Designing for the "Human Touch" Office Space
From interactive collaboration tools to smart buildings, Internet of Things (IoT) technology, to AI automation, the workplace has rapidly become a digitised space. And while these developments all seek to alleviate time-consuming tasks and respond to human needs, this continuous digital revolution happened almost overnight, without warning. The impact of the pandemic put pressure on businesses to embrace innovative workplace technology in order to accommodate for the unprecedented plunge into working from home and, eventually, hybrid working.
There is no question that the introduction of technology into the workplace has radically transformed and improved the way we work, but with the increase of digitisation comes with it a loss in human interaction. The lack of face-to-face interaction that comes with technological advancements can cause employees to feel isolated, impacting productivity and the risk of blurring the boundaries between personal and professional lives, which can cause burnout. Now, with businesses firmly in the swing of hybrid working, office spaces need to embrace new technology, and foster the human experience, nurturing collaboration and enabling socialising, which is integral to the well-being of any team.
What is Human Centred Design?
Human Centred Design (HCD) is a creative problem-solving approach built on empathy that can be adopted within any design process. For example, Steve Jobs famously utilised HCD when creating Apple products. HCD is about anticipating a person’s needs before they’ve identified a problem and then cultivating a deep sense of empathy when innovating a solution, whether that be your team or your customers. To help embed HCD into your processes, you can combine it with design thinking, another tool that puts people at the centre of innovating. Design thinking methods are used when creating something new, combining the human need with the feasibility of the product. Human Centred Design focuses on the human experience of the problem and uses that experience to iterate and fine-tune the solution. The combination of design thinking and the Human Centred Design process can look something like this:
Inspiration: The discovery of the problem motivates a search for a solution. Designers may immerse themselves into the environment they are innovating to help pinpoint solutions before issues arise.
Ideation: This is where creative problem-solving begins. Designers may synthesise situations to then develop and test ideas.
Implementation: This is an integral component of the HCD philosophy. Prototypes are initially introduced, and then learnings are taken and applied from the test. Embracing failure and reiterating prototypes is crucial to fostering empathy in the solution.
Those who embrace a human-centric approach in their workplace have the potential to yield great results. Research shows that 25% of the top human-centric scorers of 300 design practices surveyed had a 32% higher revenue growth than their peers and 56% higher returns to stakeholders than their peers.
How to Create a Human-Centric Office
Office space needs to reflect the growing demands of its inhabitants, who seek out connection and interaction with their colleagues combined with an environment that empowers their way of working and varying requirements. Human Centred Design can be incorporated into workplaces by focusing on your team and their specific needs. Those who don’t approach workplace design with empathy risk making their employees feel undervalued, which has a ripple effect on productivity, retention and morale. By identifying the pain points that employees may encounter and tackling them before they arise, teams will feel supported and seen by their workplace.
What Does a Human-Centric Office Look Like?
The pandemic showed us that flexibility and choice are vital to creating an inspired and galvanised workforce. Workspaces that provide its teams with options, from lively, collaborative spaces to more focussed dedicated ‘quiet zones’ for deep work, enable employees to flow between their types of work with ease. It is also crucial to consider the layout of the space. Ensure that amenities such as printers and storage are easily accessible. Consider the flow between different ‘zones’ and how this may impact the employee experience - will they have to move through a noisy kitchen to access a quiet area, for example? Integrating aural architecture with acoustic baffling and soft furnishings into your workspace design can drastically impact your team’s focus. Wayfinding is a pivotal component to think about within office design and can significantly help improve the experience of neurodivergent employees. Burnout is one of the key mental health issues employees face, so creating spaces that help to alleviate stress, such as breakaway rooms that do nothing to do with working, will allow team members to access calm environments and improve their well-being. Incorporating biophilia and natural light into workspaces lowers stress and anxiety, boosts cognition, and lowers work-related sickness. Ergonomic furniture that can be shifted and adapted, such as adjustable chairs and desks, will not only help the comfort of your team but also mitigates the risk of musculoskeletal injuries caused by sitting at desks for prolonged periods. These are just a few examples of what empathetic office design can look like. Still, every workplace environment will have its idiosyncrasies and nuances that will require its own innovative set of solutions. In an age so focused on digitisation and automation, it is easy to forget how to bring people back into the heart of the office.