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The New, Social Workspace

It's mid-2022. Office work is settling into a "new normal" of working some days of the week at the office, some days at home. It works for some people, others find it lonely, uncomfortable and alienating. One of the biggest casualties is company culture. How do you maintain a team environment when everyone works separately in different locations? If we want workers to start using an office again, they need to have a positive reason to go there. The workplace needs to be more social.

I've been visiting clients' offices over the past six months. At worst, it feels as if everyone has gone out on a fire drill and never come back. Especially where there are large, open floors of workstations. It's large, empty and silent.

Cubicle farms like this have become obsolete. If you work on a computer, you can do all that stuff at home, more efficiently and without distraction or interruption. 

But that’s work that you do on your own. 

Much of it isn’t and you need to be around other people to work well.

For the time being there’s no shortage of space in offices. But with the way we work now the effect of too much space is anti-social. With a little effort we can make workplaces more social. 

Conventional offices are made up of three main types of space: work cubicles (soul destroying,) meeting rooms (never available) and boardrooms (created to intimidate).

There’s time for a new paradigm. 

The communal workspace

Instead of cubicles, think long communal desks for 6, 8, or 12 people. With enough distance to avoid crowding and yet be able to communicate, even banter, on a casual basis. Large spaces should be broken up with screens or partitions. Music and sound zones can be incorporated. People can gather in loose teams according to what they're working on. Small areas for private conversations and calls can be incorporated.

A group of office workers sharing a communal workspace desk
The Communal Workspace

The meeting exchange

Next level is large, open, “exchange” type meeting areas, inspired by old style clubs with loads of different types of seating. Numerous informal meetings can take place at one time, and workers can enjoy a buzzy, clubby atmosphere. Larger organisations can incorporate a café or canteen.

The social workspace of 2020
The Meeting Exchange

The war room

But when you need to get a team together with a lot of materials and potentially confidentiality issues, you need a war room. These can morph into project rooms - less formal, more digital - people can join in from elsewhere, even internationally. 

Office team presenting ideas in a shared workspace
The War Room

Much of this can be accomplished with modifications to existing office kit - the ultimate is to design one from scratch, to perfect the visual, comfort and acoustic environments. 

The result is a much more social, functional and fun space to be in. You don’t need gimmicks like ping pong, games and slippery dips.

And if you just want to focus for a day on your own, you can stay at home!


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