In a culture obsessed with ‘fast design trends for the home’, workplace design expert Angela Ferguson asks what if we gave as much thought to the design of our offices?
February 14th, 2019
In Australia, we are utterly obsessed with the interior design of our homes and there is evidence of this everywhere we look. Newsstands are filled with copious amounts of residential design magazines and we pore over these in a way that is almost indecent. There is an abundance of highly popular Australian and overseas TV shows about renovating, buying and decorating our homes, with new versions cropping up regularly. We are bombarded with advertisements and images of the latest range of homewares by yet another fashion designer or chain store. In many ways, we are able to justify this infatuation – we live in a fast-paced, rapidly changing world and our homes allow us to express ourselves, they provide comfort and safety in our busy lives; they help us connect emotionally with our family and friends.
Yet what about the interiors where many of us spend a third of our lives – the workplace? Australians have one of the longest working weeks in the world, yet the power of a well-designed workplace is still underestimated. As a designer who specialises in workplace design, I spend a lot of time in the ‘before’ version of a working environment. And unfortunately, many of these places border on uninhabitable. They are badly planned, untidy rabbit warrens with no sense of community. The aesthetic is outdated by a good twenty years, as well as being physically worn out. Air quality is poor and air conditioning is either extremely cold or non-existent. The systems furniture is archaic and doesn’t support modern technology. There is no communal or team space, and nowhere to eat lunch other than at your desk. Hygiene and ergonomics are questionable and the number of people I’ve seen sitting on broken chairs is staggering. There is a ‘culture of heroics’ where everyone is just making do, finding workarounds. This is not a good thing. Would we put up with these conditions in our homes? The only saving grace is that the workspace is about to be refurbished or demolished, yet its occupants have spent many years working in these conditions. If it were me, I don’t think I would last very long without getting physically ill or depressed.
But what if we were as obsessed with our workplaces as we were with our homes? What if we constantly looked at our workplaces with a critical eye, taking into account how they serve what we do on a daily basis? Questions we should be asking of our workplaces include, as a minimum, are they clean, tidy and uncluttered? Are they healthy indoor environments? Do they have access to natural light, fresh air, plants? Is the design beautiful – does it make us feel good being there? Is the design functional and practical? Does it make us feel calm and secure, or stressed and agitated? Is it a sustainable environment? Does it embrace recycling and minimal waste practices? Do we have opportunities to stand up and move around throughout the day?
When it comes to the design of our workplaces we should be consumed with culture, ergonomics and aesthetic. When it comes to the design of our workplaces we should be fixated on health and wellbeing and the ability to make social connections. We should expect more from our workplaces, just as we expect more from our homes. Our workplaces should work as hard as our homes to provide sanctuary, to engage, to support, nurture, stimulate and to foster energy and creativity. (Imagine if our newsstands were littered with magazines filled with inspiring and beautiful workspaces!) And to reference the latest craze related to our homes – KonMari – how could our workplaces ‘spark joy’?
Angela Ferguson is the co-founder and managing director of Futurespace. As a workplace design expert, she is sharing insights into the shifting world of commercial interior design.
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