Exploring the Future of the Barbadian Corporate Office - Part 1
The Impact of the Office Environment
Much of the work we do at G&S Interiors involves the design and development of corporate Barbadian environments. Often the main objective is to accommodate a defined number of people, but we still need to ensure the office environment is inspiring, pleasant and efficient for those working there. We see many changes taking place in the overseas market. These tend to infiltrate our market, in the form of new design ideas and more tangibly in the form of products made to facilitate these design ideas. In the upcoming series of blogs we will investigate some elements of office design and how they translate in the Barbadian market, starting with the office environment itself.
Space with abundant natural light (Index Ventures San Francisco Office Expansion by Garcia Tamjidi Architrecture Design, From officesnapshots.com)
The Barbadian Context
The office environment has an impact on the productivity and engagement of employees. This may seem like an obvious statement, but we do not often see this in all corporate offices in Barbados. Physical factors such as the amount of light, both natural and artificial, the indoor air quality and ergonomics of products have a direct effect on an employee’s physical well being, and most people acknowledge that these form the foundation of good office design. The design of a workplace can however, also include factors which influence the psychological and emotional well being of employees, and this is what we find is not so readily accepted.
Locally, the importance of a ‘healthy’ workplace is generally understood, and the implementation of the Safety and Health At Work (SHAW) Act is a positive step forward. A sick employee will not have the same level of productivity as one who is in good health. Absences and lowered work output can be directly attributed to their illness, but what about the physically well employee who feels unmotivated and disengaged? The cause of their work absences and lowered output may not usually be directly perceived. Absenteeism and lack of employee engagement is a constant struggle for Barbadian companies. There are many factors that influence this, but research has found that the design of the workplace environment contributes to these sentiments.
Focus, Collaboration, Socialising and Learning
In the past few years research, such as Gensler’s Workplace Surveys from 2008 and 2013, has amassed data to show that the types of work spaces must apply to the type of work being done there. Spaces which support the type of work tasks, as well as ways in which employees perform these tasks, create office spaces where people want to be present.
Further research undertaken in the US by Gensler and others, has shown that there are four work modes - Focus, Collaboration, Socialising and Learning. A typical workday is made up mostly of tasks that require Focus and Collaboration, with Socialising and Learning also taking place, but to a lesser extent. These work modes can be readily identified in Barbadian offices as well. An individual may be working as a part of a project team, and so need to collaborate, but often needs to go away from meetings and concentrate on their area of the project. The collaboration typically takes place in a meeting room, and the focus work at the individual’s assigned work area, be it an office or workstation.
A collaborative space next to a private space for focused work. (Philip's North American Lighting Headquarters by Gensler, From officesnapshots.com)
Studies have found that companies whose office environments offer a varied balance of spaces that support Collaboration as well as Focus have employees who are more engaged and productive. This is enhanced when workers can choose the spaces they want to work in throughout the day, something not regularly seen on island. Further to offering different spaces to work in, research has also found a benefit in offering products which support different postures. This has seen the introduction of height adjustable desks, which allow the occupant to sit or stand, as well as different types of seating, for example lounge chairs, stools, ottomans etc. These choices encourage people to move about during the day rather than being sedentary.
Different types of spaces to support different work modes (The Factory San Francisco by ASD Photography by Mariko Reed, From officesnapshots.com)
The Bottom Line
The type of office and corporate culture can also impact the work environment. Design elements can be used to support the organisational culture. While many Barbadian companies tend to be conservative and follow a historic design model, there is also an expanding presence of multinational corporations, amongst local companies. Many of these organisations have design guidelines to emphasise brand identity, while homogenising their physical presence globally and we as designers are often charged with helping more traditional clients transition to these new types of spaces.
The valuable take away is that organisational leaders have the ability to shape the office environment for their staff and themselves, ultimately investing in their employees. It is worth it if this can underscore the corporate culture, act as a recruitment tool for new employees, help to retain those already there, and boost productivity.The office environment should be viewed as a desirable place to be which evokes positive feelings and not just be seen as a place to work.