Balancing the User Experience in the Workplace

Workspace is defined by how space is used and the quality of the user experience. With workplace design transitioning into more open layout and Activity Based Working (ABW), it is the responsibility of the designer to provide a balance of collaborative and focused work settings.

I recognise the significance of encouraging positive human behaviours through designing dynamic and functional workspaces. Open layout workspaces can be dysfunctional if certain space types are not considered. In order to provide a functional open plan and collaborative working environment, we need to consider the allocation of spaces for staff to retreat. Focused working spaces provide a retreat for concentrative, reflective or confidential tasks. The ability for staff to have control over their need to retreat from interruptions, and regulate social interactions will promote a more positive psychological response to their surroundings.

Along with the ability to control one’s sense of privacy, the move to more open plan and ABW poses the question; how do we maintain a sense of ownership for the individual? Staff can often become accustomed to the ownership of their working space which encourages territorial behaviours. Territorial behaviours can be influenced psychologically or through the physical environment.

My thesis completed for my Bachelor of Interior Design (Honours) explored this notion of privacy deprivation, spatial adaptation, and the sense of belonging and ownership for individuals in their day to day surroundings. Through my studies, it became apparent that in order to provide a sense of privacy, the human psychological connection with such a space must be identified. Three forms of territory within a physical space can be identified. These include the ability to generate a sense of ownership, the amount of personalisation provided, and the likelihood of defence when violated. For an individual to gain a sense of ownership over a physical environment, there are influential factors involved, such as the duration of occupancy, and the level of comfort.

The perception of an environment in terms of quality varies for different people, as for some social groups, one environment may seem ideal, yet for others it may hardly be acceptable or even definitively unacceptable. Therefore the concept of ‘adaptability’ provides options that encourage this perception of environmental quality for a range of individuals. Environments that encourage user interaction and enable elements to be re-configured allow for more adaptable solutions. If the concept for a private retreat is considered, the physical constraints of its surroundings must be considered as well. By providing elements of customisation through the physical and functional dimensions of the space, adaptability within the spatial constraints of the user can be achieved. The notion of the user effectively putting together the final space and becoming the driver of the design may create a greater sense of ownership and belonging.

Through research undertaken during my university studies, and my professional experience in workplace design, it is clear that the user’s experience, specifically their psychological behaviours in space, is one of the most important factors to consider when designing for workplace.

Nicole Coutts, Associate