By Kay Sargent, ASID, IIDA, CID, LEED AP ID+C
A new focus is on the rise, the fact that we are human. Although designing sustainable environments, driving down cost and integrating rapidly emerging technologies have been our focus in recent years, ultimately we are still designing for people. And how we design the space matters.
Designing sustainable environments is a good start. But sustainable practices have evolved and new guidelines have emerged. The focus today is less on checklists and more on common sense sustainability. Not that designing sustainable buildings isn’t important, but let’s face it, sitting stagnant in a chair at a desk staring at a computer all day is killing us faster than whatever any wall is off-gassing. We need to start focusing on designing for the well-being of the occupant.
People were never meant to sit for long periods of time. Until recent decades, we were a manufacturing or agricultural-based workforce. People were active and on the move. The office is a relatively new concept and sitting stagnant while working on computers is even a newer one. And a recent study by Healthways and Gallup has shown a direct tie between one’s personal well-being and their productivity. We need to get people moving again, not only to stimulate their minds but their bodies as well.
The positive impact that technology has had on work today has been well documented. Fewer people can produce more work in a shorter timeframe and we have rapid access to massive amounts of information. But what is starting to become apparent is the negative impact technology has had on us as humans. Just because we can be accessible 24/7 doesn’t mean we should be. The stress of being always “on,” with constant distractions, is having a negative impact on our productivity and our health.
Creating environments that have a balance of collaborative and concentrative areas where people can truly find the right type of space for the task at-hand is key to accommodating work today. It’s essential to understand that today’s work is dynamic and the task at-hand can vary day-to-day or hour-to-hour. Creating a varied work environment through activity-based design will help engage employees, improve their well-being and increase productivity.
Yes, cost is still a factor — but we need to balance it with the value of design and empowerment. While we can’t lose our focus on designing environmentally sustainable environments, we must ensure we value our own personal sustainability and well-being as well. Technology will continue to rapidly evolve in ways we can’t even imagine, but we can get the impact it has on us in check. And we need to design spaces that support the way we work today and empower us through employee engagement. The most valuable resource we have is our people and we cannot forget that. The spaces we are designing are meant to support us, not the other way around. Today, the new focus is on the rise of the human factor, and how we design space for people matters! Space matters.
Kay Sargent, IIDA, CID, LEED AP ID+C, is VP of Architecture, Design and Workplace Strategies for Teknion, Industry Partner of ASID.
* Portions of this essay were excerpted from CoreNet Leader magazine.
Image courtesy Teknion.