Workplace design and the Roslin experience

2008_03040049.JPGWe took a branding risk moving from our architect renovated vaulted ceiling warehouse in Albert Park to the grand Victorian house in West Melbourne. I need not have worried. Roslin (as the house is called), has not only been good for our branding, it has offered other advantages I hadn’t anticipated. This has prompted some pondering about the role of the work environment.

At high school, my two favourite subjects were technical drawing and art. (How did I end up with a pure maths degree?) A latent love for architecture and design has followed me through adult life. The ideas of how people interact with space has always held my interest, whether reflecting on Naomi Klein’s ideas about public spaces (No Logo chapter 13) or my own discovery of cooking pleasures after renovating our kitchen. If you share this fascination, I recommend you get your hands on Alain De Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness. The first 100 pages or so in particular are spectacular reading. But I digress.

I visited Shirley during the week. Before we enjoyed the sophisticated dark of the European cafe and winebar in Spring St. she showed me Arup’s impressive new offices, typical of the new kinds of spaces that are peppering corporate workspaces these days. But as an article in Friday’s edition of the Financial Review’s Boss Magazine says,

“…work environments that help get the most out of people – which boast the design finesse the modern worker expects – are not the norm.”

George, who owns and restored Roslin has treated us at Ergo and our network of clients and associates to a building of exceptional quality. It was the awe of the building that first captivated us. What I hadn’t anticipated was the sense of how the environment invites quality work. One almost feels embarrassed to deliver mediocrity within its walls.

We have tried to create different spaces within the building. No one has a permanent desk. All spaces are shared. we’ve got an open kitchen dining area, a modern board room, a ‘bankers-lamp, leather-top-desk’ style library, an open airy hot desking space and two outdoor areas. Each is designed for different moods and work styles. I reckon it works.

As I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this with people there is a sense of ‘derr’. Of course it is true that the environment affects the way people work. But if it is so self-evident, why are workplaces environments that inspire so rare? We have certainly lacked imagination on how to organise our office environments.

Sure, money is a factor, but where there is a creative will, there is a way. I’m not embarrassed to say that we furnished our place mostly from eBay. My suspicion is that managers have considered employees and their environments a cost rather than an asset, and have for the most part have forfeited considerable business value by overseeing very ordinary office environments. I wonder what our workplaces would look like if we embraced the link between inspiring environments and productivity.

I’m interested in people’s experiences of how different work environments influenced their motivation and effectiveness at work. Please do tell…