I saw that Yves Behar, the well-known designer, has been working with Herman Miller on something called the fuseproject, and one outcome is the newly announced Public Office. Before you look at the Public Office, it’s helpful to step back, like Behar and his team did, and review what they found out from some primary research into the office environment:
People in high-performing companies spend 23% more time collaborating than in average companies. This is no surprise, and lines up with other research into the ways of high performers.
What did stagger me a bit was that people spend so much time searching for a place to work in the office, and that productivity goes up 30% when ‘workers feel they have a place to retreat’.
61% of people spend time working away from their desk on an average day. In fact, as Behar and his group pushed at the premises of the office they determined that the conventional office landscape is based on a deeply non-cooperative foundation. The answer is to reconceive the office so that the barriers to getting things done are minimized or eliminated. So the question is, then: how deep does that reconception have to go? Pretty deep, because it turns out that the shift involved leads to confronting… hierarchy.
In the traditional office environment, cooperative work tools — tables, conference rooms, and other shared space — are pushed to the periphery, while in ‘social desking’ — or public space space models — these tools are integrated into the immediate workscape so that people are not wandering to the end of the earth to sit down and work together.
And so, Behar designed a modular system of office components that can be configured in innumerable ways.
And some examples (which are actually anticlimactic). There is a great video showing the flexibility in such a scheme, here.
The designers express three beliefs that underlie getting to a breakthrough in how we think of the office, not as a passive backdrop or an impediment to getting things done, but as an active and critical tool for cooperation. I quote them:
- Variety in proximity — We believe having a variety of workspaces is not a luxury—it’s essential to productivity and engagement.
- Collaborative density — We believe collaboration doesn’t just happen in conference rooms—it happens everywhere.
- Evolutionary design — We believe that workplaces are like businesses—they must continually change and adapt if they are to thrive.
The subtle subversion of Behar’s rethinking of the office is the final and most important takeaway. The office environment is a reflection of the values that underlie the company, and high-performing companies will expend the time and money to create a context that fosters cooperation rather than sending a signal about who reports to whom.