In a new thought piece, NBBJ architect Ryan Mullenix presents findings from NBBJ and University of Washington research on the impact of hybrid workspaces on creativity. Launched coincidentally at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the research aimed to establish the key behavioral and spatial elements that can enable creative workers, including architects, to retain a creative flair away from their traditional workplace.
The research findings may prove useful for creatives long after the pandemic, with evidence, including Archinect’s own survey, concluding that hybrid working options have become a permanent feature of architectural employment. For example, there are currently 41 vacancies on the Archinect job board offering purely remote work.
According to architect Mullenix, one of the main findings of research participants was that “control” remains an important element of work environments, whether in the office or at home. “The importance of choice in the workplace – how space is physically used and the behaviors around those uses – remains fundamental to employee satisfaction and performance,” says Mullenix.
Although one might generally assume that working from home would offer the worker more control, research has suggested that this is not always true. While participants noted more control over their direct physical environment, such as temperature, lighting, and noise, they had less control over peripheral factors such as roommates and furniture options. The study found that those with a higher ability to design and adapt their space performed better at home, while those with a lower ability to act were the worst.
The team recommends that hybrid workspaces be designed with easily accessible temperature and lighting controls, similar to those found in offices, as well as modular furniture on casters that can offer workers control. needed to reconfigure their hybrid workplace.
Unlike other studies that found remote work increased productivity, the team observed that most participants in their study struggled to match their pre-pandemic job performance, noting that “generally, people Respondents felt less effective in productivity, team problem solving, time management, and open-ended work (eg, writing an essay).
To combat this, respondents (50% of whom shared their hybrid workspace with others) told the team that a separate, distraction-free space would allow them to engage in more creative thinking. The team concluded that the most efficient hybrid workspace is a dedicated office with work-specific furniture, with the least efficient space being shared rooms such as kitchens. However, the team also noted that few participants even had access to such dedicated spaces in their living environment, with no choice but to occupy shared spaces at home.
To make it easier to create a dedicated workspace, the team came up with several design solutions. These include creating ‘expansive’ workspaces to reduce stress, noting ‘an element such as height above you can impact how well a space supports ideation or concentration’ . This can be achieved by “increasing perceived dimensions” through mirrors, natural lighting and high ceilings as well as designing “comfort through contrast” by placing small spaces next to a large open space. The team also notes the importance of building a separate space to rest, suggesting that “taking a break in a direct workspace rather than outside of it is not as restful or beneficial to creativity”.
The team’s final tip for boosting creativity is to encourage movement, citing studies that movement enhances creativity by improving cognition, learning, memory and decision-making. Design features of new and existing workspaces suggested by the team include standing desks, quiet flooring to allow easy movement without distracting others, separate but inviting dining and relaxation areas to encourage movement and relaxation. transition between spaces, and easy and practical movement throughout the space.