Posts tagged ‘Creative Spaces’
I popped into an Art Director friend’s agency leaving do last night and the conversation came round to the Perfect Creative Department Office Layout. The consensus of opinion was that the Perfect Creative Department would comprise:
- a main open plan area with hot desking style desks (with no dividers!) close together, music going, lots of inspiring stuff on the walls, people gathering round to look at stuff on macs, generally noisy with lots of banter
- quiet rooms for either just sitting and letting your brain slip into neutral for ten minutes or for when you really need to get your head down and work uninterrupted
- war rooms for pitches and big campaigns (comfy seats, room to work, scamps up on the walls) so the whole pitch team have ownership of the work and everyone can contribute and have a place to congregate
- everyone would have a locker on wheels for all their personal stuff which would be wheeled to wherever they chose to work
- A3 colour flatbed scanners (scan everything and you don’t need to keep the originals so less clutter), colour printers etc sprinkled about with a liberal hand
Have they missed anything?
Its a ‘workplace system’ designed for creative offices that has not only been designed to easily evolve over time but also seems to allow everyone their own little bit of personal space – something sadly lacking in most open plan set ups.
This video (click on ‘the creative office’) talks about offices as a place for people to meet and share experiences, as a tool to attract and retain the best professionals and about the borderline between lifespace and workspace getting thinner, all ideas I really like. via PSFK
In my new freelance life I‘ve been having lots of meetings with local agencies. From one man bands to UK top 30 agencies and from start-ups to old timers I’ve sat in a lot of agency receptions recently and it’s been a real eye opener.
I’ve been amazed at the sheer diversity of approaches to the design and layout of the ‘shop floor’ of a marketing agency. Take the poky outside-of-a-tardis sized reception that led to an inside-of-a-tardis sized labyrinth of offices. Or the very spacious and swish reception that belonged to an agency with a headcount in single figures. I’ve seen funky industrial spaces and converted listed buildings; agencies with entry buzzers and visitors badges and agencies where the visitors chair was next to the dog basket.
I’ve been quite cheered by the number of agencies that were nice places to hang out in – tidy(ish), spacious, light, bright and even inspiring Creative Spaces. Other agencies had clearly embraced google’s third rule of managing knowledge workers and packed them in, making for an oppressive and claustrophobic environment and some agencies were so new they had yet to get round to hanging a sign above their front door, never mind worry about how their internal space was configured.
The other noticeable thing was the number of Faces from Agencies Past that kept popping up. It rather reinforced what I posted a while ago about how you should try very hard not to fall out with anyone in this industry as inevitably you will end up working with them again in the future…
So would I choose to work full time in any of the agencies I’ve visited recently? I’m not sure. I think I quite like combining the hustle and bustle of agency life (whatever kind of building it might take place in) with the peace and quiet of working from home.
Telegraph newsroom photo by victoriapeckham on flickr
I stumbled on a piece in the Wall Street Journal today which reported that the average new workstation designed by global architecture firm HOK Group has shrunk from 64 sq ft to 48 in the last five years.
It does make sense in these cash strapped and cautious times to try and fit more people into less space – and if you subscribe to google’s philosophy that information flows fastest amongst knowledge workers when you pack them in, the news that the average height of desk partitions has shrunk from 5ft to less than 4ft in the same period will not surprise you.
To my mind, there’s something rather depressing about seeing a room full of Dilbert style cubicles – or equally a corridor of closed office doors. Neither really inspires its occupants to great collaboration and creativity, but the properly open plan model is imperfect too.
Right now, I’m sitting in my very open plan office without desk, wall or any other kind of dividers. It’s a fairly quiet afternoon here, but I’m still trying to tune out four rather loud telephone conversations and two meetings within immediate earshot and if I look up from my screen I’m close enough to the co-worker opposite me to use her watch for timekeeping.
I’ve also got a funny feeling that I’m going to be catching her cold in the not too distant future. According to research released in January 09, the extra noise and a lack of personal space in an open plan environment leads to “shocking” effects on our physical and mental health and makes us less productive.
There must be a happy medium – but I think its some kind of complicated balancing act / trade off between structure, privacy and personal space, vs. communication, collaboration and creativity.
One thing that has annoyed me about every single agency I’ve worked for is that the office has looked like a cross between a teenager’s bedroom and an explosion in a paper factory.
No matter how smart or scruffy the actual building and furnishings were, it was still a bombsite. I’ve been to lots of my colleague’s homes and they don’t exactly live in pigsties, so why do so many agency types take no pride in their workplace?
We probably spend more of our waking hours in the office than in our own homes in an average week and yet many of us chose to squat in squalor 9-5. It’s just depressing – and it doesn’t say much to clients about how much pride we take in our work. Perhaps it’s supposed to be a sign of the crazy, funky, innovative, creative environment, or maybe it’s that no-one can be arsed to tidy up.
I think the rot must have set in around the time that desktop computers and photocopiers arrived. It was suddenly easy to generate huge quantities of paper and at the same time dispensed with the need for so many secretaries, who practically had ‘tidy and organised’ in their job descriptions.
