Take a second to ask yourself, when the last time you felt productive while working? Was it at your desk? In an office? Was it even at your office? Was it perhaps at your favorite coffee shop? Or, maybe, was it in your brown leather Barcalounger at home you’ve named “The Thinking Chair?” Regardless of where it was, or the type of work you were doing, there was most likely a correlation between the type of space you were in and your level of productivity.
Over the past two decades, the workplace industry has seen the debate around open-office vs enclosed-offices play out in lectures, news articles, and chatrooms across the world. Last month, Jeremy Reding gave a brief history of this debate with his own article. As he pointed out, when a pendulum swings to one side of the debate, we often lose perspective on the benefits of the other. This debate centers around a much larger question we should be asking ourselves: As technology improves, allowing employees to work from almost anywhere, what will even be the role if the physical workplace? And what does that workplace look like, if it even exists at all?
The answer is yes. Quality, physical workplaces still matter, and there are many reasons why it’s more relevant than ever to employee performance and productivity. Designers have the opportunity to create healthy work environments where people can do their best work – through choice-based workplaces that are backed by research and tailored to the culture and people these spaces support.
The Building Blocks of Choice
Choice-based work environments are a relatively new concept in workplace design. For years, most offices offered three opportunities for spaces where people could work: a private office, an open desk, or a conference room. Throw in some soft seating in the lobby or a break area for good measure and what you have is essentially a workplace. The dilemma, however, is that these types of spaces aren’t necessarily conducive to the type of work most companies and their employees perform. To better understand how to create work environments where employees are productive, it’s first helpful to look at the different kinds of tasks being done on a typical workday. Recently, we have been compiling research from behavioral and organizational psychologists, neuroscientists, and other primary sources to create a framework of Work Modalities, which define the types of cognitive and physical tasks we do throughout our workday.
Work Modalities identifies six distinct categories based on task differences that lead to different space needs: Hard Focus, Soft Focus, Collaborate, Socialize, Learn, and Rejuvenate. All of us probably do each of these six things at work every day, or at least try to! Each, however, requires different cognitive processes and physical actions or equipment to perform effectively, and these differences are directly tied to – and impacted by – the surrounding environment. Our research has led to comprehensive criteria for designing spaces that accommodate these work modalities, allowing people to achieve their best work.