What space works

What would you consider to be a more productive workspace: a clinical grid arrangement of desks or a Google-esque environment of perks and creative extras? Most would certainly choose the latter, a place with creative space and an open plan, yet which of these is a more productive space?

Many studies have already proven that better ventilation and temperature management can significantly boost workers productivity, but how does the physical environment contribute to these factors?

Recently, two Dutch designers, Celine de Waal Malefit and Jorien Kemerink, were asked by modern art museum MU to take  over an office space. They filled it with comfy couches, a Zen rock garden, a rabbit and interesting furnishings. The space was offered as a communal office where freelancers could rent time and work from, a growing trend in many cities around the world.

The designers then began to slowly repeal the attractive perks of the workplace piece by piece, taking rugs, the rabbit, couches and replacing them with clinical and conservative furnishings. The changes were blamed on the results of surveys and complaints of users that asked for more “concentration spaces”. Once all colour was taken from the room, the furniture was replaced with cubicle desks and placed in rows.

“After a while it became clear something strange was happening,” said Kemerink of the experiment.

The office space eventuated into an Orwellian 1984-like environment complete with an authority figure watching over them and regulating their time. Naturally, many of the creative types that originally enlisted stopped coming in, yet there were many that stayed. This process of environmental change is known as ‘gaslighting‘.

The interesting results of this gaslight experiment showed that workers in the Orwellian office space were actually more productive than those in the Wonderland space. The regulation of their coffee breaks and bleak surroundings forced the workers to concentrate on their work and complete in less time. Those that had worked in the more creative space were easily distracted, spending too much time getting coffee and playing with the rabbit.

This poses quite the conundrum for freelance workers, as the feeling of unfinished business may outweigh the desire for a super cool work environment once they have arrived home. From a company perspective, the provision of perks and creative spaces for workers could also prove a tug of war.

A survey by Ask.com showed that 86% of people preferred to be alone when working, in order to boost their efficiency. Yet within the same survey 27% of workers believed an open space environment would boost their productivity.

Working as a freelance writer, the need for more regimented systems can be appreciated – as home offices often don’t feel like an encouraging or productive workspace. On the other hand, the freedom of this lifestyle is something that would be hard to give up. Boosted productivity is highly sought after, yet a quality of life mantra is also trying to be upheld – finding a balance can be difficult.

Quote & Image: FastCo


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