by Janice Henshaw –
When you think of modern office design, do you think of smart acoustics, living walls of green plants, control over your own level of lighting and heating, hammocks for hanging out, used gondolas for meeting rooms? Or do you think of people fixated on their computer screens in rooms with no windows, sound problems, and an aesthetic that largely resembles a large closet? Or how about rows of fluorescent-lit, beige cubicles with people filed anonymously away until they depart for the day?
Flexible work arrangements, technological advances, the smart phone, laptop computer and video conferencing have given us the freedom to work almost anywhere, at any time. On a warm fall day, you can click on a laptop set on a picnic table to buy ETFs or bitcoin, or respond to important emails in between bites of kale salad and blackberry muffins. In winter, a skier riding up a steep mountainside chair lift can respond to questions from staff and clients, without missing a run. And your office doesn’t even have to be on land. A little later in this article, I will let you in on a secret – the location of one of the most beautiful offices in the world.
For those of us who do work in an office, the desk space is all-important! Just think about how many hours a day us 21st-century worker bees sit, rounding our shoulders and jutting our chins forward to read the small print on phones, notebooks and monitors. If it’s 10 hours a day, five days a week, then that’s 50 hours a week! Can you imagine how hard that is on the human body, sitting motionless, as stressors stream in through the monitor? Such a sustained position can lead to future (or current) neck and back pain, headaches, and ever-worsening posture as the neck muscles shorten in front and lengthen in the back. Checking in with a health professional to learn posture exercises is a great investment in long-term health. Why wait until your spine has incurred permanent damage?
Thoughtful office design includes space for a stand-up desk, height-adjustable desk, or sit-stand desk. Moving back and forth from sitting to standing throughout the workday only makes sense. Not too much of either one! The monitor has to be at the right height though – it should be adjusted so that your neck and head stay in alignment and your eyes should look slightly downward when viewing the middle of the screen. If you have questions or specific physical constraints, an ergonomist or occupational therapist can support you in finding the right setup. Anti-fatigue mats can be added to help alleviate foot or leg pain. A wireless headset offers an opportunity to raise energy levels by walking around and stretching while talking on the phone.
Moving along from the all-important desk space, let’s check in with architect Silvia Bonet (partner, Finlayson Bonet Architecture) who says that current workspaces are moving away from a defined and personalized work area to flexible spaces with “hot desks” that are shared by workers on different shifts. “The concept of flexibility,” says Silvia, “translates to the absence of conventional partitions delineating each person’s work area.” This includes movable walls or space configuration that change according to the needs and personal wishes of the staff. “A central work area is conducive to the concept of collaboration, but on the downside, it can be noisy and disruptive at times,” which can cause additional stress when trying to communicate with clients and contractors.
“In summary,” says Silvia, “we can work remotely but we need to share space where ideas are discussed, education takes place, and there is an interaction between workers. This space is a combination of open areas, private work pods and meeting rooms, not to mention the lunchroom where the casual lunch hour is another opportunity for communication and interaction. Appreciating each person’s contribution to the growth and reputation of a business is reflected in a workplace where people are not secluded but openly sharing and communicating.” Silvia adds: “An office should be a luminous place, connected to the outside, or to a quiet interior courtyard with large windows that makes a visual transition from the interior to the exterior space.”
Moving from structural office design to interior design, I asked two designers to describe what their perfect office would look and feel like. Trudi Jones (Trudi Jones Interior Design) says that her office would feature an open plan with work stations that promote collaborative interaction. “The furnishing would be sleek and comfortable with a very organic feel, including plants, wood and windows overlooking a view. I would also like a library for sourcing products and ideas. The walls would be a calm gray colour (Benjamin Moore AF-690) with off-white trim and wood accents, and the floor would be polished concrete.”
Andi Hook (Hook & Hook Renovations & Design Inc.) says her ideal office space would overlook the ocean and have a ton of natural light. “It would be crisp and clean with white oak floating shelves. I would have a u-shaped desktop, paired with matte white drawers and storage with splashes of blush pink and brushed gold.”
And finally, as promised, where is the location of one of the most beautiful offices in the world? It is the spacious glass-walled bridge located high above the bow on the Northern Expedition, the BC Ferry that takes passengers and freight on a 15-hour trip from Port Hardy through the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert: the departure point for Haida Gwaii. During my tour of the bridge, Second Officer Graham McKechnie says the incredible view is the best part about his office. “I’ve worked on the ferries for 30 years, and still there is something different every day; just when you think you have seen it all, something new comes your way. Sunsets off Port Hardy and Prince Rupert in the summertime are amazing.”
Even with all the sophisticated satellite technology in the bridge, deckhand/helmsman Jeremiah Knechtel searches the rippled sea ahead with binoculars for logs, boats or sea life that may necessitate a course change. As salmon splash and a humpback whale breaches off the starboard bow, Third Officer/Navigator Larry Lohnes says he has seen spirit bears and mountain goats on land and bears and deer swimming across Grenville Channel.
Now that’s my kind of office!