Workplace + Public Realm: Work / Life Integration
“Work/life integration” is often associated with balancing the pressures and demands of work by allowing more time to engage in personal interests, relationships and wellbeing. The idea is that people will be more inspired, fullfilled, healthy— and thus most productive—at work if time is taken to experience a life outside of work. This interpretation of work/life integration bears out in policies that encourage employees to limit their hours to 40-50 / week, flexible schedules, and the like. But another kind of work/life integration is taking place all around us—the blurring of the activities and spaces of work and life themselves.
Coffee shops, trains, parks—step, into any of these places any time of the day and you’re likely to find people collaborating on a project, working quietly, or socializing. Likewise, today’s workforce expects to find many of the comforts and experiences of personal life both inside and in close proximity to the office—places to lounge, exercise, nap, snack, and connect with community and nature. There’s a temporal element to the work/life mesh too, wherein it can often be difficult to know in any given moment if someone is working or “doing life.” Tools for Work and Spatial Configurations are changing to allow work to take place where and how knowledge workers choose.
In Knoll’s “Immersive Planning, From Research to Realization: An Experience Based Workplace” (2016), the authors, informed by a four-year, multi-layered study, write: “The workplace today is a mass of blurred boundaries. Driven by changing workstyles, the experience economy and the influence of startup culture, the lines separating the worlds of work, life and play continue to fade… As mobility lifts limitations on where work is done, organizations are challenged to create engaging environments that draw workers to the office.” A major observation from Knoll’s research is that “despite new alternatives, the office is still home base,” raising interesting questions about how the workplace can attract workers to the office and invite them to stay when they have other options.
“Office as home base” suggests that the workplace becomes a platform for collaboration and culture that complements a variety of individually-selected off-site locations where work also occurs. Work/life integration, as suggested by the students, is made possible largely by mobile and connected tools for work (laptops, smartphones). In the students’ work, spatial configurations are less about dedicated workspace and more about novel combinations of program that erase the false dichotomy between work and life. The following expectations emerged from the students’ inquiry:
Specific Uses: Experiences, tools and spaces available only in the workplace
Mobility: Portability of work
Easy Transitions: The ability to take oneself somewhere else
The projects included herein support the “office as home base” idea, suggesting that the value in a physical workplace is going to skew towards its ability to provide knowledge workers with experiences (face to face meetings, culture, technologies) that they could not access outside of the workplace proper.
“Office as home base” may be the progenitor of the ubiquitous residential influences in workplace design—consider the many homey references and comforts used to organize and annotate today’s open office plans: hearth, kitchen, pantry, lounge, and the like. This trend is the result of the ways in which workplace must compete with home, or “life,” to be the place where people do their work. The workplace attempts to pulls life in. But the “office as home base” may evolve into a new model—one in which work/life integration is about work being subsumed by life, life pulling work in. Work and workplace then fit into a lifestyle that supports worker wellbeing, productivity and meaning throughout the stages of one’s career—to the benefit of both individuals and innovation.
The research explored how proximity to infrastructural networks and other amenities supports a new understanding of flexibility. Future-proofing becomes about supporting wellness and multigenerational engagement in the workplace. Likewise, work/ life integration becomes more seamless when work can be done outside the office, with the workplace serving as a platform for community and collaboration.
How do these opportunities become reality? The students’ work, taken as a whole, points to a new platform for flexibility and work/life integration—the Public Mesh, or a blurring of lines between workplace and public realm.
This is the third post of a seven part series tied to our recent publication, Workplace + Public Realm, which follows a yearlong research studio with Stanford University and Northeastern University. You can read the introduction here.