Happy offices

What can transform “we work to live” to “we live to work”? Anthony Lopez, Design Principal and founder of Lopez Design examines workplace philosophy and design of environments to see how we can invigorate our workspace towards better lives and better business.

Most people associate ‘work’ as doing a job and putting in effort towards tasks in order to earn money. Earlier generations rarely associated work with doing something they enjoyed. Enjoyment has always meant ‘taking time off work’ or ‘indulging in a hobby.’ Now, more often than not you will be asked if you like what you do. We spend the greater part of our waking lives at work, and it is quite illogical to conclude that for most of this time, we should be enslaved to the idea of work as drudgery. Why do we speak of ‘Monday morning blues’ and how do we launch into the week waiting for Friday to come around? Office spaces reflect this attitude: from the typical government office to corporate offices, workspaces aim to be functional, serving only the basic purpose. The home space is where we put in our energy to make an ambience that reflects our attitudes, comforts and preferences.

Traditional crafts in India demanded that people have more than one job. The social structure of a community was fashioned around these central activities – for instance weaving and farming – and the entire family would participate. The ‘workspace’ in these communities would let the living space, the workspace, verandah and courtyard all flow into one another. The British in India created formal offices to suit desk work and the pattern of interior design followed cabins for senior managers and desks for junior personnel. Just like many other archaic systems, these too were continued blindly, much after the British left. With western influence now prime in India, it was natural to adapt to the open office, which had its origins in Europe and the US, as in Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Johnson’s Wax building. Wright was proposing a breakdown of hierarchy and a no-barriers working space where people could quite freely interact with each other. More than anything, the economics of space became very attractive to adopt in open offices, as it was easier to get many work-desks into the common space without walls.

Design is related to economics and in designing for an office too the real reason for making office environments attractive is because design is an investment for the future. Better spaces allows for better work performance – which leads to better business.

Flexibility and integration in work spaces

In 1997, I started my solo studio operating from a single room of a small flat in Noida. This could be the chapter out of every story that was a garage or barsaati start-up in New Delhi. Except, when I expanded and built my first office, I never thought of giving myself a separate cabin. We have since then, continued having a studio that is open and democratic with multifunctional spaces. When we decided to buy chairs, we invested in Herman Miller as we wanted our people to be comfortable at work. The couch in the main office doubles up as a place to hang out and work on your laptop and also where you can take a catnap. The conference room is a space for our entire office to meet and also where we make internal presentations. There are six hubs in the office where meetings can happen formally and informally. The variety of workspaces reflects our office culture – where we all pitch in to make coolers in the summer and do potluck for lunch, where we listen to music or take a break to play table-tennis.

 Office design should reflect the brand values of the organization. The design of spaces and graphics should inspire people at work to imbibe the philosophy of the firm and make that vision a reality. We have been successful in practicing what we preach. For our clients at Mercer, we created cheerful break-out areas, where employees can take a much-needed break. We also created themed spaces so that the time spent away from the desk becomes rejuvenating by introducing games or puzzles. 

The ‘living space’

As the millennial generation becomes choosier about working in their own style, workspace design has to give people options to work away from their desk. The workspace should be stimulating and vibrant to attract people to work longer hours when required with comfort. Companies like Zoho provide their employees food round the clock. Unicef gives its employees Herman Miller chairs and this is ideal for good ergonomics – you can adjust the chair to suit your height and tilt the back to support your posture. Wells Fargo gives its employees more square feet area than other offices and the decision has been very successful to the work ethic and happiness of employees. Colours used, graphic treatment and break-out areas to relieve your routine to do some other activity – play table tennis, take a shower, listen to music, make yourself a cup of noodles – all this makes the workplace more attractive and home-like. Large office furniture brands like Herman Miller now call their office spaces as ‘living spaces’. At Lopez Design, it is a second home and we are all part of the LD family.

Linking growth to space design

Growth is related to making profits and most management tends to think the less spent, the less to pay back. As the world turns towards making products more individualistic and customized, office spaces too will veer in this direction. Google’s offices are amongst the most coveted in the world, known for their flair, comfort and playfulness. Rather than look at people as needing to deliver on pay, we look at people as true partners with clear focus on three components – a) Making people our pillars of strength by giving them a fulfilling life at work — Respect b) building the business to benefit all its stakeholders — Purpose. Finally, most importantly c) building on strong foundations, clear values and principles — For the greater good.

If this is like an inseparable holy trinity with absolute unwavering belief, the business will find answers every step of the way. Work spaces with be living spaces where people love to work towards a goal they believe in and are passionate about. Responsibility will not have to be brought up as a reminder, people will naturally take ownership as part of the culture. If the transition from home space to work is natural, if we do not dread the coming week but look forward to it, then work-life balance becomes a reality. We move towards the naturally functioning space responding to human need as the ultimate goal – happiness.

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