How your office is RUINING your

The UX of your workplace


Willis Building,

Slow, painful death

Foster’s big boo boo

“…trapped in a game of continuous idiot
“…combines the alienation of the private office with
the tedium of listening to people at a bus stop”

Productivity good, insanity bad

YouTube Wankers

BMW, Leipzig, Germany

Interpolis, Tilburg, NL

Where did I leave my pen?

Where did I leave my pen?

How can you improve your
Break out, not down


Watercooler LOLz


Whose fault is it anyway?

How your office is ruining your productivity & creativity - UX for your workplace
How your office is ruining your productivity & creativity - UX for your workplace
How your office is ruining your productivity & creativity - UX for your workplace
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How your office is ruining your productivity & creativity - UX for your workplace


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A look at how the office (specifically the open plan office) has come to impact your productivity. Starting with the history of the office and where it came from, continuing to look at who does open space well and finally how you can improve your own workspace.

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  • Being the proud ownerof a very limited attention span, always been interested in how the places we’re expected to work impact productivity.And having been victim to some awful in-office designs, today I’m going to talk about: - where the open plan office came from, - some alternatives to open plan,- who’s doing this open plan thing right and - how you can improve your own workspace.
  • So where did it all begin? Meet one of my enemies, the Open Plan Office…Large open office environments existed for a long time Used to consist of many identical rows of desks / long tables - clerks, typists, or engineers performed repetitive functions.Layout inspired by work of industrial engineers & efficiency experts like Frederick Taylor & Henry Ford. First open-plan office, Larkin Administration Building, NY, opened in 1906 , conversation banned & big cheeses had separate spaces.
  • Open plan office, came from Bürolandschaft / “Office landscape”, early 1950s movement in office space planning. Approach aimed to give a more collaborative and humane work environment.Theory based on a ‘model’ of ‘human relations’ rather than the visions of Ford & Taylor.1st time, varying types of office work were recognised and criteria established for fitting a particular kind of office to a specific type of layout.
  • 1960s, UK architect Frank Duffy responsible for introducing Bürolandschaft to English-speaking world.Research focused on mapping relationship between organisational structure and office layouts. Taxonomy he developed classified which office space would suit each worker, based on:Interaction, separation / subdivision, bureaucracy and differentiation…as well astask autonomy & tech availableMaterials supporting open plan also became cheaper around this time,
  • The UK quickly followed the US, and Norman Foster’s first vision for the first Large Open Plan office was realised in 1975 as the Willis Building in Ipswich….
  • …Foster’s vision included a rooftop restaurant, leading to a…
  • Rooftop Garden and if you took a trip down the…
  • …fancy escalators (don’t forget to stop and appreciate the brushed aluminum roof which featured throughout the building) you soon arrived at….
  • The ground floor swimming pool!The occupants of the building, Willis Group holdings have sadly now covered up the swimming pool (not filled in due to it being a listed building) and the space is used for more offices. (The swimming pool can be seen underneath the false floor). Anyone been to the willis building?
  • Open plan so common people no longer consider alternatives. Popularity less to do with collaboration, more to do with market pressure & overheads. Reduce the space per person per meter of their workforce. Imagine office = the space in an open environment = the conditions beaten by sad animals on their way to the burger factory.Nowadays, Given less room, & ideals behind the original Burolandschaft overlooked, as spaces identically designed for ‘average’ worker includingadmin roles, HR roles, IT roles, Finance roles, Customer service roles, Merchandising roles etc from the office junior to ‘accessible’ Directors, Undermining original open & random quality of Bürolandschaft.
  • Collaborating gone to far?Anyone considered we need to get work done?If you want private conversation, better in a public place - stairs,corridoror canteen notoffice.Julian Treasure,chairman of The Sound Agency, claims workers up to 66 % less productive in open-plan office than left on own.
  • Why are we so unproductive?Problem isother people. Takes 15 minutes for average employee to reach their optimum ‘flow rate’ – any distraction, audio, visual, temperature / contact bad.Noise - sound can impact us in different ways:Cognitively speaking, human brain only has the capacity for 1.6 conversations, and if your mind wanders to a nearby discussion, you don’t have much “brain power” to work with. And psychologically, sound can either deepen or counteract our mood or outlook. Usually experienced through music, but while sounds like birdsong are good at relaxing us, some noises do the opposite.Finally, human instinct has taught us to be alerted by sudden, unexpected & loud noises, results in stress hormone release.
  • Not just productivity suffering. In addition to annoying, noises affect wellbeing. Sound level of noisy office with people in close quarters can reach 80 decibels & a German study found that 65 decibels is threshold for heart rate increases to heart-attack levels.Also increases likelihood of getting sick. Different studies concluded open-plan offices contribute 2.5 sick days / year (office environment), noise and temperature as the biggest factors, in comparison with employees in single-occupant areas. One Explanation is that viruses (such as a zombie plague) spread more in open offices, but another factor workers’ increased stress levels lowered immune systems.The bad news is, things don’t improve with age. A Hong Kong Polytechnic University study showed that sound, particularly over heard conversation & temperature have the biggest impact on productivity, gets worse for over 45s.
  • Not just your average office that fails cater for needs of varied roles in workplace.Focus for architects became more about outside of the building, and none more than Gherkin. Although Foster again, admitted, had to let go a little when people used the building (implying didn’t agree with inside design).
  • Can we just make open plan, less open?In 1960s Herman Miller, hired a fine arts professor called Robert Propst to question thousands office workers.Questions included - ”What % of day is sitting/standing/walking/perching/supine/sleeping/other?" & ”Can you take a nap in your office without embarrassment?"Notimpressed by results."We are trapped in a game of continuous idiot salutations,”
  • Solution - action office, system of customised furniture.One element would affect US workers for next 30 yrs – dividers – 3 of them which go together to make a cubicle.US companies couldn’t get enough of these - incredible tax benefits so cubicle born. When asked about cubicles, "It combined the alienation of the private office with the tedium of listening to people at a bus stop,”Now back with open-plan. No one in US builds cubicles & UK never did. Back to rows of desks, if someone wants privacy -put on headphones!
