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 provides all of this. Through a process of data gathering in the form of time utilisation studies, observation, surveys and workshops, you can establish factual data about a business that can be used to inform and rationalise design decisions. The evidence can influence initial concepts and ideas which then evolve into realistic scenarios of how things could be. Finally, the ideas and information are transformed into a workplace reality that matches the real needs and wants of a business.

A search for truth

A well-designed workplace takes into account where people spend their time, who interacts with who, who should interact with who and what types of spaces people need. And this needs to be done with hard evidence, rather than making assumptions. One person or a few people’s views on ‘what this business needs’ may be very different 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 doesn’t have to be as impersonal as it sounds. As well as time utilisation studies and statistical analysis, workplace consultants ask questions, conduct focus groups and hold workshops to understand how people work and what they need from their space.

Looking at the many different teams or ‘neighbourhoods’ that make up a business you can create a picture of the types of spaces that those people need and how alternative workspaces might positively influence their working habits. When leading software providers Autodesk wanted to create a creative and inspiring workplace, it became clear that a variety of zones or ‘neighbourhoods’ needed to be created. Mobile teams needed space to collaborate whilst others needed space for quiet, focused work. Once the needs of the people using the space were identified, a space could be designed that met those needs.

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.

Evolving ideas

Gathering the evidence is just the first part. Next the data needs to be analysed and interpreted – if desk utilisation is just 60%, where are people spending the rest of the time? What spaces do we need to consider in the design? Do we need less meeting rooms, more quiet rooms, better breakout spaces, smaller tea points to draw people to collaboration friendly areas like a café? This analysis can then be reported back to the designers who can use it to inform their design decisions.

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 substantiated 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.