Story by Mindy Koschmann, Joseph White & Abdallah Fadel
Photography by Mike Stuk
Today, the nature of work has changed significantly. New forms of self-directed, creative, and collaborative work take place alongside established forms of directed, repetitive, and individual work. Multilocation teams and remote work have become commonplace. Tools and technology change rapidly to support these shifts. New solutions for co-creation, display, remote connection, and nonlinear development are being introduced all the time—either replacing or being layered on existing systems and solutions.
But while work and the tools people use to do this work have undergone a significant transformation, many workplaces have not. Many only offer the standard workstations and conference rooms of the past. These hardly support the array of activities people do today or the different kinds of tools they need to do them well.
For organizations that recognize this and are making the effort to recreate their workplaces, we identified another challenge: the design process itself. Most offices are outfitted in a linear way, where the structure is built or renovated, furnishings and finishes are specified and installed, and finally the technology is layered in. This often occurs under the auspices of different teams and stakeholders—often working independently. Even with the best intentions and highest-quality ingredients, a linear process results in surroundings, furnishings, and tools that don’t come together to support what people are actually doing.
Living Office helps organizations create more supportive workplaces by bringing everyone involved in the design process together around a framework of common work activities and correlating settings. By considering both activities and settings in the context of an organization’s goals, as well as the attributes that make the company and its people unique, a design team can implement a diverse mix of settings that reflects the organization’s unique culture while also supporting the work people are doing.
The following three Living Office Settings were designed to support distinct work activities for specific individuals and organizations. Their surroundings, furnishings, and tools align to offer a more natural and desirable experience of work to people, and to deliver superior outcomes for organizations.
Havens offer people the privacy and quiet they need to complete complex, creative tasks without distraction from others.
Many organizations are drawn to the idea of an open plan office because they believe people working in close proximity can more easily share ideas and spontaneously solve problems. But that same open plan office can also stymie tasks that require deeper thinking and higher levels of concentration. Individual work is complex and idiosyncratic; there is no one-size-fits-all approach to accommodate it. Our primary research indicates that the best support can change based on an individual’s work activity, mood, and desired level of concentration. Therefore, it’s important to not only offer a range of Haven configurations, but also to vary degrees of individual control within the setting (things like lighting, privacy, sound, and ergonomic support). Supporting individuals and their work—even if that’s simply a quiet, contemplative moment—is critical to the success of any organization, and makes Havens essential within a Living Office.
A Clubhouse provides a creative team with a flexible environment that supports the way they actually work—flowing freely between tasks, sharing work and iterating constantly, and engaging one another on the fly.
Ask any CEO what their company needs to do to get ahead of the competition and you’ll likely get an answer that includes innovation. In today’s work environment, organizations increasingly rely on high-performing teams to do this critical work. Why? Because research shows a direct correlation between collaboration and innovation (as much as 81 percent, according to a study commissioned by Google.)1 But the typical layouts of most offices just aren’t designed to support the fluid style of work that’s characteristic of these teams.
Our primary research showed that the best creative teams operate in complex, often improvisational ways.2 Their approach to work activities is similar to a jazz ensemble’s approach to creating music—with each member riffing and playing off the others. Team members move nimbly from convening as a group to working in parallel to drive towards their goals. They make these transitions as needed, not according to a defined process or plan.
These insights served as the foundation for the setting we call Clubhouse. Clubhouses support a complete range of work activities through a variety of adjacent individual and group spaces. Each element helps the team stay connected to one another and to the broader purpose of the work at hand, while also enhancing individual productivity.
1 BBC News, “Google: Mobile, Social, Cloud Changing the Way We Work,” Feb. 3, 2012. www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/business-16858085. 2 “Team Landscapes: Total User Experience II,” Confidential and proprietary research conducted by Herman Miller, 2015.
A Workshop helps bring people together and gives them the tools they need to efficiently create and share ideas—whether they’re two feet or 2,000 miles apart.
To ideate and collaborate, teams need to have a place to come together to engage in their work. But the typical conference room, which is often the only dedicated space for gathering, isn’t necessarily designed for these kinds of creative activities. A Workshop provides the flexibility for different types of teams to do different types of work—for a few hours, days, or weeks at a time. It’s equipped with furnishings and tools that work holistically within the surroundings to help drive an elevated experience of collaboration and foster creativity.