What employees need in a workstation isn’t always obvious—even to them.
And while science continues to uncover more and more about how humans function and behave, little of this knowledge is seeping back into the workplace. Nonetheless, there are affordances, or physical features, that can help workers be their most effective.
Jeff Reuschel, Haworth’s Global Director of Design and Innovation, spends a lot of time thinking about this issue.
“We try to get to the foundational elements that cut across gender, age, culture, and discipline boundaries,” Jeff says. “Memory is important. Attention is important. The ability to think abstractly is important. We look into how the physical space and objects within it can allow people to do their best work.”
These elements include:
1. A sense of place. A feeling of ownership and inclusion is important to everyone but especially to the increasing number of unassigned workers who don’t have a permanent workspace. Providing an owned element, such as a locker or mobile cart for their dedicated use, can help instill a sense of belonging and permanence for people, while creating legibility in the space. They can also provide a place for cognitive artifacts, or physical resource tools, that aid a worker's memory.
2. Unconstrained space. Organizations continue to look for more changeable interiors. They simply can’t afford to underutilize their space, or have furniture that gets in the way of their workers. Furniture built to allow people options in location, position, posture, or orientation can not only help with focus and collaboration but also provide a sense of control—one of the key components of worker satisfaction.
3. Managed distractions (stimuli). Distraction is the number one office complaint. However, some distractions can act as creative stimuli and be beneficial for certain tasks. This explains why people can, and often prefer to, work in a café setting. The background noise is helpful for divergent cognitive tasks that require thinking broadly and coming up with creative options and ideas. These tasks benefit from having unexpected and irrelevant stimuli. The same is not true for convergent, or focused, tasks, which are better done in isolation and quiet. This is one reason the concept of activity-based workspaces have become so popular—providing appropriate space for the task at hand.
4. Displayed thinking. With the dematerializing and shrinking of the workspace, there has been a loss of both horizontal and vertical surfaces. This reduces the space that allows people to see things visually. Displaying information and ideas can be key to solving complicated problems. It’s also a way to spot patterns and trends, and identify what's missing. Jeff believes that whiteboards and pinboards are some of the simplest yet most impactful tools for a variety of cognitive tasks. “They allow people to see all the relevant information at once, enhancing our ability to problem solve and acting as an extension of individual and group memory,” Jeff says.
Bluescape takes displayed thinking to a new level using technology. Jeff is a principal inventor of this cloud-based visual collaboration tool, which won Haworth the Best in Show award at NeoCon and the National ASID award for Innovation.