Hassan Shaikh, founder of Revolve, a specialist corporate and retail interior design strategy agency, is one of the first entrepreneurs to be selected to be part of the pilot Investec Property's Business development programme. He says that many SA.companies are getting workspace design wrong. I asked him to elaborate. thinking around business but often, when it.comes to utilising their space, little thought is given to how the space needs to drive profitability. There is a direct correlation between effective workspace usage, increased productivity and profit.
JT: How would you define effective office design?
HS: Office space needs to be functional, flexible and inspiring. I see it as a tool to support business.
JT: How would you advise them to adapt their approach to their office space planning and design?
HS: In essence, the issue is that many companies apply a cookie cutter approach to workplace design that distorts the well researched design principles that should be applied. The open plan office has been the predominant way offices have been designed and this has its positives and its negatives. With people becoming more connected and more mobile, the need for assigned desk spaces is becoming obsolete. Offices with multifunctional workspaces offer the progressive solution to effective workplace design.
JT: How does that impact on the corporate culture of the organisation?
HS: Each business is different and the layout, design and aesthetics need to reflect this. On that level, making the space reflect the corporate or brand culture is just as important as creating spaces that are tailor-made to specific business needs. However, having work environments that are static and un-reactive in the fast changing, economic environment that organisations operate in, does not allow businesses to be responsive enough. Interior design must be used as a tool to provide agility, too.
JT: But don't creative collaborative spaces sometimes become more distracting than beneficial?
HS: The office space ideally needs to be designed in such a way that it allows employees to focus, collaborate, learn and socialise. However, there is confusion between real collaborative space and the well-coined 'Google office' environment. Playful collaborative environments with pool tables, table tennis and activity based furniture have been shown to actually be more distracting and this leads to lower productivity. These fun items belong in canteens and social areas in an office. Depending on the business culture, there should be a collaborative space that suits the business. Business owners need to be realistic about it. Google gets it right for Google! Other businesses may be completely different, so they have to get ii right for themselves.
JT: Does that mean that there is a particular type of furniture best suited to collaborative spaces?
HS: Mobile furniture pieces suitable for flexible environments are essential to maximising the collaboration space. The people that interact with it will need to move items around and that's not a bad thing. I prefer thinking of it as a concept of organic designed spaces where the occupants are allowed freedom to change as and when it is required. The more static the space the less it gets used.
JT: What about the smaller businesses?
HS: SMEs conscious about budgets and driving profitability need to be thinking about collaborative workspaces, too. It's the way forward. SMEs can benefit hugely from adopting this design strategy as employees have become mobile enough to work anywhere. With the high use of mobile phones and laptops to access emails, people check in to emails at any hour of the day. This flexibility should be part of the business strategy when it.comes to creating working environments. For the SME's people, there is the opportunity to work remotely, at a desk in a quiet room or work in project groups in an informal setup. The benefit here is more flexibility of movement and the opportunity to be more responsible for one's own job functions. It creates a working environment of trust and this leads to higher employee retention, brand loyalty and increased productivity. Speaking specifically to SMEs, I advocate creating co-working spaces where several businesses that operate in the same industry can share space. This concept creates more.community. orientated businesses. In a tough economic environment, this surely makes business sense. Embracing this type of collaborative workspace means that.companies can reduce their space footprint and in turn lower operating costs.