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The Workspace R/Evolution

Anthony Doornbos

Has the office cubicle seen its last days? 

Anyone that has visited Firebrand headquarters will have noticed that our workspace is far from standard, with an open plan working environment, fully stocked bar and ongoing foosball championship. We are advocates of the “work hard/play hard” mentality. And we're not alone in this. Over the last decade, there has been a conceptual shift in workspace design. Moving away from the traditional suit, tie and cubicle system, towards more open and fun-filled environments. One of the pioneering and probably most well-known examples of this new approach is Google. With their in-house cafés, nap pods, slides, firemen’s poles and aquariums, Google has pushed the boundaries of perception of what makes an effective work environment.

Many companies have seen the benefits in crafting fun, creative and vibrant work environments and have taken a leaf out of Google's book (even if not to the same extremes). But not everyone is convinced, feeling that adding “distractions” to the workplace is going to have a negative effect on productivity.

So what are the benefits of a “fun” workplace?

Michael J Tews, Assistant Professor of Hospitality Management at Pennsylvania State University has been studying the effects of “fun” workplace environments. Finding happier employees often leads to less turnover, a more motivated team, increased commitment, better co-worker relationships and most importantly better outputs. These techniques have been found to be most effectual in companies comprised of younger employees. Which is not surprising when research into the motivations of millennials in the workplace is taken into account, which found that there is greater importance put into fun than compensation and advancement.

This hierarchy of motivations isn’t shared across the board, so it is important to remember that “fun” in the workplace isn’t for all age groups or personality types. Careful consideration of the individuals in the work environment and their values needs to be taken when considering a move this direction. Everyone likes to have fun, but fun is in the eye of the beholder.

Though it is important to note that incorporating slides and aquariums to the work environment isn’t appropriate or practical for all companies and industries, with the more outrageous office designs seeming to be most suited to companies within the creative and tech industries. A more unilateral approach would be to concentrate on creating “relaxed” environments as opposed to “fun” environments.

There are numerous activities that can be undertaken to achieve a more relaxed and engaging workspace. Elements which include wall art, furniture, quirky meeting spaces, signage, wayfinding, digital installations, fittings and fixings can all be utilised to create a more creative and relaxed working environment. Incorporating elements of the company’s history, milestones and achievements into the office decor can help strengthen employee personal connection and cultivate a stronger sense of being part of the “team”.

Several large companies, such as Yahoo, Facebook, Google and Samsung have discovered that many of their company’s most revolutionary ideas have arisen from chance encounters, between employees that generally wouldn’t have much to do with each other during a normal work day. By redesigning workspaces to encourage chance encounters not only maximises inter-departmental collaboration but the innovations that emerge when people collide.

The era of the cubicle is coming to an end

Workspaces are no longer just an expense that needs to be covered but recognised as a powerful tool to help encourage the best performance possible from a team. With the new year just around the corner, this is the perfect time to undertake a few initiatives of your own and unlock your workplaces potential.