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Life Between Offices: How Often Overlooked Spaces Can Give Way To The Best Ideas

If you’ve ever been struck by a good idea in the shower — or while walking on an airport runway, sitting on a train, or watching passersby from a park bench — you know that our best thoughts can take shape when we’re in a state of transition. 

Being in dynamic “journey” mode (versus a static “destination” mode) allows for more opportunities. When we’re on the move, we’re more likely to have chance encounters and to feel unbridled and relaxed. When those things happen, it sparks our creativity. Often, just changing our perspective (literally) helps us to think differently.1

Research shows that when we travel through a passageway between fixed spaces, we hit a kind of pause button in our brains. (This explains why it’s easy to forget something you walked into another room to get.2) While this can be annoying when it takes us by surprise, but it can be quite an effective productivity tool when wielded intentionally. 

"Our best thoughts can take shape when we’re in a state of transition."

The same goes for the office. These tendencies figure largely in today’s distributed workforce: almost a quarter of US employees now telecommute, and our work is increasingly global.3 Often, our days extend beyond one time zone or physical environment. If unmanaged, these conditions can easily lead to mental and organizational fragmentation. But when adequately accounted for, they can actually spur us to do our best work.

The freedom or necessity to move between spaces that characterizes work today is apt to give people more control over their schedules and reduce instances of work family conflict. This can have a pronounced positive effect on health, according to the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, which published a study that demonstrated “organizational changes in the structuring of time can promote employee wellness.”4 

So in an age when the best ideas can happen on the way to or from, often overlooked connecting spaces like hallways become just as important as designated desk areas and collaborative spaces. Design’s role in fostering the positive possibilities of life between offices revolves around creating exceptionally built environments that:

  • Invite chance encounters — both between those physically present and those connecting from afar. This can involve office configurations that encourage “collisions” between employees, making sure the view between different areas is unobstructed and investing in the necessary technology to allow remote workers easy access to HQ. Harvard Business Review reports that “face-to-face interactions are by far the most important activity in an office…Our data suggest that creating collisions — chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization — improves performance.”5
  • Include multi-sensory elements to evoke the dynamic qualities of nature, disrupt the static feel of the indoors and awaken our dormant faculties. Sunlight, plants, scents, snacks, music and natural materials like wood and wool can all play a role in creating a wholly stimulating work environment.
  • Mimic New Urbanism-inspired neighborhood layouts in their emphasis on spatial diversity, walkability and accessible public spaces.6
  • Offer comfortable retreat areas to take the energy gleaned from collisions and sensory input and distill it into Grade A individual work.

    By harnessing the disruptive powers of transitional spaces, we can stimulate well-being and creativity throughout the modern office, positioning it to be history’s most productive — and creative — workplace yet.

    To read our research in full, visit our white paper "
    UNOFFICE THE OFFICE: Emerging Opportunities to Advance the Human-centered Workplace."

    Source Attributions:

    1. Albin, Jamie & Bailey, Eileen. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. London: Penguin, 2014. Print.


    3. Latest Telecommuting Statistics (2016, January). In Global Workplace Analytics. Retrieved April 25, 2017.

    4. Phyllis Moen, Erin Kelly, Eric Tranby, and Qinlei Huang. 2011. “Changing Work, Changing Health: Can Real Work-Time Flexibility Promote Health Behaviors and Well- Being?” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 404-429.

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