Great office design is increasingly seen as a means of competitive advantage in the war for attracting talent, but the advantage should extend to helping our people to work more efficiently, productively and collaboratively too.

Adrian Norman

Head of Design

26th Oct 2016

Evidence-based design in the workplace involves gathering factual data through time utilisation studies, observation, surveys, and workshops. This data informs and justifies design decisions, shaping initial concepts into realistic scenarios. Ultimately, this information is transformed into a workplace reality that aligns with the genuine needs and desires of a business.

Flexible office space in London

Flexible office space in London.

A search for truth

A well-designed workplace considers how people spend their time, interactions between individuals, necessary connections, and the types of spaces required. It emphasises the importance of relying on hard evidence rather than assumptions. Individual perspectives on the needs of a business may differ significantly from reality.

A common assumption that ‘we need more meeting space’, might actually be revealed as a need for more spaces where two or three people can have a chat – on a sofa or a huddle table for example, or maybe there are plenty of big meeting rooms but only a few people using them at a time, so the space just needs to be reallocated more evenly.

Data gathering in the context of workplace design doesn't have to be impersonal. In addition to time utilisation studies and statistical analysis, workplace consultants employ methods such as asking questions, conducting focus groups, and facilitating workshops to gain insight into how people work and their requirements for their workspace.

By examining the various teams or "neighbourhoods" within a business, it is possible to understand the specific types of spaces required and how alternative workspaces can positively impact work habits. For example, when Autodesk, a leading software provider, aimed to create an inspiring workplace, they recognised the necessity of establishing different zones or neighbourhoods. Collaborative spaces were needed for mobile teams, while others required areas for quiet and focused work. By identifying the needs of the space users, a design could be developed to meet those requirements.

Moving things forward: Sometimes the best starting point in a workplace design project is to identify, ‘what do you like about your current workplace? What works? What do you want to keep or need more of?’ no need to be in quotes – perhaps just italics to draw them out? It isn’t always about reinventing the wheel – the process is about creating a better workplace and that includes building upon the positive elements, as well as subtly identifying the pain points that can be rectified through good design.

Cat A Plus office space with exposed concrete ceilings
A quick softly furnished touchdown Cat A Plus meeting space with teapoint in the background

Cat A Plus office space in Reading with touchdown points.

Evolving ideas

After gathering evidence, the data needs to be analysed and interpreted. For instance, if desk utilisation is only 60%, it prompts questions about where people are spending the remaining time. This analysis helps identify the necessary spaces to consider in the design. It may involve reevaluating the number of meeting rooms, determining the need for more quiet rooms, improving breakout spaces, or creating smaller tea points to encourage collaboration in areas resembling a café. The findings from this analysis are then shared with designers to inform their decision-making process.

Great design can be subjective –not everyone likes the same colours or finishes, but evidence based-design means that many elements of your office design can be backed up through by conclusive data. So when employees complain that there won’t be enough meeting space, or the finance director complains at the cost of breakout seating, you have the facts to rationalise and justify those decisions.

Transforming information: Great evidence-based design does not mean handing over creativity to the scientists though. Workplace design should be a collaborative effort and in many ways, an evidence-based approach facilitates that. From the initial quantitative and qualitative data gathering, you are providing an opportunity for people within the business to contribute and share their experiences.

Visioning and design workshops provide decision makers with an opportunity to contribute their views and ideas, provide feedback and decide what the look and feel will be. This process gives the designers the tools they need to interpret those ideas, along with the evidence, to create a workplace design that truly reflects the needs and wants of the people using it.

The test of a great office design is how people finally use the space that is created for them. The result for Autodesk was a truly agile workplace that not only facilitated their different ways of working but also looked great too. Gathering the evidence to inform those design decisions means that you can be confident you are creating not only what people want, but what people in the business need. And when that ideal is realised, you can create a workplace design that not only affects your physical environment but that actually transforms the way you work.

Flexible office space for Interface

Flexible office space for Interface.