Space Functionality is in the Eye of the Beholder

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Why can’t we all agree on the best use for some screen-centric workspaces?

Together with our research partner Survature, we launched a survey to learn more about what screens tell us about how people really work. Between May 14th – 31st of this year, 368 of you participated in our research. Here is part one of a deeper dive into the results! Make sure to read the overview here.

space functionalities

Getting You Up to Speed

In our previous article about the Screen-Centric Future Workplace project completed by Survature and Work Design Magazine, we mentioned that we recruited readers of Work Design to participate in our behavior-enabled survey (BES) because the community represents an innovation-heavy and service-oriented industry.

We highlighted data that shows the Screen-Centric Future is already here. In addition, the data collected in our study shows that adapting to technology is not necessarily driven by younger generations because all generations have adapted and prospered. Furthermore, measuring people’s work habits involving screens and technology does reveal meaningful differences in terms of how people really work, and in a related manner, what they really do.

What’s in a Design?

In this article, we’re going to dig a little deeper. A well-designed workplace speaks to occupants about space functionalities as well as what the space represents. People’s past experiences and current habits affect how they see the space. Their own lived experiences from past and present exist in their subconsciousness, which creates deep rooted barriers to measure using primitive or simplistic traditional survey methods. Unfortunately, that greatly constrains the kinds of insight that can be fed into evidence-based design processes. As a result, when moving into a new space, it’s not rare that occupant reactions to a design do not align with the intentions behind the design.

How people react to new designs can help us see more into their past experiences and current habits. Therefore, our research incorporated images to communicate designs and measure people’s reaction. Using Survature’s BES platform, we didn’t have to rely on explicit responses only, we could also capture respondent behavioral traits based on how they interacted with the platform.

Specifically, we collected feedback on six screen-centric space designs. In these designs, screens are subtle yet important parts to the overall design and logical focal points. We presented the six designs in an interface as pictured below and asked whether you consider each design best for: focusing, collaborating, meeting, learning, or innovating.

space functionalities

We call this survey interface the AnswerCloud™. The images appear in randomized order per participant and it’s entirely up to each person which images to ignore, what images to move, and in what order. When they do drag and drop a design into disparate boxes at the bottom, their explicit answers are recorded. The AnswerCloud does more than just record the explicit answers, however. It also records which items got moved first, which next, etc. This is the implicit part of the data that captures survey taking behavior. When combined, the explicit and implicit dimensions of the data provide us with a two-dimensional view of the results — the explicit answers plus the relative priority people place on those answers. Pretty cool, right?

So, What Did We Find Out?

Without cutting & dicing the data, let’s describe each design in order of how they grabbed the attention of Work Design readers. Below we have included where each space fell within people’s explicit thoughts of the type of work each screen-centric was best utilized for and where these spaces fell within people’s implicit priority level (based on their behavior).

The Cube Space

This Cube space by Framery is the best “attention-grabber”. It was the highest on people’s minds and indexed the highest on mental priority. Essentially what this means is that of the 368 respondents to the survey, this space by and large grabbed people’s attention the most.

Among all participants from the Work Design community, 39.2 percent feel this is good for focusing, 27.8 percent feel this is good for collaborating, and 26.0 percent feel it’s good for meeting. Only six percent feel it’s good for innovating. In this regard, the Cube space with a fixed screen installation seems to be a very good multi-function space.

The Auditorium and Meeting Space

The next two in priority as a screen enhanced space in the eyes of the Work Design community are the Auditorium space and the Meeting space. A dominating majority (77.4 percent) feel the Auditorium space is a single-purpose “learning” space. Similarly, 68.6 percent feels the Meeting space is for meetings. Interestingly, however, 12.4 percent feel the Meeting space is also good for learning, slightly fewer people (11.3 percent) feel the Meeting space is for collaborating.


The Lounge Space

The fourth in priority as a screen enhanced workspace is the Lounge. Among all design concepts tested, this space has most of the Work Design community thinking of it as a space for collaborating (55.9 percent). No other spaces came as close to being considered a design for collaborating.

In addition, more respondents think of this design as a space for innovating (18.8 percent). No other spaces came as close in this category. The data seem to suggest that when collaborating and innovating need to be combined, this kind of open lounge design provides some special value.

These four designs all seem to matter to the participants of the study from a mental priority point-of-view. Their space functionality ranges from single-function to varying combinations of multi-functions. In contrast, the remaining two designs registered at the bottom in terms of mental priority and differed in functionality. 

The Couches Space

The fifth in mental priority is the Couches space. That is not to say this design is not interesting, it’s a good multi-function space and readers of Work Design confirm that. 50 percent feel this space is good for focusing, 27.6 percent feel it’s good for collaborating, and 14.5 percent feel it is good for innovating. However, the collective survey taking behavior, with statistical significance, shows that people are more confident in their opinion of the other spaces. That is – the reason this registered as a lower priority is that respondents were less certain with their opinion on the type of work that should be done in this space.

The Bench Space

The last space in mental priority as a screen-centric workspace is the Bench space. Like the Couches space, the Bench space is not one that Work Design readers gravitated towards first. In fact, 30 percent of all participants didn’t even touch this image.

In other words, the Bench design incurred the highest ignore rate. It’s clear that people were the least confident in what type of work is best for this screen-centric space. While that lack of confidence is high, 71.4 percent of readers of Work Design tagged it as meant for focusing. Only eight percent felt it’s for collaborating. It seems the common reaction to this design is the opposite of the common intention of the open workspace design. Other studies have found similar results too, for example, in a 2018 project at Harvard University, Bernstein & Turban discovered that in-office electronic communication increases after an open office space is installed, while in-person interactions actually drop. To that end, when knowledge workers need psychological privacy to perform their job, having a screen in front of them and headset over their ears could be what they require.

Additional Findings by Segmentation

It’s important to get input from all levels within the workforce when designing a new space, but executives might not always see it that way. This data helps support that even within our group we all see things differently depending on our position. The most compelling comparison in the data is to compare three levels: Exec and Owner vs. VP & Directors vs. Managers and Others. The top priority cluster of these levels goes from Meeting + Auditorium, to Cube + Meeting, to Cube, respectively.

While that pattern may not be surprising, what is interesting to note is that between 15-20 percent of Executives and VPs consider the Meeting room as a space for collaboration. But only eight percent of Managers and Others consider the Meeting room as a place to collaborate. If this trend holds, what about front-line employees in a tech- or service-oriented industry? Unfortunately, the data from this survey cannot answer this question convincingly since our participants did not include enough front-line employees.

People of different specialties have differing roles. We grouped all participants into three categories: (1) Clients, which include End Users, Facility Managers, and HR Professionals; (2) Agencies, which include Architects, Designers, Manufacturers, and Dealers; and (3) Influencers, which include Consultants, Strategists, and CRE professionals. Through the data, we found that when it comes to relatively new designs, Agencies and Influencers share very similar understandings of the new designs. Clients have different views, however. For example, the Cube space is 35 percent less likely to be viewed as a collaborating space by Clients than by Agencies and Influencers. This insight confirms ongoing discussions that there is a need to “(re)train” occupants on how to work in their new space and to educate Clients throughout their design project on the uses and purposes of their new workspace. Without that step, these new spaces may not make an impact as designed which can sometimes lead to worker frustrations and negative post-occupancy feedback.

In the next article, we will describe how to use BES to dig deeper into what people do at work so that we can more precisely unravel how people work.

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