Secrets of Successful Workplaces
Anshul Jain, Cushman and Wakefield’s Country Head and Managing Director in India, talks to Global Expert Neil Usher about the factors that constitute a fantastic workplace. Usher, a renowned design expert and the author of global bestseller The Elemental Workplace opines, “For a workspace to be a true success, its function should precede its form.”
Jain: You spoke about workplaces being designed for work. It is one of the philosophies that we’ve been talking about… a cool workspace may get a lot of attention, but may not be good enough for your own work. We would like to hear how you have covered that aspect in your book.
Usher: Sometimes we almost consider that the workplace has a purpose of its own. But, at the end of the day, we wouldn’t need a workplace if it wasn’t to enable work. At workspaces, function, in my view, should always precede form. And then should we start considering its aesthetics.
Jain: Designing large corporate campuses is a challenge. How do you deal with that challenge?
Usher: Your space has to be team-centric, not individual-centric. The prime reason for anyone to come to the workplace is to work with colleagues. We also have a fixation in workplace design of naming things. But, naming something doesn’t tell you where it is.
Jain: How do you define inclusion in workspace design?
Usher: A fantastic workplace has to be fantastic for absolutely everybody. And, there’s no magical way to do this. It’s a continual process of thinking through what we’re creating, and what the impact on people might be. Peer review is an ancient technique, but it’s very effective in this sense.
Jain: How do we have a workplace that works both on influence and control?
Usher: We get very fixated with the way we expect our workplace to work. When we find that people aren’t doing exactly what we think they should be doing, we get quite emotional about it. It’s important that workers don’t feel that they’re completely constrained and prohibited from having a relationship with the work environment. Having an influence over your space and creating some sort of roots and relationship with it are really important.
Control is about things like noise and thermal comfort. It becomes increasingly difficult in larger open spaces to have that control. In olden days, if you wanted your private office to be warmer or colder, you could simply stand up and turn a little dial; if it was too noisy outside, you could turn the ventilation down or shut the door. We had complete control when we had our own private offices; that we have lost now. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily about controlling; it’s more about knowing how to exercise that control.
Jain: Are there any anecdotes related to the writing of your book that you’d like to share?
Usher: Writing the book was tremendous fun, far more emotional than I ever thought it was going to be. I remember sitting with a blank screen trying to figure out what’s the first sentence I write. Then, you go through a huge amount of imposter syndrome and self-doubt — what if I’ve been living a lie for 25 years? When the book was first published in the UK in March 2018, I thought the hard work was done; but, no, it was just the beginning. The best thing about it has been the sheer number of people I have met… I wouldn’t be sitting here today. And I wouldn’t have met you today, had I not done that.