People no longer compartmentalise their lives into neat, self-contained boxes. When we come to work, we’re still ‘switched on’ to the other parts of our lives. We’re connected 24/7. The pros and cons of an ‘always on society’ are widely debated but, when it comes to commercial design, the Worklife evidence is all around us.
Worklife evidence is all around us. Communal working areas in leisure spaces, pop-up retail installations in corporate headquarters, hotels billing themselves as home-office hybrids.
Communal working areas in leisure spaces, pop-up retail installations in corporate headquarters, hotels billing themselves as home-office hybrids. Architects and designers are embracing the movement in increasingly creative ways but, in some industries, end-user organisations are demonstrating a more reluctant pace of change, which seems to be leading to a growing gap between how people want to conduct their lives and the reality. Rethinking workplace in order to better accommodate how we think, act and function, begins with defining how we use that space.
Letting go of workplace
When you think about it, ‘workplace’ has become an outdated term of reference. It conveys that we carry out paid employment in one place, which is no longer true for most people. Technology has already broken down the walls that limit where, when and how we work. And, in danger of stating the obvious, many of us can work pretty much wherever a good wifi signal permits.
But, given the choice, the majority of us don’t actually want to. It turns out, that while we crave flex, and the freedom to work wherever and whenever, the majority of people recognise the benefit of a dedicated place of work. In fact, our survey of 2,500 European office workers – The Great Indoors Index – shows that 63% still believe they are most productive at work.
We found that, given the choice to work from anywhere, 63% of us still believe we’re at our most productive in the office.
Regardless of where employees are producing their work, it is also clear that the sum of the two parts – ‘work’ and ‘life’ - put a significant strain on employees lives. Many feel overstretched and stressed with 65% saying that they find it challenging to meet their responsibilities both inside and outside of their day job. A staggering 70% admit to working additional hours to what they’re contracted to do putting pressure in other areas of their lives.
Under these circumstances, it doesn’t matter how beautiful that workspace may be, morale will wane and the quality of output suffer. A happy workforce is, afterall, a productive one and with 45% of Europe’s office workers not feeling able to meet their full potential, we need to understand why.
Defining our own Worklife parameters
Certainly there are many complex factors that contribute to workplace health and wellbeing but stress - whether the source be from home, work or related to another situation or pursuit we care about - is a fundamental problem.
Some of this could be partly because workplaces are only just starting to recognise that a growing population of office workers want the freedom to define their own Worklife parameters. And, that true flex only tends to be offered to those managing the traditional pressures of home and a career when, actually, Worklife is far wider reaching.
The Great Indoors Index shows that the Worklife concept is, in fact, an interesting blend of workers cum volunteers, students, hobbyists, semi-professional sports people – and budding entrepreneurs. And, it impacts every management tier, life stage and age bracket; men and women alike.
Perhaps surprisingly, it also highlights only negligible differences between the genders, when taking a pan-European view, in terms of how much importance they place on aligning their responsibilities inside and outside of the office with some expeptions. In The Netherlands, for instance, men placed more emphasis on achieving a so-called ‘balance’ between ‘work’ and ‘life’ and felt less able to ‘switch off’ than their female counterparts.
Flex, fluidity and future thinking
This suggests that perhaps we all need to start thinking more holistically and that organisations that entrust employees to manage their own commitments can surely count on a more dedicated, happier workforce.
But, also, that when it comes to showing greater ‘flex’, it is important to think beyond less rigid working patterns and parental responsibilities. While important, these as just one part of supporting a more fluid way of working.
But, when it comes to showing greater flex, it is important to remember that considering less rigid working patterns is just one aspect of what it means to support a more fluid way of working.
Worklife is about letting go of the mindset that ties us to the daily commute or dictates that we sit in a certain spot. It’s about being open-minded; allowing and accomodating the many various types of work and working styles; individual profiles and preferences as well as any particular circumstances that has a bearing on what makes an optimal environment for happy, healthy and productive workforce.
Worklife in action
Understanding how these factors impact our use of any given space was one of the key drivers behind the research programme we’re rolling out. With the results from ten countries and counting, we’re starting to see some interesting trends that we hope will give architects, designers and workplace specialists further insights into what really matters to Europe’s office end-users. Not least the difference between the countries when it comes to open plan versus private or co-working spaces and how particular styles of working seem to correlate with our layout preferences.
To get an overview of what we’ve found, please download ‘Rethinking Workplace - Part I’.
Here we look at some of the physical attributes that office-based employees tell us matter most. And, as we move forward we’ll start to explore the Worklife concept in more depth as we invite our contributors to consider the upshots of this movement and what it means for them and society as a whole.