Saturday, 8 December 2012

Vernacular Design, Climate, Culture and Teapots

The humble teapot is a worthy example of what I call "vernacular design". You would have heard of vernacular architecture, which is building design that has evolved over time based on local culture, climate and resources, but vernacular design is a broader concept that includes the design of clothing, furniture, equipment and teapots etc.

Chinese iron, brown betty and stainless steel teapots

Teapots date back to the Yuan Dynasty and 14th century China – they were initially made of iron but over time they became fashioned from clay and then from porcelain. The shape of the teapot has changed very little over time, the key components being a solid base, good pouring spout, high-insulating material, and a well-fitting lid to allow the tea and water to be easily added. The “brown betty”, the iconic English teapot, optimises great vernacular and timeless design for me.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

It's a Jungle in There

For some time I have been, on what feels like a lonely crusade, evangelising about the need to design workplaces that focus on recognising psychological [1] factors and enhancing individual performance [2], rather than simply concerned with saving space. I was beginning to think that I would never find an occupier who truly understood how their offices could be used to facilitate and improve their business rather than treat it as a cost burden that should be avoided. However, my recent visit to Lend Lease's Regents Place offices (as part of the Workplace Trends tours) has restored my faith in common (business) sense.

Just entering the shared atrium in their multi-tenanted building gives a tantalising insight into what lies in store in Lend Lease's office. Facing me was a large art installation constructed from red and gold coloured mirrors which subtly reflect the surrounding office spaces. Despite the red mirrors, the greenness (in both colour and planting) of Lend Lease's offices is evident. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Workplace Trends: Wellbeing & Performance

As usual I pulled the programme together for this year’s Workplace Trends conference. The theme for this year, the tenth annual conference, was wellbeing and Performance. I selected this theme simply because during the last year of attending conferences the subject of wellbeing was raised, but not really discussed, by the audiences and a few speakers. I was intrigued, is wellbeing genuinely a different issue to performance, or is Wellbeing simply a rebranding of the whole productivity agenda?

Not only are wellbeing, performance and productivity mentioned in the same breath but we can also add happiness, satisfaction and motivation into the mix. Nic Marks opened Workplace Trends presenting his happiness index. Nic presented research which revealed that positive emotions both a) broaden our thoughts helping us to pay more attention and be more creative and b) build psychological resources such as resilience/coping mechanisms and social skills. Both are useful attributes in the workplace and clearly happiness is a positive emotion but the link to performance is only implied and a direct causal link is not demonstrated by the research.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Quality and Motivation

I was recently asked by S&PA Professional, a bi-monthly magazine for members of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), to write 500 words on whether "the quality of the facility impacts on the motivation of staff". My response is below:

What appears to be at first glance a straightforward question suddenly becomes complicated when attempting to provide evidence for a demonstrable link between quality and motivation. This is because both variables are quite subjective and therefore can be difficult to quantify. A canter through the internet reveals that quality has many definitions but fulfilling the requirements of end-users to meet their expectations is a recurring one. In terms of facilities, quality may also refer to the standard of the environment, the accompanying (facilities management) service provided, and the robustness and longevity of products such as desks and chairs.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Benefits of Flexible Working

I am currently helping an occupier create a new flexible working environment by facilitating the change management process to ensure the staff buy-in to the new working arrangements. I presented my usual list of the benefits of flexible working (to both the organisation and the individual) but was told to go away and collate hard evidence. The client is an engineering practice and their staff includes analysts and planners; as a consequence their nature is to challenge and not accept consulting recommendations without detailed and rigorous data to back it up.

Fortunately I have access to case studies that I have collected over the years as a workplace consultant, and I also found quite a few published on the web. You can read through the case studies in my occasional paper on Flexible Working Benefits.

Monday, 28 May 2012

An Afternoon in the Pub

Some of you are aware by now that I have become a bit of a fan of an Afternoon in the Pub(AitP). According to the website:
"an Afternoon in the Pub was conceived as a ‘business social’ event to bring together local businesses to chat and have a drink in an informal, friendly setting with no rules … it is most certainly NOT a business meeting, nor is it a networking group. It’s a place where you can feel relaxed in the company of like-minded local businesspeople in an informal environment with no pressures at all. You won’t see a name badge or hear an ‘elevator pitch’, nor will anyone thrust their business card into your face for no apparent reason whatsoever."
Thanks to Si, Matt, Tom and Chrissie for coming up with a simple but great idea. I have become so much a fan of AitP that I have offered to help organise their first Berkhamsted event. So what drew me to AitP?

Afternooners meeting on a sunny afternoon in the pub.

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Shed-working Life

The lexicon describing the choice of places to work is ever increasing. The now familiar terms home-working and tele-working have been supplemented with hub-working, co-working, central-working and shed-working. Alex Johnson refers to shed-working as “the art of working from home in a shed-like space separate from the house” [1].

My office

Since taking redundancy and setting up my own business six months ago, I have gradually migrated from the kitchen table to the shed. I do not intend to discuss the merits of shed-working in elaborate detail here. Alex has already done that and he has done it well using beautiful images of“shed-like” spaces from all over the world that illustrate his thesis. I can only offer a personal account of why I prefer shed-working.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Workplace Zoo

I visited Colchester Zoo over the Christmas holidays and was really impressed with the quality of the animal enclosures. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into their design and a great deal of effort made in meeting the animals’ needs and making them comfortable. This was evident in the way the animals behaved and through the success of their breeding programme.

It got me wondering whether any lessons learned in zoo design are relevant to the workplace. However, I am not the first to make this comparison. Judith Heerwagen suggests “For insights, it is useful to look not at buildings, but at zoos. Zoo design has gone through a radical transformation in the past several decades. Cages have been replaced by natural habitats and geographic clustering of animals. And, as in nature, the animals have much greater control over their behaviour. They can be on view if they want, or out of sight. They forage, play, rest, mate, and act like normal animals”[1]. She continues “A key factor was concern over the animals' psychological and social well-being. Zoos could keep animals alive, but they couldn't make them flourish”. Heerwagen proposed that we learn from the new philosophy of enriched zoo enclosures, providing for well-being rather than simple survival, but can we also learn from the basic design principles in zoo enclosures?