You are sitting at your desk, staring at your computer screen. On the desk opposite a colleague is speaking on the phone with a customer. Next to you, close by, other colleagues are busy looking for a free desk space to work today. Concentration is almost impossible. Does this sound familiar? ‘The new way of working’, including innovations such as the office garden and flexible workspaces, requires a number of solutions that put the original intentions – increasing the cohesion among employees, encouraging them to be creative and productive, while saving space – back a few steps.

This blog post is written by By Max Rijken, winner Shaping The Office Contest in the category Design.

Here are, in my opinion a number of important points to ensure your great leap forward doesn’t turn into a misstep: Thoughtful and functional use of space, creating a low-noise work environment by thinking carefully about acoustics and sight lines and – last but not least – encouraging the sharing of knowledge and creative freedom. My name is Max Rijken and next year I will be graduating at the Technical University Delft, Faculty of Industrial Design. My masters study ‘Design for Interaction’ examines the change taking place in industrial design. In the design process it becomes increasingly important to get a better understanding of the user, more specifically an understanding of the interaction between the product or service and the user. To this end, some time ago I conducted a qualitative study into office gardens at three large companies in different industries. In each I found several weaknesses but also opportunities. These insights came from the workers themselves and helped me in designing my entry for Bruynzeel Storage Systems.

My vision of a modern office design
My vision of a modern office design can best be translated into a tasteful, carefully prepared plate. Just like each dish an office has its basic ingredients: desks, chairs and computers. It is up to the designer to ensure that both the basic ingredients, the seasoning and the interaction of these two are appreciated by the employee.
Seasonings as key role
By seasonings, I mean the elements that play the most important roles in an office and that make the company familiar. For example, a company that works with a lot of physical documents could go for a particular storage element as its seasoning, while a creative agency could go for a casual place where they can brainstorm undisturbed. It is up to the boss, the designer, to ensure that these different ingredients match as a composition and that the elements themselves are not conflicting.

Social experiment
Design studio KNOL from Eindhoven tested in 2014 a social experiment to discover in what environment people could deliver productive work for the longest time. They tested this with the project Out of Office. By starting with an informal and very free workplace and transforming this in four weeks into a grey office garden, they looked how people reacted. The conclusion was that people are a bit uncomfortable in a free space and that they worked more productively in a more austere, Spartan space. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes there is a point where the employee feels most comfortable.

The ‘perfect’ work environment
From these two considerations I reasoned that the ‘perfect’ work environment appeared to be an environment that provides structure to the employee and that restricts distraction from the outside, but on the other hand fulfills at least in part employees’ need for change and for an influence on their work environment.

The WorkScape
To get back to the public opinion about the current state of storage systems in offices, I dare to say that the discussion be not very exciting. Nothing wrong with contemporary storage, but it’s no seasoning. I would like to see this change, because if you look at a storage system from both a practical and an abstract point of view, it offers good prospects. A storage system for physical documents is a place where important information is gathered and where the milestones of a company can be found. Employees come here to gather information, thus giving birth to new ideas and success. The combination of this new idea about storage systems, my vision and the insights from my research have led to my design, the WorkScape. The combination of storage system and the freedom to work how the employee wants can lead to a place in the office where the storage system is central to the workplace’s function. The storage system becomes a place where you can gather information and where new ideas are generated. This will not change, even though the current trend is mainly about digitization and the reduction of physical assets. In my opinion, there always will be the need for physical storage, meeting areas and conference rooms.

A functional and low-noise work environment
The interior of a modern office needs to strike a balance between the basic ingredients, the structure that employees need, and the seasonings. By looking at the composition of these elements relative to each other, certain bottlenecks can be avoided in an office garden. Clearly indicate where the boundary is between areas where productivity is number one and areas where creativity and relaxation is offered. This creates a functional and low-noise work environment while there is still space available for knowledge sharing and creative freedom. By bringing together multiple functions, the office footprint can be reduced and the number of unmanned desks can be minimised.
Feel free to comment on my first article. New input or comments are always welcome!