Written by Ralitsa Golemanova
About a decade ago, open space offices came into the spotlight of workspace design. The workforce across the globe was about to enter a revolutionary period. A simple, yet profound one: you don’t need to be tied to your desk to get the job done right.
Big name companies such as Google and Skype started changing their working spaces, bringing in a fresh and unconventional approach to designing buildings where thousands of people spend their waking hours.
From artificial, cold, grotesquely sterile spaces with luminescent light where people were just the grinding gears of a well-oiled corporate machine, offices today are gradually being humanized and adapted to the needs and comfort requirements of those who use them. Good news, everyone.
We’ve already shared Swipes’ passion for functional and beautiful workspace design. But today we’d like to showcase the insight of professionals about the role of good design in the way people work together in offices.
Funkt is one of the brave collectives out there that are humanizing office spaces with simple and unpretentious design solutions. The architectural and design studio based in Sofia has been around since 2007.
Today there are five of them on the team, most of whom are architects, but all with a heavy interest in product design, carpentry, freestyle and everything that could truly inspire.
After having crafted emblematic workplaces in Bulgaria’s capital, such as the offices of Eleven, Saatchi & Saatchi, Siteground and many others, Funkt still say they are on a quest of not taking themselves too seriously. Because they came together to create things that they care for.
Maria Baleva, one of Funkt’s creators, tells us a story about neon lights, designing an office for 200 people and why workspace design is like math.
Workspace design is there to solve problems
The purpose of designing the office space of a company is to solve specific problems that the team using it is facing. Even though people might not be experts in design, as inhabitants of a certain space they are best suited to identify what the problems of this space are.
That’s why when the Funkt team takes on a project, we first ask the project manager on the client’s side to get some internal intelligence for us. We’d like to get employees’ three top expectations for their new office.
Why this is so important? Because by asking people you can find the crosspoints between the wishes of everybody.
Take the office of Saatchi & Saatchi as an example. Most people, without talking between each other about it, wanted to have a bar. So that’s what we gave them.
The priorities for different people can vary a lot. Some people want silence, others just want to have a personal shelf, or a bar in the kitchen. The answers that they give actually provoke a dialogue between employees and management.
And it is very useful for each company to go through this, even if they don’t have to redo their office design. That’s how you find out the factors that will make people feel comfortable, be productive and get the job done right.
In practical terms, a workspace design project has two dimensions - social and technical. The social part is what we just described.
When we are crafting the solution, we need to identify the technical side too. This helps us create a scheme of the space that should solve the problems of the team.
To that end, we need to know how many people will work there, what each of them needs in their personal working space, who has to be situated close to whom, and even who needs to be isolated a bit because they’re too loud.
If there is a person who needs to be constantly on the phone, extra care should be taken to reduce noise levels. After all, this is one of the major problems of open office spaces.
How the final solution will look like depends also whether the office is for five or 200 people, what the budget is, and what people’s preferences in terms of aesthetics are.
But the crucial thing is that the new space solves the limitations that the team was experiencing.
Understanding people’s workflows
Workspace design is there to eliminate existing issues that are disturbing people. Every detail that does not serve a purpose is redundant. When design mirror actual needs of people, then it also helps the functioning of the team, thus its productivity.
That’s why the way an office space is crafted should be based on and adapted to the workflows of the team that uses it. It should contain meaningful elements only, no need for fluff.
Some people may prefer another type of design, but if the architectural solution solves the problem, it would still be liked by the lot.
Workspace design is like math. The more data you have, the closer you are to getting the solution right.
When at Funkt we start working with a client, there is a period of courting. If there is a mutual liking, then the work would be pleasant. Projects are usually set by the client, so that’s how we get the idea where to go with it.
But if there is good communication and a mutual understanding, the process and the result would be good too because we would have gotten the chance to understand the team’s workflow and needs.
In some cases, we start talking with a company that has a certain idea about their new office. In the process, they realize that they need something else, which might be a completely different space altogether.
The dialogue with us turns into a catalyst for changes in the company because they realize that they need to change something in their workflow or that the way they work requires a different building.
Recently we had this case with the big Bulgarian winemaker, Domaine Boyar. After several talks with us, they realized there is no point in brushing up a space which would not serve the purpose. So they set on to find something new.
Tailoring office design to company culture
An office space is the natural continuation of a brand’s presence - and of the company culture fostered in the team. That’s why you need to tie the workspace design with the existing visual identity of the brand. And you need to integrate the values and preferences of people in it, so that it speaks their language.
Can you imagine Google’s offices full of heavy mahogany furniture? Me neither.
If you’re crafting the space of an IT company, you need to tailor it for young, unpretentious people who are not interested in formalities. They need an office which is fresh, light and unpretentious. You don’t have to make it heavy or with aggressive design. On the other hand, if you’re making a lawyer’s office where more formal business is conducted, you need a different solution. The mahogany might fit better there.
It’s one thing if the team is having their Christmas party at Sheraton and quite another if they are hiking in the mountain during their teambuilding trip.
You can find out a lot about the shared culture by researching the company, asking people questions, even looking at the way employees dress. And of course, at the way they organize their events and teambuilding trips.
Unraveling the magic of common areas
When you’re doing workspace design, it is absolutely necessary to satisfy the needs of each working station, of each person. But in some cases, you also have another important job. You need to convince the management that employees need more common areas and different spaces for work and relaxation.
Some of the most important areas in an office are the places where teams communicate. How you craft those depends on the team’s needs. You get insight from them on their processes , so you can make an adequate solution for their needs. This would ultimately make their meetings most productive.
If a team tells you that they meet in the corridor and use sticky notes on the all to make timeline of each person’s tasks for the week, then you need to create such a solution. If they have to gather around a table and use a projector, they need something else, for example very comfortable chairs, because they spend a lot of time there.
Meeting areas need to be adequate and spacious because it really helps teamwork. And that’s what offices are for.
Are we using fluorescent lights? Yeah, if we want to make a neon label…
No, seriously. We always use warm light. This is very important. The old standard for offices is to have luminescent tubes, the ones we all despise. But we see that changing - and hopefully more people will realize the importance of good lightning, both for individual work and in team meeting spaces.
Good design works
The conclusion of Siteground after they moved to their new office a few years ago: people just wouldn’t leave! That’s how much they enjoyed being in their working space.
Of course, workspace design is one of numerous elements that affect people’s productivity and motivation at work. But it certainly conveys the way they work together, the issues they’re facing and the solutions they’ve found together.
What’s your experience with workspace design in your office? Love it, hate it? Share it here.