Given that we spend so much time at work, it’s little wonder that stories and images of the “world’s coolest offices” grab our attention.
If you search Google for “world’s coolest office,” you can spend hours gazing at some of the most creative, inventive and desirable designs imaginable. But these designs are not the reality for the many office workers, for whom the office can be a drab, uninspiring environment that fails to bring out the best in terms of talent or enthusiasm.
It need not be this way. While most businesses cannot afford to replicate the costs associated with the likes of your typical Google fit-out, there are design principles that can make a significant difference to the everyday workplace without killing the balance sheet.
As architects and interior designers, we would give our right arm to have briefs with limitless budgets. However, what defines professionalism is how we approach a client’s brief, and usually budget is a key if not primary consideration. Clients with more ambitious expectations can often be brought back to earth with a thud if the project budget isn’t factored into initial designs from the outset.
Our job is to work within a set of given constraints, and to use our imagination and our experience to create designs that deliver commercially efficient outcomes that also deliver a range of environmental features that make the workplace an enjoyable space workers are happy to spend time in.
For example, the design brief for the new global HQ for the Flight Centre group of businesses called for a highly efficient headquarters environment which unleashes maximum efficiency and productivity for staff. The work environment is progressive and contemporary, and contains a lot of what people might call ‘cool’ features, but Flight Centre is also a business which operates in a highly competitive global market with narrow margins. It didn’t get to where it is now by being profligate and their new HQ will be no exception.
In approaching new interior design briefs, there are usually a range of factors clients should consider. Some of these include:
In temperate areas, maximum natural light can help ‘lift’ the feel of the workplace while reducing energy costs. But this isn’t always the case in hotter climates, where natural light can be too glaring, and can dramatically add to energy bills for cooling. Responding to and working with the local climate is a key consideration in designing office interiors and occupant comfort.
The look and feel of a workplace speaks volumes about you and your business’ brand. Getting these settings right is critical to the design process. You would not, for example, apply the sort of thinking that applied to Google’s headquarters if your business is valued for its conservative or traditional values. By the same token, businesses with a youthful brand should aim to reflect that personality in their fitout. Putting young, creative professionals into a conservative office environment is not the way to fire imaginations or bring out their best, while putting barristers into a hipster-styled chambers environment will likely have both them and their clients feeling uncomfortable.
Workspace and floorspace ratios
There has been a big push to reduce the amount of space occupied per office worker, all in the name of efficiency and saving on rents. This does not, however, mean that collaboration or break-out spaces, ‘think tanks’ or social spaces should also be minimised. Often, the opposite is true. These interactive spaces are where some companies invest the most in terms of design and fitout, knowing that it’s how we work together that’s important. We don’t need large offices to work on our own but we do need flexible, imaginative and supportive spaces when working together.
Different employees have different roles and how these all inter-relate within an office should logically shape the way it is designed. A well-designed office facilitates better internal communication and customer interaction. It fosters the sense of work teams and collaboration between them. This is a design issue which does not involve an expensive fitout, it just requires insightful thinking.
There is nothing sadder than an office design which encourages people to eat lunch at their desk. Creating space for people to mingle over lunches or coffee breaks is an important design feature which encourages teamwork and a positive mindset. It’s equally important to ensure that enough attention is paid to the design of things like kitchens, as people tend to respond positively to opportunities to prepare meals in a social environment.
Some companies require quiet work spaces, others enjoy the dynamic vibe of an open plan approach, and for many it is a combination of both – depending on the different roles within your business. Designing around noise from people, phones, and machines to create an environment which also provides for quiet concentration is another design feature which doesn’t cost anything to get right but which can cost a lot if you get it wrong.
Not all buildings offer a lot of flexibility in floor space or office interior design, because of things like floor plate size, or the location of lift and service cores. Many were designed in the era of the long corridor and multiple personal offices. Kitchen facilities were often little more than a nook for a kettle and some coffee cups. Knowing how to work with what you have and create something much better is a measure of a good designer.
Green design is more than about a green wall or two. It’s also about making sure energy bills and operating costs are minimised through efficient design, and the use of recycled or repurposed materials that actually offer cost savings in the short or long term. In this way, the green workplace and world’s coolest office should be virtually synonymous.
There are few businesses that don’t go through regular changes and these days, a business is likely to change significantly even during the term of a lease. Good office designs should provide for flexibility in layouts and operational emphasis. They should anticipate how to deal with expansion or contraction. There is little value in designing a ‘cool’ office environment for a growing business if in two or three years’ time that growth means the investment has to be largely thrown out and the design process started again.