The social office

When Steve and I were down in Leeds the other day, you may remember we made the trip to Data Mill North, we had the pleasure in visiting a company called Hebe Works.  It is difficult to describe exactly what work they do, as it covers a wide range of items mainly in the graphics, web, print and software design.  When we came out Steve and I commented how it felt to be a nice place in which to work.

Neither of us could put our finger on why.  The workspace had an open, cool and funky feeling (if I am able to use these words without showing my age).  There was art work all around, the requisite soft furnishings, white washed walls and a fair smattering of tech.  Everything seemed relaxed.  People were talking, tapping on their Macs and generally doing stuff.

We wondered if people would feel the same way if they visited us.  Perhaps it was the thrill of the new or perhaps we have a more tarnished view of where we work.  Who knows, perhaps we have become blind to the environment in which we spend so much of our time.

I was reminded though of the book ‘Nice Companies Finish First’ by Peter Shankman in which there was talk of the social office and how it could connect people and the flow of ideas and information.  We all have heard of sick building syndrome where the working environment brings down the physical condition of the employees and so I am assuming that an opposite condition must exist.  A well building condition perhaps?

The question is what can we do to improve the social fabric of the buildings we operate in to improve dialogue and create a space in which we want to work? Is this something we do or are we too jaded to see a way through?  Would any changes impinge upon our plans to be more agile and less territorial?

We talk about breakout and touch down areas in our new office thinking yet they seem to be peripheral to the main thrust of what we do.  Real work still takes place at a desktop using a computer and a decreasing amount of paper.  But is this true?  Real work is done much more through dialogue and thinking, developing ideas and concepts that can then be put into action.  If this is true, then the softer areas of the office environment are the most important ones and the desk areas peripheral.  The social spaces are the parts that need to be designed better to encourage interaction and participation.  Where you document or transact your work is a different matter altogether.

I am thinking we are designing our work spaces the wrong way round.  We should focus on the social office first and the desks later.

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