Today, as workspaces are becoming more polished and professional even among startups, cluttered workspaces furnished with beanbags and cushy couches may not be optimal for either physical or psychological comfort. Tech companies are maturing and becoming more sophisticated about design, opting instead (like Pinterest) for refined lounge areas that alternate with meeting rooms and relaxed group workspaces. A smart, sophisticated, well-designed workplace instills pride and helps employees feel that they are a valuable part of something great; integral to a mission they want to invest in.
Gabrielle Rubin Deveaux, senior director of real estate at BuzzFeed, noted that the company’s offices are designed “with an emphasis on creating a comfortable atmosphere,” that includes lots of natural light, open space and traditional “elements of home.” There are couches for conversation, but also standing height tables and semi-enclosed pods where people can focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas and process information. The BuzzFeed office does not include “kitschy components,” for the simple reason that Deveaux feels that, “It is fun at first, but it is not sustainable.”
We can anticipate a further evolution of the workplace and imagine an array of possible futures. Today, there is much talk about “humanized AI” and other technologies that may enhance our work life in the future. Clothing will become wearable electronics and intelligent workspaces will respond to the presence of our bodies and monitor our moods. “Smart buddies” will act as personal assistants or avatars. So far, however, robots and the truly smart office remain in the realm of science fiction. Our buildings cannot yet accurately identify who we are and what we want and need. Nor can we say for certain how such wonders will impact our sense of self, of purpose and well-being.
Even allowing for quantum leaps in AI, human beings will, after all, continue to inhabit the workplace for some time to come—and, to act as the primary source of creativity and innovation. However the future reveals itself, there are ways to help ensure employee comfort:
- Provide workers with multiple options in terms of energy level, informality and noise.
- Arrange furniture within the space to provide biophilic design patterns of prospect, refuge and mystery.
- Include familiar markers of home life, such as table and floor lamps, or accessories that keep refreshment near to hand.
- Use led lighting with a warmer, slightly yellow light.
- Warm textures create a tactile enclosure for work.
- When possible, maximize access to natural light and views that include trees, grasses and other greenery.
- Ensure that systems maintain a comfortable temperature, humidity and airflow.