Archilogic helps office providers better understand and visualise their spaces through 3D floor plans, office design simulations and data analytics. Here we look at how office designers and workplace planners can take inspiration from office cultures from around the world.
We all want to enjoy going to work – so how would you feel about lying down in a communal nap room? Or sharing an end-of-day sauna with the boss? What about taking a playground slide down to the floor below?
Company culture isn’t an abstract thing. The way we work and interact is heavily influenced by our physical surroundings, which send powerful signals about how the company expects us to behave. For much of the past decade, workplace design has been guided by trends coming out of Silicon Valley. Open-plan offices were intended to boost communication and collaboration; bright colors and playful elements such as foosball tables to encourage creativity. As love for the tech industry sours, though, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Office designers can gather fresh ideas from looking at workplaces around the world, but take care to consider your organizational ethos, as well as the local context! What works in Helsinki might be horrifying in Houston.
One size does not fit all
Even assumptions as to how much space is needed per employee range widely, from just over 50 sq ft in China to around 275 sq ft in the US (according to this workplace trends study ). That reflects Asia’s more crowded cities, where locals are used to having less personal space at home as well as at work. European or North American office designers squeezed for space shouldn’t try to import Hong Kong’s tight workstations – in these regions, shared space is a more acceptable way of cutting square footage. So go for laptop-friendly lounge areas and hot-desking, rather than too-cozy cubicles.
What about the other way around? Can Hong Kong employers cut space costs further by adopting the open-plan model? So far, that hasn’t worked well. Chinese companies tend to be more hierarchical, and employees are not comfortable with open environments designed to suit a collaborative style. But as millennials rapidly take over the workforce, it’s likely that design will evolve to emphasize digital working, as has happened elsewhere.
Creating a healthy environment
Employee well-being is a hot topic, with workspace design increasingly aiming to promote health and happiness. In practice, that can mean a wide range of things. At its most basic, the office should provide good air, light, and ergonomic workstations. Airbnb’s Beijing office tackles pollution with sophisticated air filtration systems, plus lots of greenery – which could boost productivity by up to 15%.
Employers that want to promote fitness can draw inspiration from a number of forward-thinking companies around the world. The Chinese working day often starts a communal tai chi or stretch routine; on the other side of the globe, tech startups may encourage a lunchtime running club by installing showers and lockers. Larger companies sometimes introduce a full sports center , while co-working spaces around the world may offer gyms, open exercise spaces or even rock climbing walls.
The benefits for employers of workplace workouts are said to include higher energy, team spirit, and productivity. In Sweden, already Europe’s best-exercised country, some companies are actually making it compulsory. Better concentration, more camaraderie, and lower absence rates are the goals – but also a flattening of hierarchy. That’s also the case in Finland’s widespread company saunas , where communal sweating is a valued part of the workweek. Even Parliament House has its own sauna.
The tricky politics of napping
Of course, when you’re short of energy, exercise can only get you so far. Everyone knows that mid-afternoon slump. In long-hours cultures around the world, naps become more or less standard. Chinese executives commonly have beds in their private offices , and Google is one of a number of global corporations (and co-working spaces) to offer sleep pods or nap rooms.
In Japan, though, these dedicated snooze zones raise eyebrows. Putting your head down at your desk is one thing – everybody does that. It shows how hard you’ve been working. But heading off to a room just to sleep? Even booking your space in advance? That’s too obvious. So the nap rooms lie empty, and workers remain dangerously tired.
Importing in context
Successful office layout demands deep understanding of specific needs. As the Japanese nap problem shows, not every good idea is suitable for every workplace. If you’ve found inspiration from abroad, these are the three points to consider before bringing a little globetrotting into your office design.
- Consider the local culture. Without the right context, your great idea could be a great flop. Forcing Chinese employees to work in lounges might be as uncomfortable as a brainstorming sauna session would be for a Brit.
- Consider the company culture. Your workplace should convey your identity and encourage the behavior you want to see. But think carefully about the unspoken signals. Does a “home from home” atmosphere make your employees feel looked after – or does it say you expect them to basically live at work?
- Finally, look out for unintended consequences. Far from boosting communication, open-plan offices have driven workers to hide behind headphones and email more than they talk. And those Finnish saunas may dissolve hierarchies, but they reinforce the gender divide.
In the quest for best practice in international office design, there is no by-the-numbers solution. But looking outside your own town can generate exciting ideas. What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve ever seen in a workplace?