Slides, Volleyball courts, nap pods and games rooms. In recent years global brands like Google, Lego and Red Bull have been investing significant sums of money, time and imagination into the creation of working environments that, to outsiders at least, resemble playgrounds.
Are these innovations simply indulgent quirks or are they part of the new language of labour economics? Are fun, frivolity and comfort intrinsic themes in an evolving design vernacular that actively contributes to the productivity of these brands’ employees and their continued global success?
In recent years a number of groups have been conducting research into various parameters affecting workplace efficiency. Everything from the design and structure of internal spaces to employees’ daily routine and time allocation has been considered in the context of happiness, culture and productivity. The messages are clear – happy employees are productive, content and loyal employees; and business environments can affect the mood of those who work in them.
So have we seen then end of the stereotypical 9-5, stuck at a desk in a beige office model?
I certainly hope so!
Based on the trends of the knowledge being shared from the plethora of research projects, we may be in luck. A greater understanding of neuro-science, social science and behavioural sciences are starting to contribute to intelligent office interior design.
One research team looking at the effect of mood on productivity has demonstrated that being happy can lead to a 12% boost in productivity. Dr Daniel Sgroi from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick, one of the leaders of the research, commented on the results: “The Driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”
Collaboration is an incredibly valuable tool when it comes to innovation. The collision or bump theory suggests that by increasing workplace and employee overlap via shared communal areas and facilities, you can engineer situations that are likely to promote employee engagement and collaborative working. Google Inc’s new Headquarters, due for completion in 2015, have been designed to maximise casual employee conversations, which the firm says are responsible for some of their most exciting innovations. The new property has been designed so that every ‘Googler’ in the 1.1 million-square-foot, multilevel complex will never be more than a 2 ½ minute walk away from one another.
Countless studies have taken place to examine the most effective way of managing employees’ working routines and the amount of time that they spend each day focussing on different tasks. The fact is that we human beings have limitations. Throughout the course of the day our energy levels and concentration fluctuates. We need fuel, rest, interaction and a change of scenery. Providing an environment that allows for each of these requirements and a working flexibility that allows employees to balance their activities has been demonstrated to increase efficiency and morale. Companies like Nike and Google have introduced ‘nap pods’, embracing research that has shown that a 20 minute nap in the afternoon provides more rest than additional 20 minutes in bed in the morning – allowing our bodies the top-up they need and continue work at a heightened level of productivity.
Space to Roam
Searching for inspiration, whilst sat at a traditionally uniform work station can seem like an impossible task. You need stimulation, interaction and diversion in order for inspiration to strike. Activity based-working and dynamic environments increase opportunities for ‘collisions’ and allow employees to utilise their available working environment, based on the tasks that they need to perform.
The manner in which you furnish and design these spaces can have a remarkable effect on the way that they are used. One of the projects that we at Space, Exeter worked on involved creating a dry wipe marker friendly wall for an innovation room at the offices of an accountancy firm in Somerset. Google Engineering HQ in London, designed by Penson Architects, took this concept a step further and created vast sections of office partition that could be written or drawn on at any time.