Finding balance: A hybrid approach to the workplace

24 June 2017
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As workplace design transitions 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. To ensure a successful workspace, it needs to consider the user experience and how space is used.

BCG Digital Ventures

I recognise the significance of encouraging positive human behaviours by designing dynamic and functional workspaces. Open layout workspaces can be dysfunctional if certain types of space are not considered. In order to provide a practical open plan and collaborative working environment, there needs to be an allocation of spaces for staff to retreat. Focused working spaces provide a retreat for concentrating, reflecting or confidential tasks. The ability for staff to control when they retreat aids in stopping interruptions while regulating social interactions, which promotes a positive psychological response.

Along with the ability to control one’s sense of privacy, the move to a more open plan and ABW workplace 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.

Salta HQ

The thesis which I completed for my Bachelor of Interior Design (Honours) explored this notion of privacy deprivation, spatial adaptation, and 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.

There are three key types of territory in a physical space – the ability to generate a sense of ownership, the amount of personalisation provided, and the likelihood of defence when violated. There are several influential factors that need to be met for an individual to gain a sense of ownership over a physical environment, such as the duration of occupancy, and 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 and provoke comfort for all different types of individual preferences. Ultimately it is environments that encourage user interaction and enable elements to be re-configured that allow for more adaptable solutions.

If the concept for a private retreat is considered, the physical constraints of the 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 the workplace.