In Workspace, No One Can Hear You Scream
The tongue-in-cheek title of this article is a reference to the tagline of the classic movie ‘Alien’. Apart from a couple of iconic horror-ish scenes, much of the drama of that movie is suspense – long periods of nothing with intermittent interactions with the unexpected. That sounds a lot like office workspaces – long periods of nothing then getting quite startled by the smell of whatever the last person cooked inside the microwave. And, in the dystopian future of the alien franchise and in most offices, everything is done for the benefit of the company.
We’re regaled in LinkedIn posts and magazine articles about the sexy workplaces, usually in Silicon Valley with mini-golf courses in corridors and fireman poles connecting meeting rooms to a bat-cave. Those kinds of googly environments do exist, and even exist in New Zealand. TradeMe have quite a centrepiece in their office of a five-storey slide. At the top is a sign very clearly indicating it is unacceptable to “drink and slide”. Also, there’s some wisdom about not carrying laptops at the same time.
Whether you think it nice or silly or engaging to have such trinkets and playthings, there are many other more affordable and overtly practical trends and developments in work space design. As long as they’re pragmatic and purposeful and not just change or funkiness for its own sake or that of the ego of a designer, I do not have a problem with them. Novelty by its very nature wears off, like welcomes.
One trend is hiding the wires. Those of us with home offices or who like to muck in and help shift ourselves at work know the excitement of the Russian Roulette of unplugging cables, shifting, then attempting to re-plug things in. With LANs, HDMIs, VGAs and RCAs, it’s hard to tell that I made up one of those previous terms. (One is a record label that signed at various times Duke Ellington, Kenny Rogers and Britney Spears). Complete wirelessness is not yet with us so I look forward to hidden compartments and doors, ala Hogwarts, to keep cables out of sight and out of mind. Until, of course one of them stops working and who knows which one that is or where it’s hidden in spaghetti limbo?
Bringing the outdoors inside is a thing. We’re way beyond potplants now. Some countries are making rooftop garden spaces and parks compulsory. Even Auckland has beehives set up in the CBD for all those folks with balcony yucca, cherry tomatoes and small grazing spaces for ponies that will fit in a handbag.
Multi-purpose spaces are becoming commonplace. From ‘non-assigned seating’ to casual breakout areas to standing meeting spaces, I’ve even seen ‘town squares’ and a caravan repurposed as a meeting room with its own coffee machine with more tech than Apollo 11 had, which admittedly wasn’t that much.
Given that mobile devices are, well, mobile, spaces that used to be for cubicles, pods, or customer desks are now general lounge areas that can be used for laptop work, meetings or general lounging.
Areas within areas can be designated and differentiated discretely or glaringly by colour. The ‘red zone’ is for boisterous play where creative juices can run riot and innovations generated. If you’re trying to meditate in the red zone, that’s a rookie play. Wise up and head for the chill blue space. Duh.
Community tables are happening. Some look like King Arthur is expecting his knights to arrive at any moment but the general idea is sharesies. If the table seats 12 and you’re having a chat for two, don’t be surprised or offended if another two or more people show up and encroach your space. Outside of offices, I’ve been to cafes with community tables and they’re popular and I hate them. The thing I don’t like about being a people-person in my own time is the people. But, apparently, in workplaces, they’re collegial and collaborative. In fairness though, it takes a village to raise a project.
I’m not saying ‘Get Him To The Greek’ is a good movie but there is an amusing drug-addled scene in which various characters interact with a furry wall. Office designers refer to this premis in their new designs as influencing wellness and productivity with a variable texture vocabulary. I am actually a fan of this and have years of bubblewrap popping experience to back myself up. Flat is out.
Permanent layouts are out and flexibility is in. So, it seems like office space is being treated much the same as office people.
If you’re worried everything is changing, fret not, there’ll still be timeless classics like flickering fluorescent tubes, partitions blocking natural light, and Barry from Accounts trying to sell you his daughter’s fundraising soap. Whatever happened to fundraising chocolate?!
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/