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The Future of the Barbadian Corporate Office - Part 3: Going Forward

January 25, 2016  .  By Lisa Deane, MSc
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The design problems we are often faced with are universal, and include accommodating ever-growing numbers of staff, incorporating brand identities into physical space and generally creating functional, yet aesthetically pleasing spaces. In previous posts in this series, we’ve looked at the impact of the office environment, the kinds of work employees engage in, the spaces that support them and what’s taking place in office design overseas. It is important for us as designers of workplaces, to process this information and apply it in such a way that design in Barbados develops.

One way to do this is to assess the pros and cons of changes in design. As change in Barbados is measured, we have the opportunity to see some of the effects of design advances in other areas of the world, and consider them through a Barbadian lens.

Positives

There are many positive elements that have developed from and continue to be generated by research and new design solutions. Viewing the office environment as a space that should not only be functional but inspiring and comfortable is the first step.

Valuing the Employee Experience

While budget can direct the bottom line, it must not be the only factor influencing the design solution. Beyond fundamental factors of the physical environment, such as good ventilation, lighting etc, workplaces that allocate the best spaces for the most people immediately show that employees are a priority. In open office situations, providing employees with a variation of areas to work from has the ability to help them better accomplish their tasks. Introducing protocols that permit staff to shift throughout the day based on these tasks allows them some autonomy. These factors can mitigate some of the drudgery some work days can have.

Free access to amenities such as tea, coffee and snacks is an added bonus. Some organisations even introduce amenities that have a more explicit impact on wellness, such as gyms and meditation rooms. The idea here isn’t to introduce several different spaces, or free donuts and yoga classes, but to consider added elements employees might require. When employees feel valued, they tend to be more engaged and productive.

SkypeOfficePaloAlto.DesignBlitz.MatthewMillman

Innovative and vibrant design at Skype Office Palo Alto, designed by Design Blitz, Photography by Matthew Millman (Officesnapshots.com)

Bolstering Brand & Corporate Culture

Incorporating brand identity into a space also acts to reinforce principles of the brand culture amongst staff, as well as affecting the more implicit corporate culture. The office environment should also convey the brand ideals to not only to staff, but to clients and visitors as well.

This goes beyond a coat of paint. If a company professes to be vibrant and innovative, the feel of the workplace should also reflect those attributes. The types of spaces should help to foster the habits that are encouraged in staff. However if a company prides itself on discretion, privacy and traditional values, perhaps a completely open office is not the right solution.

PrivateInvestmentBank.London.ResonateInteriors.PhilipVile

Offices with glazed fronts provide privacy while allowing a connection to the outer office at a private investment firm in London, designed by Resonate Interiors, Photography by Philip Vile (officesnapshots.com)

Negatives

Applying a Broad Brush Technique

Workplace design is an exercise in customisation. An organisation should not be forced into a design solution that is far removed from the essence of a company. Rather than reinforce the corporate culture, the incorrect design solution can detract from it. Take again for example, the company that values discretion and privacy of client information. If even the CEO is sitting in a benching system, are those ideals conveyed to both staff and visitors? Perhaps transparency is also part of the culture - then that design might work.

Alternatively, changes in design can be used as an impetus for change in companies. However organisation leaders need to manage the change process so that employees are aware of what to expect. This can alleviate some resistance that is often found when substantial design changes take place within organisations.

The Dark Side of the Open Office

Less privacy, less space, and more distractions are the major problems related to open offices, and these can reduce productivity. The open office needs to translate to the type of company and the work being done.

As part of the open office plan, many companies are moving toward unassigned, ‘clean desk’ work areas for employees. This may work well for mobile staff, whose time in office is minimal, but for someone who is in office every day, this isn’t optimal. It also has the potential to cause employees to feel detached. We are generally creatures of habit, preferring to sit in the same place, and engage the same activities. We also like to feel some type of ownership of our space, however small, and have the ability to personalise it somewhat, especially in the Caribbean.

In most cases, not everyone can have an office, and sometimes an office isn’t necessary. What is necessary however is some type of private space, where staff are able to engage in a confidential call, or even focused work. While the preferences of each person in an organisation cannot be accommodated, it’s important to remember that employees are not unfeeling drones.

SolsticeMobileChicago.BaumannStudios.JacobNClary

Workers have access to different types of spaces at Solstice Mobile Chicago, designed by Baumann Studios, photography by Jacob N. Clary (officesnapshots.com)

In Conclusion

When discussing office design, there are many facets to consider. Even with the ideas we have presented in this series, we are only skimming the surface. Fundamentally though, the type of company, corporate culture and well-being of employees should be drivers for design. Design solutions should not be duplicated haphazardly, but a bespoke design must be proposed for each organisation. As designers, we need to identify useful design elements and translate those into the Barbadian context, while excluding ideas that are not functional for our clients.

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