The Ogilvy & Mather Office has a variety of places to work Picture: Future of Work
The Office has seen a number of transformations over the past thirty years. The cubicle farm of the 1980s, fraught with privacy issues and distractions, eventually broke down its walls to make people feel more accessible and lessen these distractions. The detest of the cubicle farm led to its exact opposite, the open plan office. Just destroying the cubicle walls as a solution for distracted employees and a lack of transparency meant a number of new flaws itself. Studies have shown that people (especially introverts) find the open plan office can actually hinder or intimidate lowering productivity and teamwork, and more often than not, other people are a significant source of distraction.
The approach to the office space of 2015, which has been favoured by nimble startups such as Dropbox and even huge corporations such as Google, is the idea of ‘Activity Based Working’ (ABW). ABW is a style of working which is team-oriented and allows for a significant degree of flexibility for workers. There is no fixed desk for any individuals, who position themselves wherever they like within the office depending on their preference and work from laptops.
Why are office architects designing in this way? Steven Hodder, president of the Riba and chairman of Hodder and Partners Architects, put it this way - "The idea that the desk is a unit of productivity is changing very, very rapidly. Your productivity is not measured by the amount of time you sit behind a thing called a desk. It is what you do. It is about your output.”
Open, fluid spaces means people can sit themselves where they would like depending on their mood that day: stressful project due tomorrow? Private booth it is today. Creative brainstorming of a product needed? The beanbags near the kitchen it is.
This concept of ABW is beginning to be more freely accessible as technology progresses: we are no longer confined to landlines plugged into a single person’s desk. Computer software means the same level of communication can easily be achieved wherever a person has their laptop.
When you go to ABW, however, you lose the idea of 'your own space' in the office: having your pictures on your wall, your snacks in your desk drawer, your favourite pens on your desk. In ABW, you personalise your environment to suit your personality. This is a look beyond technology which often, and mistakenly so, mediates communications. Going to a pure digital world is often a fallacy, and overlooks the joy we get from physical spaces and objects, which is why the importance of human interaction is so vital to the modern office.
And so, most importantly, this kind of fluid space takes full advantage of a team atmosphere by providing designated spaces for interaction and collaboration. As Steven Hodder put it, “there are great stories of researchers having incidental space and just bumping into one another and having ideas.” Anchor points, for planned or accidental meetings, are key to harnessing and encouraging innovative team thinking. Collaborative technology like digital tables are designed specifically for this purpose, to achieve a real, dynamic and interactive activity based work space, to enhance collaboration and communication instead of controlling it.
ABW is an exciting next step for offices moving to a social, collaborative approach to work. AB provides more productive employees, which is good for business, and happier, more satisfied employees meaning a better outcome for everyone.
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