One of the many challenges facing companies is how to rethink their work spaces. They need to integrate new needs expressed by employees in a changing urban context whilst taking into account significant budget restrictions. We talked to Marie-Hélène Tydgat, a consultant in designing corporate spaces, about the different social and cultural dimensions of this subject.
Marie-Hélène Tydgat, you are a consultant specialising in “designing work spaces”. What exactly does this involve?
My job is to help my clients find solutions in order to create adapted work spaces. I intervene from the beginning of a project, often even before the architect is chosen. It begins strategic brainstorming sessions to define existing and potential uses, and create a “programme”. After this, I work with the architect on the actual design processes.
My speciality is rethinking spaces based on a company’s specific criteria such as its employees, needs, history and financial means.
I provide detailed analysis and a specific vision about the place of people in an ever-changing environment. We try to transform spaces into situations that welcome and represent new behaviour generated by new uses and changing profiles and user populations.
What is at stake when designing company spaces and where does this fit into past and future practises?
Work spaces have changed dramatically from individual offices to open spaces and particularly the digital nomad lifestyles and third spaces that are flourishing today. This forces us to redefine our approach to work stations.
The main challenge is making the individual important again to reinforce the collective. We need to rethink this role in terms of space based on the company and employee profiles. For example, for some people an individual office is a strong symbol of recognition, whilst for others, particularly young people, this is not the case.
It requires us to build bridges between different representations of space. The work station, for example, has a strategic importance – the furniture, lighting, acoustics and ergonomics help create the conditions necessary to work better. In open spaces, it is essential to provide areas where employees can be alone and also spaces where they can develop social and professional relationships. Chatting to colleagues and sharing experiences encourage more harmonious relations between senior and junior employees.
As for changing practices, let’s take the example of remote working. Previously the company recreated a work space in its image in the person’s home (a kind of identity corner) using its own visual codes (a desk kit, for example) Today, remote workers have much more freedom and companies are less intrusive.
A third space is an external space rented by a company where employees can work. For example, someone who travels a lots and needs to hold phone meeting in an appropriate place could use a space like this. There is also the question of integrating people who are not physically at the office every day. These people expect a different kind of welcome in the offices of their company and don’t have the same expectations as employees used to working at a traditional work station. The stakes are high as it is vital to create and maintain links. This is a new responsibility for managers and spaces need to be adapted to these changing needs.
What are collaborators expectations about the way a company integrates into urban spaces – for example, in terms of public transport, services and the quality of public/private spaces?
Employees’ expectations are largely related to the porous relationship between their private and professional life. When a company sets up in a new environment, it is advisable to have good transport connections, childcare, shops and other useful urban services nearby. Nomadic workers add a further dimension as they blur the lines between their professional and private roles, for example hopping between a professional meeting and a medical appointment. Soon, we will have to accept that individuals can “leave” the fixed space defined by the company.
In a third space, we need to rethink the relationship between the company and city deciders. The earlier these considerations are taken into account, the more harmonious the result. Sadly, I don’t think that this is the case in the “Greater Paris” project. We need to think in terms of landscape design and also social, cultural and historic impacts.
What impact can exterior spaces (transport and other public places) have on interior spaces in a company? Should we encourage synergies between work and urban spaces?
Recently, I helped a company with offices in the heart of Aix-en-Provence. The location was ideal with lots of restaurants and shops nearby. The company then moved to new offices about 20 minutes outside of the city in a beautiful natural location, but with no urban services. We set up a collaboration with the local authorities to offer a shuttle service, re-design the roads to make access easier and open a crèche. An improved concierge service is currently being put into place. This way, the employees can make the most of the beautiful setting without missing out on services that make their lives easier.
In all the projects I work on we use collaborative methods. We organise workshops and employees can vote to express their opinions and be more involved in the changes.
It’s mutually beneficial. If the company makes its employees’ lives easier and enhances their well-being, productivity increase and absenteeism decrease.
Do you see many similarities between designing professional work spaces and designing urban/public spaces?
There are clearly many important points of convergence as companies are part of the urban landscape. There are also similarities in the approach adopted – in both cities and companies we think about individual well-being to enhance collective well-being. I think that individuals and taking differences into account are very important. A city, just like a company, can’t accept standardised solutions and needs to integrate specific features and different needs.