  • If office bad, maybe try…WFH.5.4 million British homes have a WFH, trying to combine earning a living & family commitments. 50% are freelance, other half employees, but balance to change as corporations cut costs. BT,employ11,000 home-workers, many senior levels, savingcompany £60m / yr. Addition to saving companies, WFH’ers save themselves a fortune commuting , childcare & get more done.But downside –speak from experience here, send you slightly bonkers. Majority of work is via email not phone calls, so during working hours no human voice for weeks. Research by Brigham Young University in Utah, looked at studies into sociability showed that lack of human interaction affect health badly smoking 15 cigarettes a day / being an alcoholic / harmful as never exercising / twice as damaging as being obese.Dmail eat your heart out!Experiment by professors at Stanford & Beijing University showedrate at which home-based workers promoted dropped 50 %, confirm cliché “out of sight, out of mind.”Summarised nicely by Marissa Myer in an April, "people are more productive when they're alone," but "they're more collaborative and innovative when they're together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”
  • Outside of agencies and west coast, can anyone get it right? Some European companies leading the way
  • BMW Central Building in Leipzig, Germany - winning design of architect, ZahaHadid. Hadid's design took idea of connecting office-based employees & assembly worker spaces & used it to guide the building.Designed as series of overlapping & interconnecting levels & spaces, helps hide separation between parts of complex & creates level ground for both blue / white collar employees / visitors & cars.
  • How?Central building functions as most important piece of factory, connecting 3 production sheds. Daily, about 650 BMW 3 Series pass through building on conveyor as they move from 1 of 3 production sheds to next, highlighted by dim blue LED lights. These conveyors take the vehicles thru production sheds, AND directly through all of the functional spaces of the Central Building.
  • The offices / meeting rooms, & public relations facilities all built around these conveyors, creating relationship between employees / cars, & public. Addition to production process, building has centralised canteen where all employees eat, regardless of role. Staff report a great sense of pride and unity – despite not being able to afford product they’re building!
  • Interpolis in Holland. Interpolis known for outlook on flexible working, led to cultural transition. Not just a matter of moving furniture,must be embedded in way everyone thinks & acts. Motto: “as long as the work gets done.”Work not measured on presence & face time, but agreed & defined output. Requires time & training – amongst workers, more in the management. Management no longer need to check whether someone is there, focus on defined output & control it. Employees turn up to the Interpolis office at least 2 - 3 days / week to maintain &encourage social cohesion. Increased productivity by 20% reduced sick leave, from 9%, to 2.5%. Very good for image & culture –receives 90k visitors /year - office itself is the marketing tool for company.
  • Every morning employees take laptop & mobile phone & look for workplace for day. As employees enter building, encouraged to ask themselves, ‘What will I do today?’, then ‘Where is the best place to do it’?Less than 1/3 of employees time is spent at desks.Requires 50% less space so all cleaning & maintenance costs reduced. Building designed around types of work with different areas, with own particular atmosphere. Some good for being happy & positive / open, some ‘womb’ like for focus & concentration…
  • …with other areas designed for consulting, meeting people, relaxing & eating.Unexpectedly, Interpolis isn’t forward thinking tech company / ‘agile’ startup, Interpolis sells insurance.
  • For those of us that don’t have the opportunity to go and work at Interpolis, BMW or even Google, what can we do to our dull, dreary offices to stop us all dying early? What have the companies that ‘do it right’, done to become better than everyone else?Luckily, I have researched some quick tips for you!
  • Create Break Out spaces!The key to happy and productive employees is mix of spaces for different activities. Study by design firm Gensler-workers spend more than half their time in deep focus,about a 1/4 in collaboration, rest split between learning, socializing and other tasks.To account for this, create quiet rooms (or areas) for people to be alone.Create ‘huddle’ spaces for small meetings & impromptu discussions, then larger conference rooms available for larger meetings. Or, do a Steve Jobs - take your meetings outside for a walk!Aim for a balanced workplace, supporting individual & collaborative work AND social areas.
  • Put headphones on!Don’t put anything on. To stay productive, music with vocals- radio, podcasts / lyric-filled songs, use up your capacity 1.6 conversations limit. Julian Treasure -“If you put music on top of noise, it’s like putting icing on top of mud; it might look like a cake, but it doesn’t taste like one,”.Best sounds for concentration are natural & unpredictable. Ambient electronic music work well at blocking out noise & no distraction. Or try Pink noise. BBC report Pink noise is signal containing full range of audio frequencies that humans can hear.Subjectively, sounds less harsh than white noise, and resembles wind, waves or rain.Neurophysiologists believe these sounds induce brain into deep state of concentration, creativity & relaxation.
  • If space, keep machines that contribute to high noise levels & activity, (printers and photocopiers) in rooms away from work area. Walk away from desk added benefit - helps to stand up & walk around to regain focus & perspective.Group essentials to create specific areas people will bump into each other, where accidents happen, so people meet / talk about other things that might turn into interesting stuff.Again, inspiration from Steve Jobs - putting the toilets at Pixar in an awkward space so people had to bump into each other.
  • Educate people about the the best place / way to work effectively. Make it a part of company inductions for all employees. Observe how office is used and adapt them. Everyone used to working in offices - unproductive behaviour is very much learnt and practiced automatically – change it!
  • Personalise! Accessorise!Studies have shown that when rodents, like humans, are kept in clean, simple, sterile environments, they became uninspired.Don’t have to trash your workspace, doesn’t have to be flawlessly tidy Even a small human touch (plants at desks and around the office) create more stimulating environment.
  • Avoid people!Block out several hours a day for deep concentration tasks / hide on different floors / pretend you’re in a meeting!In Study in Applied Psychology, people seeking help performed better at work, people providing help actually performed worse. Scientists determined alternating between helping others & doing your own work imposes a heavy “cognitive load” because you have to reacquaint with details of project each time. Remember the 15 mins to get into your flow! Multi tasking doesn’t work!
  • If all else fails, just tell people to fuck off!
  • Architects?Managers?I.T. Dept?H.R. Dept?Facilities Dept?You?!Discuss! Any views?
  • How your office is ruining your productivity & creativity - UX for your workplace

