Evidence-Based Office Design
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Evidence Based Office Design

What is evidence-based office design?

Unlike traditional approaches that primarily rely on client briefs and designer intuition, evidence-based design harnesses both qualitative and quantitative data to inform decisions. This method involves gathering insights through time utilisation studies, observational studies, staff surveys, workshops, and interviews. The data collected is meticulously analysed to craft office spaces that genuinely reflect the needs and preferences of the client.

Essentially, evidence-based office design collects qualitative and quantitative data from a client’s workplace through a variety of means including, time utilisation studies, observational studies, staff surveys, workshops and interviews. This data is then used by the office design team who analyse and interpret it before using it to create a space plan and office design that reflects the needs and desires of the client.

Glass facade revealing a stylish and creative workspace - Adobe

The Role of Data in Office Design

How do office designers use the ‘evidence’?

The data collected provides a detailed snapshot of how employees interact with their workspace. It helps to understand how teams and individuals interact and work closely with each other and also what people like and dislike about their current space. It highlights where staff spend their time, how different teams collaborate, and what aspects of the current office environment are favoured or disliked.

For example, if data reveals a high demand for collaborative spaces over traditional meeting rooms, the design team can integrate more breakout areas with sofas or bench seating.

Additionally, the data can show patterns such as the amount of time employees spend at their desks versus other areas. This can indicate the need for quiet zones, hot desking areas, or private rooms where individuals can concentrate without distractions. For example, does the business need as many meeting rooms or would a selection of breakout spaces with sofas and/or bench seating where people can chat or collaborate, work better?

The data also shows what teams work closely so can help to create what designers call adjacencies i.e. what teams should sit next to each other. For example, marketing and sales teams often work closely on campaigns, so it makes sense for them to be closely situated to foster easier and greater collaboration.

Similarly, the data can indicate that teams like HR and Finance teams, who may require more privacy, have a requirement for smaller, private meeting rooms to be situated close by.

While the data on its own can appear incomprehensible and somewhat overwhelming, it allows us to create a picture of how the future workplace should work while also developing the original brief to include key considerations identified via the collected evidence.

The importance of evidence-based office design

For designers, the availability of hard evidence to justify design decisions is massively important, especially when faced with opinions of key stakeholders that are founded upon assumption rather than fact.

A common assumption is that ‘we need more meeting rooms’ or ‘we never have enough meeting rooms’, which in many cases is the result of individuals or small groups using large boardrooms when a smaller meeting room or break-out space would be better suited. Data from utilisation studies can pinpoint this and other issues such as people using meeting rooms to take calls as there are no private areas – a solution here would be to include some phone booths.

The objective is simple – to create a workplace that caters for the needs of all staff and that provides them with a choice of spaces within the workplace that allow them to work effectively. Crucially, the data allows us to identify these needs and spaces, and incorporate them into the process.

What is the Future of evidence-based office design?

The office continues to evolve at an unrelenting pace, and while office design can be wholly subjective with not everyone liking the colours or furniture choices, evidence-based office design provides companies with an approach that identifies and validates decisions made when creating their new workplace.

The old adage that ‘Information is power’ does apply here but it is worth pointing out that while this approach can sound particularly scientific and non-engaging, it need not be. In reality, embracing an inclusive, collaborative approach to collecting the necessary evidence is paramount and it is recommended that all staff be encouraged to participate and share their opinions. This can mean scheduling stakeholder workshops, distributing anonymous surveys, and/or large town hall-style meetings.

While the evidence-based approach to office design is not altogether new or revolutionary, the way data is collected is radically changing. Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly vital role in this evolution. Today, many companies use AI-powered apps like Observe (produced by Gensler) or OccupEye, which provide workplace utilisation data, highlighting via heat maps and graphs, the most popular areas of the workplace at any given time. AI enhances these tools by enabling real-time data analysis, predictive modelling, and more accurate insights, hence the growing levels of adoption. Its impact on the workplace is still only in its infancy, and we can expect to see AI playing a pivotal role as time passes.

Other digital innovators like ShareDesk utilise AI to allow anyone to book desks, work areas, and/or meeting rooms in any participating workplace, functioning as an Airbnb of sorts for the workplace. With the dawn of the gig economy in the UK, and with companies looking for innovative ways to save on property costs, the popularity of AI-driven apps and the adoption of evidence-based office design are surely set to grow.

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