Add to that the move to open plan offices with minimal storage facilities and I suppose being buried under three year old research reports and foam boards of pitches lost long ago was inevitable.
My current agency is very keen on moving desks a lot as departments expand and contract, which should have kept the mess down as everyone was forced to have a clearout each time they moved. In reality, it just created the Cupboards That Time Forgot, full of important looking stuff that no-one will claim responsibility for.
I know there is a school of thought that messy = busy = good. In these sober times, perhaps it really is all about appearances.
archive image from Life magazine, hosted by google
Sam Leith in today’s Guardian has written about her experiences working in an open plan office – in essence, an ethnographic study of territorial anxiety and opportunities to acquire cake and gossip.
Sitting in our very open plan, very noisy office, trying to avoid the siren call of the chocolate chip cookies two desks down, it reminded me of everything I’ve written before about Creative Spaces. Working where you work best (and the acknowledgement that people rarely produce their best work surrounded by strip lighting and a constantly ringing phone) is all very well in theory – but what about the economic reality of cost-per-square foot of office space and the expense involved in creating break out rooms, comfy corners and giving everyone a desk-with-a-view?
In fact, google research revealed that (doh!) information flowed fastest in an office environment among people who were closely packed together.
But can we really be productive in such a busy, distracting environment? I certainly get more ‘done’ when I work from home – but then of course all that Information isn’t Flowing via me if I’m not there. On the other hand, this post and accompanying comments on mommy blogger site TheMomSpeak suggests that the average full-time homeworker isn’t exactly Productivity Central either.
Thanks to Amelia for pointing out johnnyvulkan’s coining of ‘Lurking’ – getting distracted maintaining twitter, facebook, flickr etc while at work (wherever that might be). Of course he added that as a ‘media professional’ it was all just research : -)
In the Archie Norman era, Asda apparently encouraged head office staff to wear special baseball caps when they were thinking so they wouldn’t be disturbed (reasons not to work at Asda HQ #87) and white ipod headphones have taken on a second life in OfficeLand as a ‘please don’t bother me’ sign, but its still an imperfect system.
Perhaps we’ll just have to grin and bear all the distractions – and head for the sanctity of home when it gets too much, assuming we can avoid the temptations of the TV…
Prolific marketing blogger and author Seth Godin writes: [if you employ knowledge workers] it’s hard for me to see why you’d bother having someone come all the way to an office just to sit in a cube and type.
He also comments don’t bother showing up if you’re just going to sit quietly. He’s right – space is expensive. Home working is cheaper.
So if you are a knowledge worker like us Planners and are planning on showing up to work at the actual office when most of the point of being there is to be doing lots of collaborative, creative stuff with your colleagues – why do most agency offices mainly consist of a sea of desks?
I don’t think that introducing hotdesking to make room for more sofas and beanbags is the answer. On friend who has tried it describes it as ‘lukewarm desking’ when everyone ended up sitting at the same place day after day and latecomers got the dodgy desk near the photocopier.
My place are quite good about encouraging us to work from home if we need some peace and quiet (we’re so rammed in here that the latest space saving idea is – smaller desks) but we haven’t quite cracked the space-to-work-together challenge yet.
It comes back to Creative Spaces – the function of an office should be about engendering co-operation and creative thinking. Not the soundtrack of laptops being attacked in a two finger gallop.
Photo (apparently of Yahoo’s London office) by cackhanded on flickr
It struck me, as I was having an in-depth discussion on media strategy in the ladies’ loos this morning, that some of my most productive meetings have taken place in the most unlikely locations.
I’m not talking about the ‘fourth floor meeting room at 10am’ kind of meetings (which in my experience rarely produce the kind of break throughs that win pitches or have clients weeping in gratitude) but the impromptu ‘lets have the meeting right here’ ones.
Thinking back, some of my most productive ‘meetings’ have taken place:
- in GNER’s restaurant car
- on a fire escape
- in a traffic jam on the M1
- on a horse
- standing in the road outside the office
My part of our building is the big, modern open plan bit, which I share with 75 others. I obviously did something wrong in a previous life because the other 100 or so agency bods are happily ensconced in the adjoining mansion (yes, really, with a secret staircase and everything), complete with French windows, original fireplaces and garden views. Sigh.
My room is huge, you could fit a couple of full size swimming pools in it, but it can get a tad noisy. One of the premises of the need for Creative Spaces is that no-one can be expected to do their best work less than a foot from their nearest colleague, surrounded by strip lighting and constantly ringing phones.
The thing is, if I was shut off by myself in glorious executive solitude I’d miss the buzz. The hum. The start of the day when everyone is in and no-one has gone out yet and the volume level rises with the promise of what the day might bring. Coffee is drunk, opinions exchanged, phone calls answered and laptops switched on. Tannoys call out, printers hum and mobiles buzz. Its an orchestra of sorts, orchestrating the business of running an agency.
I went back and visited that cathedral this week.
It was an oddly moving experience. I’m not religious, but the combination of architecture and atmosphere affected me.
I’m increasingly of the opinion that the architecture and interior design of buildings are crucially important because they can deeply affect how we feel. Which kind of brings me back to my much earlier post on Creative Spaces.
We all need space to think, to breathe and to feel.