She has learned that there is no one-size-fits-all, when user experience and input is considered. One workspace design that fits a certain type of employee won't work for another. But, in an era of wide-ranging office design options, there's no reason employees shouldn't be "catered to" if the end result is not only greater efficiency but effectiveness.

"Workspaces that meet an employee's needs make that employee a happier, more productive one," she said.
Unfortunately, she said, "corporate real estate has not changed. It's still stuck in the 20th century. Offices, hospitals, hotels, schools--everything was built on the double barreled corridor. Including prisons, which should give us pause."
She called on facilities design professionals to cast off their built-in biases about how facilities should look and talk to the end users before starting to work on renderings.

"Designers approach the problem based on what they think people do and how they think they work and what they think stakeholders want. Their design is filtered through their own bias."

Those biases are blinding many designers to the emerging, and very creative, possibilities for workspace utilization.
"We can work anywhere we wan to in the world due to technology. The office has become a place we don't have to go to all the time. It's for important work with other folks. Shouldn't these places be more tailored to the important work that's going on in them?"

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