The Open Office Cubicle
The fine line between boring office design and the humiliation of adult people through overly childish interiors is one that many employers overstep without care. This text is primarily about the functional 08/15 buildings that look like 90% of all offices worldwide. Boredom wherever the eye looks, described as “functional”. But even for prisons, which first and foremost have to be functional, completely new approaches have been established. So why should a new approach not be feasible in our office buildings? After the home office shift during the Corona Epidemic this has become a new point of contention between employers and employees.
Taste of course is subjective and the following is just my personal opinion.
I am not a fan of the overly playful design of the offices of software start-ups that are held up as models for the brave new world of work. A workplace should first and foremost serve the purpose of working and can therefore serve as a reminder that one is not at home. Because making a workplace feel to much like home is a dangerous way of blurring the lines between those two domains that should remain seperated. Nevertheless, I’m a big fan of making workplaces pleasant, because it is much better to work in a pleasant environment.
It starts with the light. Even in 2018, I still enter offices where I would like to put a floor lamp next to my desk. I’m not a guest in a restaurant or a visitor to an exhibition here, but I have to work with printouts and brightly lit screens, why are the rooms so dark? Please have a little more respect for the circadian rhythm.
Workplaces are not ergonomic
Then the workplaces themselves. We spend most of our office day sitting in front of a computer. Sitting is not just the new smoking, it has always been bad for a body that is meant for movement. Yet we sit more than ever before and most modern desks are not even at a comfortable height for sitting at the computer. Not to mention that few employees have a uniform body size. I don’t expect every company to stock different sized office chairs, but at least the height of the chair and computer monitor should be adjustable. Height-adjustable desks are a luxury of well-being that few offices want to afford, but why not at least provide standing workstations for employees who look a little further ahead and are conscious of their health?
Computer monitors in general. Yes, I realise that for most professions a laptop is quite sufficient as a computer, but no one can tell me that you can seriously work on a laptop for several days, let alone weeks at a stretch. After a few days of having to work on a laptop (while travelling or externally) I am relieved, when I can finally work on a real computer monitor again. Going from a 13 inch Laptop to a 27 inch screen (or even better, two 27 inch screens) again feels like getting a new pair of glasses when you have been short-sighted. A completely different visual feeling. Of course you can work on a 13 inch screen. But just the time that is wasted by constantly pressing the tab button to hide the UI or switch between applications. This is just annoying.
To be honest, sometimes I wonder if it might just be me that is feeling this way. Every day in coffee shops and in many offices I see people hunched over their little laptops as if they had a spinal dysfunction. Many of them even without a mouse or graphics tablet. This might work if you are a programmer or if your work is mainly in Excel, Word or email, but even then I find the hunched posture very uncomfortable in the long run. And just the thought of having to work with only a trackpad makes my wrists ache.
Most offices lack identiy
I often don’t know whether I’m in the building of an insurance company, a newspaper, a bank or some larger corporation, because the same tables, the same chairs, the same plants, the same whiteboards and the same frosted glass cubes for meetings are waiting for me in every building. There have been days when I’ve had two meetings in a row in such similar buildings that I thought I was still at the same company.
But identity is a double-edged sword and I can understand that many companies do not dare to touch it. Experience shows that every employee has at least one opinion and as soon as it comes to redesigning the premises, those who don’t like the redesign come to the fore And more often than not the office space is usually left with the lowest common denominator of bland, inoffensive furnishings.
Only few people are satisfied with this. Many studies have been published on the fact that satisfied employees who feel good at their workplace also perform better, but the exploitation of this potential is largely dispensed with. And many of those companies that want to exploit it think that they just need to set up a few “meeting islands” and distribute colourful sitting balls. This has nothing to do with fun or identity.
The main argument is that the creation of a pleasant environment is too expensive and financially not viable. But a good solution can, but does not have to be expensive. You only have to look around in local museums or the odd trade fair to see how creative you can be with tight budgets while still creating a beautiful atmosphere that people love to congregate and work in.
The inspiration for a office space redesign could come from within the staff, but it should not be implemented and democratically alone but with more focus on what the companies wants to stand for, otherwise in the end there will be nothing half and nothing whole.