A Designer's Guide to People-first Workspaces

Read on for a breakdown of designing a people-first workspace


Karthika Menon

October 27, 2023

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People-first workspaces are designed keeping the well-being and productivity of the users in mind. In this working environment, the focus lies on providing the best work setting which includes flexible work arrangements with frequent employee engagement. The overall aim of designing a people-first workplace is to create a supportive and positive work environment where employees feel valued and motivated to do their best work.

Designing a people-first workspace requires the designers to anticipate the needs of the people who are going to be utilizing the space. A good part of designing goes into making inclusions that make employees' work lives better and thus it is important to understand how people respond to the elements in a workplace and how each element in the workplace design can be used to enhance user experience. Since design forms the cornerstone for this process, we asked the designers at 2gethr and Zyeta (who have a collective experience of 10+ years), some vital questions about their approach to people-first workplace designs and here’s what we found out.

What do you consider when designing a space that focuses on people, their needs and well-being?
When designing a people-first workspace, employee wellness becomes the most vital aspect.One of the ways to ensure this is going for certification mandated guidelines; WELL certification, green building certification (LEED) etc. are a few certifications that pave the path to a good people-first workspace design although the companies may not always go for a certification.

As a WELL-certification associated professional, Monika Roula, head of design excellence for Zyeta, explains the intricacies of designing a space that complies with the WELL certification guidelines.A solid Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system has to be in place to protect the air from the external influences and the water available has to be free of toxins and other micro-contents. Lighting is another aspect that receives attention; circadian lighting systems are in place to avoid strain for the eyes, which is beneficial to people who spend time behind their screens everyday. Ergonomic seating helps with adjusting the body posture and inclusion of plants which appeal to our visual senses also play their respective roles in making the space more soothing (so as to reduce effects of stress or anxiety).

What factors do you consider when designing a workplace that promotes collaboration and teamwork among employees?
The factors vary from client to client. A collaborative area is intended to create an environment where people are able to come together and connect. Some clients require no distinction between their collaborative space and focus areas while some others prefer the two being kept at a considerable distance. Some clients bring the requirement of a lounge area setting where employees can have their recreation time and engage in activities away from work while others may require a more focused collaboration space where they could connect over calls or brainstorming sessions.

An interesting trend lately is the cafe recreation attempts that are open for employees to connect with one another while being at work over food or beverages; the same can also be used to work in silence. An expansive space with a variety of seating which can act as a workstation as well asa community area where people can come in masses and interact with one another. Another inclusion in a workspace design is small collision spots where people can connect informally with one another; this is often spaced between the collaborative open space and the focus areas and allow for the break in monotony of the space design.

How do you factor in inclusivity and accessibility to people of backgrounds when you design such spaces?
Zyeta was one of the first companies in the industry to follow the inclusivity guidelines(Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for PersonsWith Disability and Elderly Persons) when it was introduced in 2016. When the Karnataka government made it mandatory for public spaces, it was only a feather in their cap. The guideline provides certain space standards that allow for people with disabilities to access the space just as easily as others around them. Special toilets for the disabled is just the tip of the iceberg.

The elimination of space hierarchy is a key focus on inclusivity and accessibility which goes into the most minute details of design. A few of the specifications to accomplish this includes the standard corridor and door width which were increased from 850 mm to 900 mm and the pantry counter height was brought down to 750 mm from 1050 mm, all to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. The incorporation of Braille script in the common areas to convey the general instructions and a mothers’ room for the new mothers (keeping in mind their privacy)with a fridge and sink of its own is also becoming a common practice.

How do you factor in other aspects of design such as sustainability and broader goals aligning with the existing social trends?
Most companies these days are going for sustainability as their goals to achieve for the near future and they are trying to give back to nature what they take from her. Carbon neutrality is being adopted in countries such as Japan and Canada, and India is starting to follow suit.

Designs are grounded on practical solutions and each space is tested for its functionality before it is handed over to the client and is open for usage. There are acoustic tests conducted to understand if the material absorbs sounds and air testing to understand if there exists any issues with the HVAC system, which are cleaned every 23 hours. All the systems are made to undergo checks, even when the project has been handed over to the clients periodically. This ensures that the project is maintained even after its completion.

What are the challenges faced when designing a people-first workspace? How do you overcome these? Also what defines a successful design in such a scenario?
There are not many challenges faced up until this point but there have been points where clients were unsure of their requirements and it became an activity where workstations had to be added onto the existing layout, which goes against the already completed design layout. Another pain-point that comes by oftentimes is the space restriction - having a large requirement with not enough space to accommodate all the requirements is a major aspect when designing a people-first office.

Success is defined by end-user satisfaction. When the client is satisfied with the design, that makes the job of a designer successful. Immediate gratification aside, it is more satisfying when the client comes to the designer, a few years down the road, and gives their feedback on the space after having used it for years; this imparts a deeper sense of satisfaction to the designer.Feedback in any form is essential for a designer to be called successful in the design process and it adds to the future of the space and the people using the space.

When a project comes to you, how do you do your research for the best execution? What are your means of staying updated with the latest design trends in the people-first workspaces?
The answer to this question varies from designer to designer. Each person has their own process of learning and understanding the trends, and so it becomes very subjective. Studying the latest insights, research papers and design trends in the market contributes to understanding how to incorporate the latest changes in workspace design. Since design is a large concept with multiple branches, it often helps to understand other aspects of it as well, when beginning a project.Research goes into everything starting from the materials selected for construction to the colors that are used in each space that serves a specific purpose there.

The latest workspace design trend is modern minimalism, which borrows from other variants of design. Oftentimes, gaining insights from trends in other aspects of design like digital marketing design (where hybridity and contrasts are predominant) or designs where people are given the priority can be adopted into designing a people based office design. Since in a workspace, productivity is of utmost importance, the design concepts applied often complements this goal.The end-goal always remains people-first user-friendly workplace design and its application.

People-first workspaces are putting the trend in trend-setting post-covid. Any firm that is focused on their growth is adopting the trend of putting their employee’s needs first. And what makes a brand people-first? Read more about people-first workspaces on People-first Work Cultures - TheDream Scenario. 2gethr, as a brand that proudly hails as People-first, design is the foundationalstone to creating an office where everyone who walks in, finds themselves feeling included, calmand happy. Our designers keep up with the latest trends in workplace design when creating aspace that expands to a high-experience flexible office.

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