Empowered

In terms of supporting individual work, the image proposes a need for balance—a balance of focus and interaction, stimulus and quiet, within the structure imposed by architecture and furniture. At the same time, the image uses books to symbolize the knowledge worker’s need to have access to information, as well as control of his environment.



I feel empowered

LOOKING BACK A DECADE OR SO, THE OFFICE WAS EVOLVING INTO A MORE COLLABORATIVE SITE. YET, THE CORE OF THE WORKDAY IS OFTEN FOCUSED WORK, WHICH TYPICALLY TAKES PLACE AT A DESK, WORKBENCH, OR INDIVIDUAL WORKSTATION. IN AN IDEAL WORLD, EACH PERSON’S WORKSPACE ENABLES THE WORK THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN THERE. PREFERABLY, THE CHAIR, DESK AND LAMP ADJUST TO FIT THE PERSON AND THE JOB. THE ARRANGEMENT OF SURFACES AND STORAGE PERMITS A SEAMLESS MOVEMENT FROM ONE TASK TO THE NEXT. AND THE WORKER HAS SOME MEANS OF MANAGING DISTRACTIONS—NOISE, CLUTTER AND DISCOMFORT —THAT CAN IMPAIR HOW WEL L ONE PERFORMS.



Work environments are as various as men and women at work, but certain features appear to be vital to sustaining concentration and enabling productivity. Thermal comfort, good air quality, a supportive seat and lighting strategies that illuminate without creating glare or shadows are basic and essential. Practical design details—like a handy place to store a backpack and easy access to power outlets—also help to minimize the distraction of clutter or subliminal anxiety about the dwindling battery of a laptop.

Some measure of acoustic control is also key to staying on task. Excess noise is an irritant at all times and especially so deep in the “zone” of analyzing and solving a problem on deadline. Those who have a private office can close the door and switch off the phone. In an open space, the availability of barriers to sound—like acoustic screens—help give users a sense of authority over their personal space. Equally, activity in peripheral vision prompts us to glance up as a coworker passes by or stands up to adjust a desk. Mobile screens and adjustable desktop screens can mitigate such distraction and also minimize exposure to interruption, again enhancing a sense of control. Continual stimulation and constant interruption can lead to fatigue and burnout.

International engineering firm, Glumac, employed several creative strategies to enable worker performance in its Shanghai office, a 10,000-square-foot space set in a 1912 building designed by Louis Sullivan. Glumac employees work in a sunny, open plan office where noise is muffled by carpet patterned with organic forms resembling the flow of water or the evanescent forms of cirrus clouds. A Kvadrat cloud installation, created by Paris-based designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, further mitigates noise with green, white, gray and black acoustic panels that climb up the walls and across the ceiling. The striking installation absorbs sound that would otherwise reverberate throughout the space.

"For me, context is
everything—from
that comes the
understanding
of everything"
- Kenneth Noland,
Painter

Affording Glumac’s employees a high degree of control over light levels was another priority. Windows with adjustable transparency regulate the amount of daylight that floods into the office. Dimmable led desk lights, which project ambient light upward and direct light downward, provide optimal lighting conditions, while reducing electricity use. By varying the intensities of light to reflect the conditions that occur in nature, the lighting strategy ensures that employees remain comfortable, engaged and focused. 

Research undertaken by Gensler indicates that 30% to 40% of a person’s day involves “solo work” and concludes that, in fact, those who are able to focus are also more able to collaborate, learn and socialize than those who are not. When focus is compromised, neither works well. Diane Hoskins, co-ceo of Gensler, interviewed in Fast Company, notes that, “There has to be a space where [the] individual can sit down, really crank things out, really focus, and not have a million distractions…They have to have enough space to do what they need and the resources to do it.”

With quiet being a rare commodity at work, it is imperative to equip employees with the right tools and the right sort of environment, one that enables people to achieve focus and flow. Few of us will do our best work in a noisy room lacking any way to block sound and/or signal that we are not available for interruption. Most of us feel at least somewhat stressed in such conditions, which in turn can result in reduced productivity. Among the design factors that can influence and enable focus:

  • Position individual workstations at a distance from noisy communal areas.
  • Cool neutrals or a balance of warm/cool neutrals serve as a “quiet” envelope for focused work.
  • Add cool accent colors: blues, greens and purples, as well as deep and pale gray and silver tones.
  • Rather than using color for contrast, select colors that are close in value and hue, thereby providing balance and allowing the eye to rest

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