A key reason why workspaces need to be designed completely differently today is that they now represent public workspace. In an era where successful organisations embrace Discoverable Communications (more on that one elsewhere), the modern workspace needs to make it easy for people to watch from outside, or come inside.
Doing this without intrusive technology isn’t as hard as we think. The first good principle is to establish a culture where meetings are held in the main workspace itself, rather than in ante-rooms. This allows everyone to listen in and be stimulated, and introduced where relevant.
You might argue that this is distracting, but computers and the web themselves are a far greater distraction. The only way to avoid people being distracted at work by Facebook, Twitter and a zillion websites about holidays or celeb gossip is to distract them with interesting workey things. Facebook and Twitter then become the mechanism by which staff document and propagate the impact of those events and ideas, creating a self-documenting activity process. Remember the company intranet? Well forget it – it’s over. Facebook and Twitter have replaced it.
Anyone who thinks hot-desking is the future has got it all wrong. They are confusing flexible work space with homelessness. Almost everyone needs a home for their work – somewhere they can switch into a productive or creative channel – in some cases, somewhere where the technology just works (many people struggle to make things like computers and networks work, and that’s ok). For many it’s really a place to nest, so that’s what I’ll call it – the Nest. But people should only have one nest – and they should be honest about this both to themselves and others. This is important and something I’ll come back to.
For many people in our modern world, the favoured work nest is at home in a private study – somehow I think this is connected to the experiences many have had with college education where they spent hours studying alone – usually at weird times of day and night. Most people aspire to recreate that environment at home, so if that’s the case it makes no sense to duplicate it. On that assumption, the best solution for a shared workspace is to create a Library room, where people can mimic more public but solitary university or college study.
Something more complex is the need for people to interact over video and audio, potentially where the conversation is published online afterwards, or even streamed at the time. In my view, this is best done from the shared workspace, although it should be easy, too, to move to a quieter audio-visual space, which we’ll call for now the Cube.
The fifth element is a much more public space. Part exhibition area, part public lobby, part town hall, it’s a constantly changing, reconfigurable space that can be used for anything related to the people involved. For example, exhibitions are cool, but it must be possible to use 60% of the space for anything else while they’re on. People have to book their exhibitions and they can only last, say, two weeks.
Ideally the space should be open and welcoming to the wider public – in this sense I refer to collaborators and followers, as well as customers, who should feel able to come and visit, rather as people can visit a vineyard or a Venetian glassblower. This public space is, perhaps, best described as the Showroom.