Designing offices with personality

If there’s one thing you won’t have failed to have noticed, it’s that offices and office space is evolving. A growing body of evidence now links fantastic work environments to fantastic improvements in productivity too, with all the happiness and wellbeing benefits that come with it.

Quite rightly, there has been significant progress in the planning and design of more agile and flexible working spaces. Firms like Google, with its campus, play-based approach to work, is heralded as having reinvigorated the work environment by shifting the focus on how it gets the best results from its brightest people.

This is a subject that fascinates us at BW: Workplace Experts, so we commissioned Lily Bernheimer and her team at Space Works Consulting to produce a white paper on our behalf to interrogate personality, productivity and work.

The acceptance of the relationship between space and work is to be applauded. But does this mean research into space should stop? We don’t think so. In fact, we believe the default Google approach isn’t always appropriate. Workspace is actually much more complex than being just about the building. It has to be about the relationship it has to the people that occupy it and, as we all know, people are different.

As we enter the so-called fourth industrial revolution, when workplaces need to understand different people’s “personal algorithms”, it’s our view that buildings must meet the different psychological needs of workers within them. In short, offices need to have a two-way relationship, but with lots of different personality types.

Typically, human resources tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, have divided workers by different personality traits, the big five being open, conscientious, extrovert, agreeable and neurotic. But it’s well known this doesn’t tend to account for personality development or growth. As such, we believe current personality productivity research is an outdated framework to look at productivity. Under this spotlight, traits such as conscientiousness or agreeableness are still analysed as “inputs”, which are then correlated with outputs like job satisfaction and earnings.

We feel this no longer applies in today’s workplace. That’s why we’ve begun to use a model – the Enneagram – that instead establishes the behaviour and the type of thinking patterns people fall into. The Enneagram Institute is leading this research and has identified nine “types” – the reformer, helper, achiever, individualist, investigator, loyalist, enthusiast, challenger and peacemaker.

So why is this so important. Well, because the Enneagram model identifies unique patterns of traits, motives and values, we believe it has the potential to transform the next phase of workplace science. Knowing that investigators experience the world differently to helpers, for instance, is dramatically important. Investigators seek privacy to recharge and analyse. Open-plan, break-out-based office space would be a completely stressful place for investigators to work in. By comparison, reformers, who are dedicated and committed, and motivated by a set of high internal standards, need a working environment that will inspire them to be more creative and relieve more stress.

We believe the Enneagram model provides new insights and new ways to challenge the accepted view that personality traits are “inputs” in the productivity machine.

What we believe is that office space needs to be far more personal. It needs to support different personality types in a way that fosters their strengths for maximum output. The fourth industrial revolution will require an iterative approach to office design, one that is responsive to workers’ patterns and contributions. The future workspace should at least be sensitive to the complex combination of personality patterns in terms of layout, seating allocation, and the balance of open and sheltered space.

Ultimately perhaps, understanding the future office is about understanding what the purpose of a building really is – an asset to be invested in, to help get the maximum return from the people in it.

We believe office design that is more reflective of its people can have a bigger impact on productivity and performance than other areas human resources directors typically focus on first, such as training and development. To ignore how your office impacts people is to ignore both of most organisations’ biggest assets and cost centres. A building can so easily become an asset that isn’t performing, but if thought about with its occupants’ productivity in mind too, both can be managed so they’re working at the top of their game.

BW: Workplace Experts are committed to delivering defect-free fit-out and refurbishment projects, driven by innovation and characterised by transparency, personality and fit-out expertise.

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