    1. 1. How your office is RUINING your Productivity&Creativity The UX of your workplace @hello_im_peter
    2. 2. Bürolandschaft @hello_im_peter
    3. 3. Willis Building, Ipswich @hello_im_peter
    4. 4. @hello_im_peter
    5. 5. @hello_im_peter
    6. 6. @hello_im_peter
    7. 7. @hello_im_peter
    8. 8. @hello_im_peter
    9. 9. @hello_im_peter
    10. 10. @hello_im_peter
    11. 11. Slow, painful death @hello_im_peter
    12. 12. Foster’s big boo boo @hello_im_peter
    13. 13. “…trapped in a game of continuous idiot salutations”
    14. 14. “…combines the alienation of the private office with the tedium of listening to people at a bus stop” @hello_im_peter
    15. 15. Productivity good, insanity bad @hello_im_peter
    16. 16. YouTube Wankers @hello_im_peter
    17. 17. BMW, Leipzig, Germany @hello_im_peter
    18. 18. @hello_im_peter
    19. 19. @hello_im_peter @hello_im_peter
    20. 20. Interpolis, Tilburg, NL @hello_im_peter
    21. 21. Where did I leave my pen? @hello_im_peter
    22. 22. Where did I leave my pen? @hello_im_peter
    23. 23. How can you improve your office?
    24. 24. Break out, not down @hello_im_peter
    25. 25. Aaaaarrrrgghhhhh! @hello_im_peter
    26. 26. Watercooler LOLz @hello_im_peter
    27. 27. Training @hello_im_peter
    28. 28. @hello_im_peter
    29. 29. @hello_im_peter
    30. 30. Whose fault is it anyway? @hello_im_peter