“Nothing should be bolted down”: making the most of your workspace

14 Feb 2020

Written by Schiavello International

Nick Tennant has worked in the interior and product design industry for over 15 years. He has contributed to a number of award-winning interior projects for leading architecture and interior design firms, however he now lends his knowledge to the product design sector of Schiavello. He talks to us about workplaces now versus a decade ago, the flaws of open plan, and what’s in store for the future of the office space.

Nick Tennant

You’ve been in the design industry for over 15 years now. What’s been the biggest change in the workspace sector over that span of time?

Over 10 years ago, Australian workplace design leaders took the bold step of introducing agile working to their clients. The financial service and insurance sectors were the pioneers in this model. At the time, conventional open plan offices were the norm, and they were notorious for being noisy and distracting. Amongst other things, open plan was supposed to foster collaboration between colleagues, however in its ‘one size fits all’ approach’, it failed to recognise different work modes – the different ways in which we work. In doing so, many people were left with big, sprawling spaces that had no designated areas for focused, concentrated work versus collaborative work, or team spaces versus solo or retreat spaces.

Now, workplace design takes work styles and modes into deeper consideration and provides various settings to support them. Data collection on space utilisation then allows businesses to understand how each area is being used, so adjustments can be made to ensure the office is functioning as effectively as possible.

What are some of the most interesting ways this has affected the way different sectors work?

The most interesting one is legal – the entire sector was a relatively late adopter of open plan and non-allocated desking, understandably due to the sensitivity around confidentiality and privacy for phone calls, discussions and meetings. Having since embraced technology supported work setting diversity, Australian legal workplaces are now on the cutting edge of office design. They are among the best, most advanced of their kind in the world.

How can we get the most out of diversified work settings within open plan?

Firstly, you need work settings to suit collaboration as well as focus. Utilise zoning or have different areas for different uses, and the biggest tip: take advantage of soft architecture. Soft architecture is the term we use to refer to products that can be used to divide a space. They could be loose furniture, like a high-back sofa or a demountable room, or a partition. These products can help to control noise distraction as well as acoustic and visual privacy. They are cost effective, flexible, responsive, and can go with you if you need to move location – which gives another tick to the cost-effectiveness box, as well as the sustainability box. Schiavello operates on the design philosophy that nothing in the workplace should be bolted down – not even partitions or rooms. We believe that business, in order to be as competitive as possible, needs to be physically agile, to respond and adapt to a highly volatile global economic environment.

What kind of companies are you seeing take advantage of the benefits of soft architecture?

Many of our largest clients, including multi-national tech, large financial services and mining sector companies, have been exploring elements of soft architecture for many years now. However it is now applicable to small and mid-sized organisations who simply want to be agile and move quickly with the market.

What do you see for the future of office design?

Technological advancement in the tools we use at work will continue to drive workplace interior and product design innovation, giving birth to new types of spaces as well as the furniture and products used within them. I also see legislation demanding increasingly stringent sustainability requirements driving material innovation and a sharpened focus on re-usable products and materials.