Connected

As an image, the “tea service” represents the idea of office etiquette and the dynamics of interaction and collaboration. Like social rituals, workplace “manners” can be understood through cues provided by intelligent design—the application of warm materials, energizing colors and furniture configurations that convey the intended function of the space—to invite connection and collaboration. The message is implicit in the design. No instruction is required.



I feel connected

IN  2005, TEKNION PRODUCED “DESIGN DOES MATTER,” A HARDBOUND BOOK, WHICH INCLUDED AN ESSAY EXCERPTED FROM THE NEW OFFICE BY BRITISH ARCHITECT FRANCIS DUFFY. AMONG THE FIRST TO PLACE EMPHASIS ON HOW ORGANIZATIONS USE SPACE, DUFFY NOTED THAT THE LIMITED VOCABULARY OF STANDARD OFFICE LAYOUTS WAS, AT LAST, BEGINNING TO DEVELOP IN INTERESTING WAYS. DUFFY WROTE ”THE OFFICE IS TURNING INTO A KIND OF CLUB. THE TRADITIONAL CLUB ALLOWS AN ELITE GROUP TO SHARE WHAT IS, IN EFFECT, A KIND OF PALACE, A RICH AND DIVERSE ENVIRONMENT THAT PROVIDES A LEVEL OF COMFORT AND SERVICE THAT EACH MEMBER COULD NOT AFFORD SEPARATELY. MOREOVER, BY FREQUENTING THE SAME CLUB, MEMBERS ARE ABLE TO TAKE CALCULATED ADVANTAGE OF THE PROBABILITIES OF MORE OR LESS ACCIDENTAL, MORE OR LESS INTENDED, PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS.”



Duffy’s 1997 book describes rather well the contemporary office, including the concept of shared resources, the potential for serendipitous interactions and the sense of affiliation among its diverse members. With its lounges and other group spaces, today’s office may not be a “palace,” but does provide a spectrum of settings that reinforce community, including both formal and informal spaces where people connect, gather and converse. Whereas casual conversation was formerly regarded as a waste of time, it is now seen as a mechanism for creating new knowledge, especially in organizations where intellectual capital and the generation of ideas lies at the heart of the enterprise.

Co-working spaces, now a conspicuous feature of the urban matrix, are using multiple strategies to create successful collaborative workspaces. Founded in 2006, WeWork today has 141 office locations in 34 cities, 26 in New York City alone and 16 locations outside North America on every continent except Africa. Connection and co-creativity are at the core of WeWork’s culture. But creating a communal space that people would actually use proved to challenge assumptions and require some re-thinking by WeWork leadership.

After opening a new headquarters in New York’s artsy Chelsea neighborhood, WeWorkco-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Miguel McElvey saw that members weren’t getting together in the common space, but instead “trooped straight through” to private offices.


"The best ideas start
as conversation."
- Jonathan Ive

After observing this phenomenon and requesting feedback, he concluded that there wasn’t enough furniture. The open space was too open. When McElvey added more tables and chairs to create smaller groupings, "Literally, overnight change…." Couches were full. Standing tables became “offices” that drew people together. Developers, artists, designers and writers were starting to connect.

WeWork used a number of other design strategies to kindle social exchanges that often led to individuals or groups doing business together. Ashley Couch, Global Director of Interior Design, says that the design team began to pay attention to traffic patterns and spaces that would allow people to circulate. Bistro tables were tucked into landings on the open staircase. And design was also used to “force them into smaller spaces to stage interaction,” which improved the “flow and vibe” of conversation and collaboration.

Devin Vermeulen, Creative Director Physical Product, says, ”In terms of color and décor, we want our spaces to be warm, inviting and cozy like a living room, in order to make people feel at ease and comfortable while they work. Another crucial technique is biophilia, which is the human connection to nature. In addition to adding lots of plants and greenery, we use natural materials like wood, stone, and leather, which have proven to make people more creative, less stressed and more at ease.” 

The lesson learned from the WeWork designers may be that design needs to provide cues for conversation and collaboration. The volume and shape of a space, the arrangement of furniture, must set the stage for human moments of connection in which one may feel vulnerable. Collaboration, after all, requires a willingness to speak up and toss out untested ideas. It may entail objecting to another’s ideas. London-based designer Ilse Crawford, principal of Studioilse and head of Man and Well-Being at the Design Academy Eindhoven, has pointed out that designing a collaborative space is not as simple as “having sweet sofas….” Rather, “It’s the working out if you like, the politics, the organization of how you have conversations. It’s having a common room rather than lots of conference rooms, which are ultimately rather confrontational.”

In order to create workspaces in which people feel connected, it’s important to consider—and experiment with—the organization, proximity and density of furniture within a space, as well as materials, finishes, lighting and other components. To bolster a sense of connection and community, a workspace might include:

  • Communal tables that invite people to work together and to socialize.
  • A variety of chairs, ottomans, stools and tables that can be moved around to accommodate groups of different sizes.
  • Color blocking or contrasts of color, texture and matte/sheen finishes that serve to activate the space.
  • Mid-to large-scale patterns, which are stimulating, especially when applied to a largescale element.
  • Mobile screens positioned to create visual and/or auditory privacy.

Download the knowledge book:
The True Measure Of A Space Is
How It Makes Us Feel