• The comfort of the workplace, ranging from physical comfort to the atmosphere or feel of the environment.
• Being able to communicate openly and effectively.
• Having access to the people, places and things necessary to be successful and productive.
• Having a functional and efficient environment.
The initiative, cosponsored by ASID, Ecophon, Haworth and Vista Films, asked participants what they would do to create the “ideal” place to work. “Employers often fail to consider the value employees place on the physical work environment,” stated Janice Linster, ASID, principal, director of interior design with Ellerbe Becket, Inc. “Those who recognize its importance as a contributor to performance, as well as a recruiting and retention benefit, gain a critical advantage over their competition.”
To make a workplace well designed, solutions need to integrate the functional needs of the employees with comfortable and pleasant surroundings. Such a combination will help to ensure a workplace where high performance is possible and employees have greater control adapting their physical environments to how they want to work. It also can reinforce corporate values. Where the physical environment supports the work at hand and is in sync with the company’s goals and image, employees are far more likely to be satisfied in their jobs, willing to work longer hours and stay with their current employer.
According to Patricia S. Algiers, ASID, a design/brand strategist with KSConsulting, a division of Kahler Slater Architects in Milwaukee, WI, “Employees feel confused and frustrated if the physical work environment creates obstacles to how they can best perform the tasks related to their specific jobs. Design is not only the tangible artistic expression, it is a strategic investment that assists in formulating, translating and expressing an organization’s structure and style.”
The ASID study also included in-depth interviews with more than 20 commercial interior designers and workplace experts to gain additional insights on effective design solutions. What the study also revealed was that office design has not kept pace with companies’ efforts to reorganize their personnel in order to encourage greater teamwork, communication and collaboration.
The findings of this research will be presented at NeoCon West in November in Los Angeles, CA, and will be available for Continuing Education Units (CEUs) covering the research results. To register, visit www.merchandisemart.com. To learn more about previous related studies or to obtain a free copy of “Workplace Values: How Employees Want to Work,” visit www.asid.org/news/reserach_findings/reserach.asp or send an e-mail with your mailing address to communications@ asid.org.
COMFORT—THE FIRST PRIORITY
What makes a workplace comfortable, and why has it moved to the top of the employee’s values list? With so many Americans now working at home—more than 50 million part- or full-time—it has become somewhat less appealing to work in an employer’s office when comparing certain advantages. At home, the comfort level is high, albeit more isolated. One can work in any attire at hours that are often flexible and can take breaks whenever desired, even to the refrigerator. (See Design Perspectives, “Home Work,” D&WC, September 2002, page 32.) In the office workplace, there is a need always to be “on” as a professional—to look, act and respond appropriately; to be accountable for every moment at or away from the desk. It is little wonder that employees are seeking more comfort in their working conditions.
What constitutes comfort? It is the pleasantness or pleasing quality of one’s environment. It combines the right amount of light, heat, ergonomic fit and colors that are somewhat soothing and at the same time slightly stimulating. It means the surfaces (floors, walls, windows and window treatments and work surfaces) are nice to look at, easy to maintain and appear clean. Textures and patterns are subtle and provide relief from the tedium of the workload, but do not distract from the tasks at hand.
As window treatment professionals, often with other products such as wall coverings or flooring that we can specify or sell, there is much we can do to make the office environment a pleasant place to be. First, it is important to take into account the type of work that takes place in the office—identify the needs of the employees and where the work takes place.
Pleasant light qualities at the window include the need to screen glare, to control direct sunlight and to give daytime and, perhaps, nighttime privacy. Also, there may be a desire to preserve a view, which would then preclude translucent window treatment products when glare is also present.
At the same time the need to understand codes is paramount. The products we install must be fire resistant and durable for multiple users. Energy conservation also may be a priority from both the owner’s and the employee’s point of view; money is saved and comfort increased, respectively. Window treatments may be required to provide any or all of the following six energy conservation functions:
1. Allow winter solar heat gain.
2. Allow daylight all year.
3. Reflect summer solar heat gain.
4. Seal the window from the room air when mechanical heating and air-conditioning are operating.
5. Insulate against heat and cold extremes.
6. Allow for natural ventilation during temperate weather.
Comfort in the office can be increased through carefully selected window coverings. Wall coverings, likewise, have specific criteria for the office. Among them are less pattern and more subtle texture, colors that are subtle and yet handsome. Also required is a high level of durability and scrubbability, flame retardancy, flame resistance or fireproof qualities, as well as static and microorganism resistance. Nonresidential wall coverings have been tested and rated so that the design professional can match the durability rating to the traffic classifications by code or building specification.
WORKING IN THE OFFICE
Last month we discussed information about how to organize an office for a single person or for small group interaction. Much of that information applies to the space planning and organization of larger offices. One major difference is the number of people who work together. There has been an evolution in the way business offices function. Whereas in the 1990s, accommodating the newest technology was the focus of office planning, now in the 21st century, many employers have discovered that people are their best asset. Hence, from the beginning architectural stages, spaces are being planned for interaction.
This is because the knowledge of employees, many of whom are older with a wealth of experience, has become more valued. As many companies are learning new ways to compete, innovation has become a byword. And innovation can only take place where knowledgeable people interact.
According to Nila Leiserowitz, FASID, Gensler, as quoted in IS magazine, September 2002, “Gensler has done a lot of research on what’s shaping the future of work. It’s really talking about the demographic shift in the work environment, the increasing presence of women and an older working population, along with the rapidly growing role of ‘knowledge workers’ in our economy. Knowledge work—where the work product is the result of intellectual capital—is the fasting growing job category in developed countries. While the New Economy was all about speed and technology, now it’ s about understanding how people work and about the true nature of collaboration. Business leaders in particular are realizing that people are their most important asset—it’s about the knowledge between their ears.”
This realization, that people are the most important part of a successful business, supports the ASID study that employees value comfort in the workplace; the ability to communicate openly and effectively; to have access to people, places and things; and to work in a functional and efficient environment. These qualities become the ensign for a new era of office planning and design. As employees become satisfied with their working conditions through a supportive environment, an increased level of innovative productivity will follow.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.