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New trends from Worktech17: Living Office, co-design and IoT.

A self-learning space, open-designed for the future needs, based on the individual experience and wellbeing. This is the way of designing that was debated at the forum Worktech 2017, among leader companies as Herman Miller and Interface and architecture firms like Carlo Ratti Associati, Zaha Hadid Architects and Studio Banana.

The office must follow the life that takes place in it. That’s the core of the Herman Miller’s seven provocations, seven statements thought to guide the discussion between designers and companies, and based on the last company’s research “Living Office”, presented at Worktech17, one of the worldwide most important forum dedicated to real estate, technology and innovation. The study has involved anthropologists, psychologists and designers in a new holistic approach to the workplace, aiming to define the facts we need to understand when we think about today’s ways of working.

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One of these provocations states: “we feel before we think”. The environment has a great impact on us, therefore it is the main feature we have to take care of. It must be a living environment, where communication takes constantly place (quoting a provocation, “you + me = 3”) in a “wonderful mess” that facilitate creativity and innovation.

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Ulrich Blum, from Zaha Hadid Architects, has given a really good insight during his speech “The self-learning workplace”, describing a way of designing that starts from the use of IoT and sensors to collect data about the habits of every employee. “We have to think about the office as a “living network” Blum said. The data are divided in different parameters as distance, visibility and lighting, in order to give to designers the right knowledges to create a space that fits with the needs of every single person living in the workplace, optimizing the desk arrangement, the communication, the use of working time and the disposition of different environments. Furthermore, datas give the opportunity, using the generated algorithms, for creating more effective team works and arrange them in an ideal workplace. “The idea is to enhance the hierarchy of the office as it really is, and not as it is in the boss’s mind. We have to join furniture and artificial intelligence in order to increase the flexibility the furniture can give us”, Blum concludes.

As we can already see, technology is crucial in nowadays office, even though, quoting another provocation, “we have to forget about it”, meaning it has to be like a comfortable shoe: we have to perfectly walk in it, without feeling anything. As Marco Maria Pedrazzo, by Carlo Ratti Associates, said, exposing the firm’s research about the “technological management of the workplace”, “technology has to create a resilient environment. We have to change our perspective: it is the environment that has to adapt to us, not us to the environment. We have to design as we are designing 20 years ahead, and the only way to do that is making experiments, trying prototypes and see how people react to them“.

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Even though it seems in contrast with Herman Miller’s provocation “The next thing isn’t for you”, it isn’t, because innovation must be based on the company’s culture, and design must fit with the actual ways of working and corporate policy of each situation, but at the same time it has to be open-designed, giving the chance of being reinvented in the future, following the evolution of the company itself and of the times.
Something too ahead, in fact, can scare people, while innovation has to generate engagement, fulfilment and happiness.

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Key Portilla, from Studio Banana, suggested some interesting approach, like co-design sessions, where managers and employee are an active part in the workplace’s construction or restyling, or university-campus-like offices, based on a different environment that supports different states of mind and activity.

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Finally, even in a new tech-workspace, nature can be the secret of a happy and stress-free office. Oliver Heath, from Interface, has talked about “biophilic design“, meaning the need to recreate the “sense of nature“, enhancing the presence of real natural elements, like light, plants and water, or a reference to them, using colors, patterns and materials that help to recreate visually and emotionally the feeling of really being in a natural environment.
Report by Mario Colombo (Herman Miller), editing by Gabriele Masi.

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Creativity is already there: instructions for use.

Creativity is not a matter of being a genius, it is a matter of living in an environment and constantly adapting to it and at the same time modifying it.
So creativity can be fostered through space, enhancing well-being, flexibility and malleability of the furniture, accountability, communication and new technologies. That’s what WOW! has sustained at the conference “The boundaries of fantasy: is creativity in the office going too further?” at the  IFMA’s Facility Management Day 2017

Talking about creativity in an office environment is sometimes cause of anxiety. Workers feel like they have to do something extraordinary that they feel they can’t do, even if they don’t know exactly what and how. On the other hand, managers are struggling to create more and more innovative workplaces and ways of working, questioning, at the same time, their real effectiveness of them and trying to define where it is possible to draw boundaries.

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There’s another way to think about creativity that helps to take the pressure off: creativity is already there, it is a part of our everyday life in every environment.
The American anthropologist Tim Ingold once said that “we don’t build to dwell, we dwell therefore we build”.
Creativity arises in a constant relationship within an environment that is made of space, objects, people and rules.
A set of rules is essential for creativity, which is our own way to move inside and bend their boundaries and to keep on recreating them, like kids playing a “what if” game.
Think about the workstation of a hierarchical old-style workplace: on each desk it’s owner create his own territory, piling up papers, adding photos or other kind of objects, positioning monitors or pens in different ways. This is what I call an “inner focused” creativity, and its aim is “survive the boring routine of each day”. The challenge is nowadays to make this “already-made” creativity visible, enhance it, and use it to improve the company’s productivity.

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If we think about the Maslow pyramid of needs, we can turn outwardly this creativity, by creating a space capable of satisfying the well-being, sense of belonging, engagement, fulfilment and safety, basic needs of everyone.
How can we do that nowadays? Here we give five practical suggestions:

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 1) A malleable and pliant space.
When it’s a matter of creativity, flexibility is not enough. We need a sensorial environment that people can touch, reassemble, and constantly modify and re-invent. A multifunctional space is essential, but it is not enough: it has to be open designed, thought not just for the today’s needs but capable of adapting to ten years ahead needs.

2) Objects are actions and relationships.
“Two empty chairs, one opposite to the other, are already a conversation”. Objects are both symbols of identity both a suggestion of an action. Through furniture, managers can transmit messages and influence the behaviour of the employees, creating a space suitable for the goal they want to reach, making it easily perceivable.

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 3) Accountability and trust
Social facts, like office’s life, has always something that is unpredictable and often the project you have in mind comes out in a totally different result.
We need to accept this unpredictability, creating a working environment where two smart working keywords like accountability and trust are perceived and put into practice constantly.

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4) Space as communication and learning.
As Birgit Gebhardt has studied, it is more effective to design space, not thinking about the material side of it, but like a stage where conversations, communications and actions take place. We need to shape communication if we want to foster new perspective and new ways of interaction, which are the foundation of a creative workplace. Moreover, we have to think about the office as a life-long learning environment, where people can exchange competences and knowledge, stimulating their personal growth.

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5) The key role of technology.
As a recent Sedus’s research shows, technology is having a strong impact on architecture and design, developing the concept of a “spacial happiness” based on the capability of the individual to dominate the environment, deciding the lighting, heating, humidity, acoustic conditions. Technology is also crucial to control the unpredictability we talked about before: IoT and sensors help to collect a huge amount of data that managers can use to design more effective and more engaging workplace, satisfying the needs of each employee.
Text by Gabriele Masi.

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