In search of alternatives

Updated: Jul 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
For generations, we have been schooled to live for work rather than work to live. The idea that working environment can be enjoyed rather than suffered is new. Massive changes are taking place in the working environment. If office work is becoming so important for so many people, then perhaps the working environment can be allowed to become important too. Characteristics of many offices at the turn of the 21st century have been the absence of humanity despite the high technical standards. A danger of corporate office planning is that novelty and creativity are often strangled at birth. Designers often face the dilemma of the powers to be dictating what the colour scheme should be.

Designers need to educate their clients and face the issue of whose vision matters most. Making the office comfortable is no longer simply a nice option for rich multinationals. The last 15 years have been a golden age in office design. A number of factors are involved. Because of information technology, office workers are more likely to be professionals or managers rather than clerks. Because the organisations are changing so fast, interiors and office furniture, in particular, have become more flexible, more responsive, and more functional.

It is not uncommon to spot a business meeting in a pool or sauna in Europe. A little serenity at the workplace will give people solace. Offices can take inspiration from nature. There can be places to meditate and pray and outlets such as walking paths and exercise studios.

Breaking out of the box means people offer untested ideas. Each organisation has specific budgets, needs, goals and plans. They comprise what can be termed as Image. Image is inherent in all aspects of the physical environment, long before the front door is opened. Whatever the approach may be, it should be consistent. No detail is too small to be considered.

In the 21st century, alternative office is the greatest challenge. Nothing wrong in saving money, economising on space or pursuing employees out in the field to have more contact with customers. For every person who feels at ease and effective working in jeans from home, there is another person who needs structure and cues of office in order to be more effective.

There is a difference between adapting design and innovative design. Putting wheels and a handle on a two-drawer file cabinet so that it can be pulled around the office is an adaptation. Designing a complete workplace that folds up and disappears when it is not needed is an innovation.

According to a recent survey conducted by Boston University, 70% of 1,000 respondents said that they nap at work. Large companies are offering power sleep seminars. A short nap helps us to regain creativity and problem solving skills. Employees use lunchtime to snooze to bring their energy back to optimum levels. The future is not simply one of accommodating buildings or machines to buildings. It should have humane approach, people need to be brave, think out of the box and many areas of office planning and culture will change, for better.

(The writer is a Delhi-based architect.)