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The coffee offered in my office does really taste awful. Fortunately, there is a little tiny cafe takeaway downstairs near the company whose take-out coffee tastes really good. Therefore, every morning, I take a cup of coffee to the office or go downstairs in a hurry for the coffee and then run back quickly. It is ironic that as a person professionally engaged in creating humanized office space, I have to go out to buy coffee by myself every day with so much inconvenience. However, I have no intention to add another coffee machine in my office because I think it is the most creative moment for my brain when I run downstairs for a cup of coffee in a whole day.
It is a common knowledge that modern enterprises are paying more and more attention to their employees’ working environment so as to impetus their maximum work efficiency. In addition, there are more and more office spaces with super-creative and high-tech decorations and entertainment; therefore, many people wish to work in such an environment in the future so as to inspire their creativity. Of course, I’m happy with this phenomenon because my job is to create office space.
I myself have probably experienced various kinds of office environment, such as from little tiny open office desk to compartment and to independent office where people can sneak off for a while to the Internet. Perhaps you may think it is unlucky for me to go out of the office building just for a cup of coffee, which is not decent at all.
So is there any positive inherent relation? Is it true that if a working office becomes fancier, the employees would become more creative and positive, or they would work with stronger cohesion force and bring about high quality work results?
Yes, but not really in fact.
I also hope that our office would be located in a Class A office building in the CBD of Shanghai or in a historically ancient foreign-style building; the office would be equipped with a super spacious and incomparably shining team discussion room, just like the one shown in the movie Mad Men, and an independent training room with a small pub. Based on this, I could command Workshop in such a space just like being in a coffee house. Of course, it would be wonderful if I could enjoy great coffee. Sometimes, a good environment does help our work in a more positive way.
However, what I mentioned above may not be what I really want.
The current offices offer neither good-tasted coffee nor ping-pong tables nor game machines. Even so, I still try my best to work positively every day.
Human beings are borne with the capability of reserving energy and, if possible, we conserve our energy in case of need. Our brain can conduct the order of reserving energy while our initiatives and mobility are shut down automatically in a comfortable and relaxing environment (Trust me, it is based on scientific research and does really make sense. This is just how God creates us). This is also why I love five-star hotels－because in such an environment, it is natural and effortless to relieve myself from work.
If creating good office environment aims to inspire more creativity, then we should think it over conversely. For example, your best teacher is definitely not the person who allows you to acquire the knowledge “comfortably”; instead, he or she may be the person who “teaches” you less but guides you to solve problems with your creativity spontaneously. As a matter of fact, you may become more creative when you are far away from the “comfort”, just like the Chinese saying goes: Even a dog will leap over a wall in desperation.
To those clients who wish to promote their office environment, I would often raise a question to them: What kind of information would you want to deliver to your team by changing your office environment? Would the creativity of employees be inspired just because of a “perfect” working environment? Or do you try to create an environment that would encourage employees’ work passion by establishing the company’s vision, culture, product or service that would make each employee proud?
Just allow me to say that we excel at creating extraordinary working environment for our clients and as well like high-end coffee machines, colorful high-grade sofa, ping-pong table and intelligent & dynamic decorations everywhere in the office. Such kind of configuration seems to increasingly become a standard and fashion. However, I can promise you that all of this requires money, quite a lot of money.
Of course you can achieve it if you have a perfect budget. With a perfect budget, everything will become real, including swimming pool, yoga room, coffee machine and a coffee house which is located less than 80 meters from the company, let alone a ping-pong table. We could do all the designs for you. It seems that all of this aims at a happier work for us. However, does the happy work that can create actual high value just come from a perfect budget and fancy decorations?
Thinking over all the spaces created by me, there is one that makes me proud; however, its success maybe not come solely from our design, but lied in the company’s prospect, courage and dream to the office space. With the growth of online businesses, I believe that the office space will increasingly become a platform for the enterprises to display their faith and inspire employees' creativity and deliver messages.
After finishing this article, I finally decide not to change the coffee machine in my office. It seems that rushing for a cup of coffee neither kills my creativity nor wastes too much time.
Maybe the only explanation to this lies in creating an undertaking and commitment that everyone likes before creating a delighting and creative office space.
Open plan office has been a trend in modern office design because it provides a better chance of collaboration and team work. However, lack of privacy has been identified as an unresolved problem in an open plan office setting. Actually, to solve this problem, we must begin with a distinction made between privacy in open plan offices and privacy in our daily life.
What is the privacy in open plan offices?
Privacy is more a matter of psychological perception, other than a describable and quantifiable phenomenon. A common understanding of the term “privacy” is that it means personal control over interactions and/or communications with others. Privacy can take different forms because it has many dimensions. In the analysis of the office, we can distinguish two conditions that contribute to privacy. These two aspects are control over distractions and information security. Control over distractions refers to ability to limit the unintended and accidental effects of the presence of others or of the activities of others. Information security refers to the ability to hold confidential conversations, hence to protect sensitive and confidential information. As we can see, the purpose of helping employees perceive a greater degree of privacy is to make them more productive and satisfied with their working environment, which is totally different from the purpose of the privacy in our daily life. For example, employees need to have some control over the sensitive information, but it is different from the situation that we do not want others to peep at our diary.
Privacy at different people’s eyesManagers’ and employees’ opinions regarding privacy
There is a different opinion on privacy between managers and general office workers. Managers’ requirements for privacy are complex. They need privacy to protect sensitive information. But they do not want their subordinates to have too much privacy, because they need to have visual control over general office employees and their entire office. However, there is a strong desire for employees to change and control their physical working space when privacy is needed for concentration in an open plan office setting.
The youngest generation at work
The youngest generation at work like their open-plan office environment very much. They acknowledge most of the features or “problems”, such as lack of privacy, but they do not necessarily see these only in a negative way. For example, they acknowledge that the work environment is noisy, but they see the noise not as a problem but as a sign of things happening. They also understand the “problem” as a fair trade-off for some greater goods. As an example, density is mentioned to be a small price to pay for the benefit of having your best friend right there with you.
The strategies dealing with the distractionsOffer a wide range of possibilities for workplace space
Significantly greater attention should be paid to individual job demands and individual needs for speech privacy when office space is designed. Private office rooms are recommended for workers performing mainly individual and cognitively demanding work and needing confidential conversations. Small interactive teams should be located in shared rooms and, preferably, not to large open-plan offices because the team is difficult to isolate from other parts of the open space. Open-plan offices can be used for non-intensive and dynamic work or travelling workers.
Creating common rules for behavior in each department
Workmates should be encouraged to continuously take fellow workers into consideration, e.g. by having private phone calls and short conversations in communicating rooms, using low speech levels whenever possible and not leaving their mobile phones ringing on the work desks.
Helping employees to cope with the distractions
Employees should be led to understand the disturbing noise as a trade-off for greater advantages of the open office. For example, office noise can be perceived as a small price to pay for the possibility to share one’s feelings with other colleagues right after a discussion with aggressive customers. What is more, we can help them to find coping strategies to deal with distractions in the work environment. For instance, they can discuss the noise problem with colleagues, put on the radio or earphones, or change the workstation.