Why Design Diversity Matters 1

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
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Workplace Diversity
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Results from the recent National Prevalence Survey of Age Discrimination in the Workplace have prompted a new wave of workplaces to consider design diversity.

The survey has revealed that over a quarter (27 per cent) of Australians aged 50 or older had experienced some form of age discrimination in the last two years, while 80 per cent of those who experienced age discrimination reported negative impacts.

When managers were asked if they factored age into their decision-making, a third responded that they did.

So while hot-desking or implementing non-ergonomic (yet aesthetically pleasing) furniture may be good for some, the survey is another reminder that workplace design can certainly be detrimental to others.

Two psychologists, Dr. Jacqueline Visher and Schiavello principal – people and culture Keti Malkoski, have recently published a book, The Power of Workspace for People and Business. The book looks at office design and its impacts.

The Power of Workspace for People and Business acknowledges that the workplace is no longer a cubicle desk and a lunch room. Instead there are many areas and environmental conditions to consider:

“The concept of workspace includes light quality, sound levels, air quality and temperature in all spaces occupied during the workday. It means the furniture you use, the stairs or elevator, the bathrooms and printing areas,” the authors wrote. “It includes executive offices, panelled workstations, shared worktables, hot-desking and Activity Based Working (ABW).”

Malkoski notes that the ageing workforce is just one demographic that is seeing workplaces become more flexible in their design. The more general takeaway is that people just want to work differently.

“Whether you’re talking about ageing, generational differences or diversity in personalities, what we’re seeing is an acknowledgement of diversity,” she said.

That requires a bit more legwork for employers, who need to take staff needs into account.

“Organisations should take the time to understand their workforce – now and in the strategic future – and collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure that they select the right workspace and the that the change is embedded into the organisation,” Malkoski noted.

Employers who incorporate considered design features are benefiting from higher performance, productivity and retention of their employees.

“When organisations focus on improving the effectiveness of their space by accommodating different working styles, whilst also wanting to improve the health and wellbeing of their employees, it’s also to attract different talent,” said Malkoski.

One way is through practical design strategies.

The book also notes that light in particular is a broad decision and requires different types of lighting in accordance to the work task. It’s not about rows of LEDs.

“Long hours of monitor-based work require a certain type of lighting, whereas judging visual displays and selecting colours and graphics require something quite different,” the authors state.

Malkoski has observed a rise in sit/stand workstations but from a broader perspective, health outcomes are better served by movement between spaces.

“From a design perspective, employees should work to create alternate spaces from very focused to very collaborative combined with products and spaces that create movement,” she said.

Moving furniture is also important.

“Recognising individual mobility affects the broader workplace landscape and the visual and acoustic privacy of others,” the book reads.

“Some organisations require teams to develop internal guidelines for managing sit-stand and walking options; and others prefer to limit movement to active areas where fewer people are likely to be disturbed or distracted.”

As always, choice will usually triumph when it comes to the workplace with Malkoski suggesting employers enable staff to choose workstation setups that meet their own personal requirements.

“When you incorporate greater flexibility and give employees better tools to get their work done, you do see an increase in the way that they feel,” she said. “There is increased job satisfaction you will also see an improvement in thought process in the way employees think and behave – it has better effectiveness.”

She added that while open plan spaces that are collaborative and full of life may work for some organisations, offices also need retreat spaces.

“You need to have a state of focus, relaxation and reflection – we don’t want to overstimulate people or distract people,” she said.

So what does the perfect office space look like to Malkoski?

“Because I have a background in psychology, I would say a workplace that considers the human side of work and recognises that connections between people and relationships are important,” she said.

She added that a workspace that creates a sense of place and promotes a united and engaged culture and fosters ‘a sense of belonging’ and community is ideal.

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  1. Mark Whitby

    Hi Angela,

    Seems as though there might be quite a market for innovative spaces that think outside the square. I love the one pictured at the front of the article.

    However getting companies to realise that there is a reward for relaxing or highly designed spaces that reduce stress for instance in the staff. A bit like getting the staff to buy shares in the company they work for.

    There is something awe inspiring in good design and I think staff would love to experience real class instead of 100% the humdrum.

    I remember just standing and admiring the simple door handles in one of Edna Wallings designed Bickleighvale (Moroolbark) houses.

    Reminds me of Panero's work of the 60's and 70's. And may re-start mini Jenck's post-modernisms. Stimulating topic. Thanks for that!