As companies and educational establishments adopt more collaborative workplace styles and practices, so there is a growing need for visual thinking and planning systems. The trend in office space design however, is towards ever higher densities (so, less space per person), larger floor plates (the area of a given floor in a given building), and more open plan configurations, with the consequence that there is ever less wall space to be put to functional use for visual thinking. This creates a further dilemma for architects and designers, who also need to be managing the conflicting needs for quiet focus with collaborative creativity.
It’s not so much a technology backlash, but there is a growing acknowledgement of the value of face to face interaction in the workplace according to the Gensler design forecast for 2014.
Gensler see the trend for collaborative workplaces being towards higher density workplace environments which allow for collaborative working in small groups, informal encounters and quiet spaces for individual focus.
Technology has undoubtedly improved performance and productivity in just about every walk of life. The trend is now increasingly for technology to be integrated in the physical environments in which we live work and relax. It has proven its value as an enabler of remote working and distance learning, but is technology going to enable effective collaborative working?
Those working at the technological coalface, developing new systems, new platforms, new Apps and gadgets are THEMSELVES a significant and growing proportion of the workplace population. Paradoxically, work practices in the hi-tech community are remarkably low-tech, with Agile and related development methodologies placing ever increasing emphasis on real-time face to face collaboration. These are very human work processes. They vitally depend on regular stand-up reviews around simple visual systems. They use simple and practical ways of making planning, problems and ideas visible, recognising that tangibility, transparency and adaptability are key.
Similar patterns can be found in manufacturing and service domains where Lean and other Performance Improvement methodologies, whilst embracing the power of technology, also embrace the creative and problem solving potential of interactions that are facilitated in real time, face to face encounters supported by is visual, spatial and tactile media.
The problem is, the bigger the floor plate, the more open plan and the greater the density, the less wall space there is upon which to visually plan and think!
Resourceful staff will always find a way, and solutions range from foamboard display panels leant against desk ends, to revolving whiteboards. These solutions solve a problem but can trip people up. Not just literally, but they also undermine the design aesthetics conceived by architects, space planners and interior designers. This undermines the investment the client made in providing a stimulating and productive environment for their staff to achieve great things in.
If you are going to have an open plan collaborative workplace:
1) Remember that ‘IT departments’ never used to need whiteboards, but then IT departments didn’t used to do what they do now!
2) make room for informal and semi-formal gatherings, with access to tactile visual media.
3) Think again about how to optimise the wall space you have left – can you afford the space for a big mural? Would the space better serve as a floor to ceiling whiteboard, or would it be better to have detachable whiteboards that can be moved from desked areas to meeting spaces and visa versa?
4) Think about breaking up space with multi-functional furniture -turn the doors and backs of cupboards and lockers into work surfaces, for example.
Logovisual: designers of ThinkingWallTM, ThinkingWall FreestanderTM , Hook-ups, portable whiteboards and a growing range of innovative bespoke visual thinking and planning systems