What happens when you set your techies free to build the perfect workspace?
No matter who your favourite character was, The Office (both the UK or US versions, let's not get into a fight here) became an iconic series because it played on one thing we all know to be true: offices are boring.The tech industry tried to change all that by infusing some 'fun' into the office. Their plan was to attract adults to the workplace with bright colours, slides, rock walls, and a relaxed dress code, echoing kid's jungle gyms. They did away with the cubicles of the 90s and introduced open office plans, assuming that having people from different teams rubbing shoulders would surely boost collaboration, camaraderie, and innovation.The pandemic proved they were wrong. After getting a taste of the comforts of working from home, many employees haven't had the inclination to return. Employers have either tried to wrestle employees back to the office, or given in and let them stay home. Those opting for the latter have faced waves of employees turning in their notices in favour of employers who offer flexible work options.Is the office finally dead?
Why it's impossible to design the perfect officeOne of the main challenges offices face is that they're filled with people. People who all expect something different from their workplace.While for analysts on your team, data security is a top priority, for the digital marketing team, broadcasting the cool new innovations the team is coming up with may be more important.Likewise, it's a well-known fact that some people need peace and quiet to do their best work, while others need people to bounce ideas off of. A recent study into personalities in the workplace by experts from the University of Arizona and California State found that extroverted workers focus better and are happier in open office plans. Meanwhile, those who are high on neuroticism struggle with open floor plans.There's not just a difference in personalities but also circumstances: a father of two young kids may have different needs than his colleague who's a single dog parent.Aside from these differences, new workplace and technology trends are continuously cropping up and shifting attitudes. Mental health, diversity and inclusion, and data protection are just a few issues that are top of managers' minds.So can you actually build a workplace that's flexible enough to work for everybody?I visited Miele X's new home in Amsterdam's modern new office building "The Valley" to find out.[photo1]Photo: Miele X
A digital approach to office designWhen you first step out of the elevator onto Miele X's floor, you encounter a display case of curiosities: an early prototype of a washer that oddly resembles a butter churner and a 1950s vacu
um, all part of the company's history.A friendly receptionist met me at the entrance and brought me through to what looked like a large modern kitchen. Some people were chopping up vegetables or clipping herbs from a mini greenhouse, while others were sitting and chatting at cafe-style tables.[photo2]Photo: Miele XAs my host Matea Fogec, External Communications Manager, explained, what they aim to build isn't an office but a home away from home where people can't just get a coffee but also wash their clothes, do some yoga, and cook a meal together.But how do you build a work environment that's suitable for the wide and varied uses of e-commerce, data & analytics, digital marketing, operations, and other departments? They decided to take an agile approach to the problem.A team of project managers began breaking up the project into dev-style sprints. To ensure everyone's voice was included, they collected feedback on the must-haves and nice to haves. During an "architect cafe," they recruited interested teammates to vote on the final designs.Of course, not every suggestion could be taken on board. As the Community Space project manager and Head of Agile PMO, Markus Herfert, explained:"A treadmill meeting room concept was rejected because there wasn't enough value for money. In the end, it was always a question if a concept fits the overall approach and design, user/employee centricity, and value for money."In the final stages of the project, they had a team of volunteer 'superusers' come and test out the space for two weeks.