Studio and the Seat

Having spent my first several years in practice immersed in workplace design, I bore witness to the changing paradigms of what might be considered a “modern” work environment.

Despite the range of industry types (ranging from advertising agencies to biotech to executive search firms to a multi-tenant non-profit center), relevant dialogues and design thinking related to wellness, flexibility, choice, and culture became central to the process and outcomes of the resultant environments.

As employers continue to adopt mobility programs, champion shrinking physical footprints, and invest in collaborative and shared amenity spaces, I remain somewhat ambivalent about the future of the architectural studio/office; a workplace typology that feels rightfully caught between the past and the future, between rich and evolving traditions paired with the uncertainty of the unknown.

Why the confusion?

Because, after many discussions with industry colleagues and peers, I’m still not sure if an architectural studio (a space type presumably based on daily team collaboration paired with explorations, iterations, and discussions of physical models, pinned-up drawings, and digital media) can translate as productively within the confines of remote-work and online sharing as it can by spinning my chair around at work and asking a teammate what they think of a sketch I’m working on.

Unlike professions that thrive with a high concentration of individual contributors, the team-like structure and iterative nature of design work seems to lend itself to the benefits of face-to-face communication as a means of problem-solving, constructive critique, and ultimately, team-based decision-making.

If I’ve dated myself with this previous statement or made the reader sigh with contempt, I don’t apologize, but rather ask you to share what’s working; that is, if you’ve found solutions for your office or firm that empower the employee to be more mobile and flexible without suffering from a sense of absenteeism or lack of energy in the studio/workplace, what have been the tools for your success?

While the transition from desktops to laptops and creating robust online-collaboration and communication capabilities are obvious first steps to facilitating workplace mobility, I am curious about the broader implications of an architecture studio that thrives on virtual presenteeism and collaboration, or, alternatively, an “alone together” approach in which people are encouraged to engage in individual work and to come together for less spontaneous, less frequent but theoretically more “productive” collaboration time (along the lines of this recent discourse: https://hbr.org/2014/03/why-you-should-stop-brainstorming/ or http://www.fastcompany.com/3033567/agendas/brainstorming-doesnt-work-try-this-technique-instead)

I welcome, as always, any discussion on the topic as a response to this blog post.

2 thoughts on “Studio and the Seat

  1. Well said! Is there any substitute for the serendipitous encounter or the mentoring opportunities (across all staff) that a studio setting offers? Now that a percentage of the work force (all professions, not just design professionals) works remotely, do we need to offer that option “just because?” Would be interested in other opinions. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for this thought provoking post! There are some challenging nuances to architectural collaboration: physical samples and models being the main examples that you list.

    More generally it’s almost impossible to create a sense of workplace community remotely. Being conferenced into a meeting is a surgical operation: the remote person must be addressed clearly and without irony to preserve the flow of the exchange. Community is built during the din before and after the meeting or while waiting in the break room to use the microwave.

    That said there are 3 things that have really changed the way I feel about working remotely:

    Sit/stand desks. Something about sitting at home feels too much like a weekend or evening. Standing is energizing and focuses energy on what’s in front of me.

    Noise cancelling headphones. I use Bose Quiet Comfort 20i’s. This is an amazing tool that can basically eliminate the subtle sound queues that you’re at home. I also use these at work to drown out the noisy conversation next door. Additionally noise cancelling headphones allow me to focus on phone calls much better wherever I am – especially in the car.

    A good collaboration software. We use Skype for Business, and it’s been very helpful to have a quick easy way to look over someone’s shoulder or vice versa.

    These 3 tools along with my laptop and peripherals give my workflow a sense of continuity at the office and at home.

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