Where is the human touch in office design?

30 Jan 2018 By Dr Marie Puybaraud

We need to be more inspirational in the way we approach our workspaces, says Dr Marie Puybaraud

The way we work is changing. Instead of rigid working patterns, the modern employee is increasingly mobile and working from a range of locations and work settings. For instance, 34 per cent of global employees regularly work from places such as internet cafes and co-working spaces, while 54 per cent work from home on a regular basis, as we found through our recent global study, Workplace – Powered by Human Experience.

With the lines between work and home becoming blurred, organisations are creating workspaces as they would a house: with the human experience front of mind, be it breakout rooms for relaxation or incubator pods to help get the creative ideas flowing. Business leaders have come to realise that workspaces need to be engaging, fulfilling and empowering human places.

And as our homes reflect who we are as people, our offices should reflect the ethos of our companies too. Workspaces are more than just bricks and mortar – they are the very heart and soul of an organisation. You wouldn’t want the abiding memory of your offices to be the dull and unpleasant whirr of a printer, but one that is energising, with a buzz of human activity.

If we want our staff to be inspired, we need our offices to be inspirational. How? Begin by going back to basics – the very basics of the human life: our senses. Whether it is colourful, evocative walls that trigger our sense of sight; soft carpets that stimulate our sense of touch; special scents to enhance our sense of smell; freshly ground coffee in the café to tease our sense of taste; or carefully attuned background music to wake up our sense of hearing. The senses need to be kept front of mind when creating stimulating spaces to work, collaborate, concentrate or simply escape. The key to creativity and communication between staff comes from focusing on what inspires them and providing what they need in their working life.

Our report shows a growing number of people want more human and nourishing environments to work in. For instance, more than a third of the 7,300 employees we surveyed believe that the personalisation of the workplace is essential, and more than 40 per cent feel they would do their daily work better if they could operate from a range of workspaces that have been customised to suit varying demands. 

You might have a quiet mezzanine to collect elevated thoughts or brightly coloured meeting areas for brainstorming. It is all about creating workspaces that capture those important but fleeting ideas throughout the work ecosystem.

And as we pass down more basic tasks to different forms of artificial intelligence and digital solutions, such as chatbots, we will need to enrich and strengthen human-to-human interaction. A growing number of business leaders recognise this and want to reflect it in the design of the work environment. 

In the medium term, we will be able to redesign small, repetitive tasks through enhanced tech and automation. This will free up employees’ time and enable them to spend longer on value-adding activities. Chairs will restack themselves in the corner after meetings in multi-functional spaces, giving people a chance to talk to each other for a few more minutes. Organisations that depend on the ingenuity of their people must develop ways to nourish the human mind and spirit. 

Technology may be reshaping the world of work, but human employees will remain the driving force behind any organisation. Whether it be by installing the latest fibre optic broadband, or purchasing the latest collaborative tools, every business wants to ensure its digital platform runs smoothly. People are no different, and we need to make sure our offices are designed to help them engage, while feeling empowered and fulfilled. We need to design our offices with a human touch.

Dr Marie Puybaraud is global head of research at JLL Corporate Solutions

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