Spark

Which of these office spaces fits your 'workplace personality'?

Pop-up workspace can be reconfigured according to your style.
Workplace design should cater to an employee's personality, according to a Toronto design firm that is trying to challenge one-size-fits-all work spaces. (SDI Design)
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This story was originally published on Feb. 1, 2019.

When you think about personalizing your workplace, you probably think about potted plants or framed family photos lining your cubicle. But what if your actual workstation could be configured in a way that reflected your workplace personality and was suited to your style of working? 

That's the idea behind WRKkit, a flexible pop-up workspace  that can be custom configured, via modular furniture, according to a person's "workplace personality."

The project is the result of a collaboration between Microsoft, Giant Containers and SDI Design, a Toronto-based design firm.

"The whole concept behind WRKkit is that everyone's different and that rather than you having to adapt to your workplace, the workplace adapts to you," said Noam Hazan, creative director of SDI Design.

Noam Hazan is an architect and the creative director of Toronto firm SDI Design. (Althea Manasan/CBC)

It was presented at this year's Interior Design Show in Toronto, where a shipping container was outfitted with modular tables, chairs, benches and walls that could be moved into various configurations. The installation included seven predetermined configurations, each one optimized for a particular workplace personality type, such as the "Multi-tasker," the "Creator" or the "Socialite." (You can find out your own workplace personality type by taking a quiz on the WRKkit website.)

Hazan explained the concept behind WRKkit and discussed the impact of workplace design on employee productivity and happiness with Spark host Nora Young. Here is part of their conversation.

So it's not your personality overall — it's essentially your workplace personality or your style at work?

Yeah it's more about your work style, how you like to work. Some people prefer to be [in] more quiet areas, where they can focus. Some people like to be in cafes, you know, that buzz in the background -- actually there are some studies that say it allows people to be more productive and more effective. 

Everyone has a different work style, not just to do with your industry but also your personality. You might be an introvert, you might be an extrovert, so depending on that, different environments allow you to produce effectively. Or depending on the task that you're doing, you might want to be in a different type of environment. 

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      And so is this a plan for an actual re-configurable workspace or is it more of a kind of proof of concept?

      I think it's an idea about challenging the concept of a one-size-fits-all workspace. This is just a concept as a prototype at this stage, but really it's questioning how some offices many, many times are determined by budget or by space. And this is getting rid of that. With a small space, we can still be hyper flexible. 

      Everyone works differently, and to get the most out of your staff, you really need to have multiple environments within your space.- Noam Hazan, Creative Director of SDI Design

      Maybe it's a bit utopian, this utopian idea where you can really adapt your workspace to your personality. But ultimately, it's just challenging the point of having a one-size-fits-all workspace for your staff. Everyone works differently, and to get the most out of your staff, you really need to have multiple environments within your space. 

      Of course, that kind of customization is a bit of an ideal dream for a lot of people who are stuck in the one-size-fits-all model. Are there things that we can do as individuals in our workspaces to customize them ourselves, even within those sort of narrow parameters? 

      Yes, obviously, real estate is very valuable, but if you can create flexible spaces, there are new furniture elements that can be adaptable, like sit-stand desks, for example. So that's kind of within that confinement potentially. 

      But I would say look outside of your space, look at the cafeteria, potentially, in your building or at a library nearby, or just try and kind of get out of your workspace and see how you work in the different environments. Sometimes it's quite refreshing to get up from where you sit all day everyday and actually try and work somewhere else. 

      The WRKkit prototype was on display at the Interior Design Show in Toronto this year. The configuration was changed every three hours to match a different "workplace personality." (SDI Design)

      A few years ago on Spark we spoke to Nikil Saval. He's the author of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace which covers the history of offices. One of the worst aspects of working life Nikil talked about was the history of the office cubicle as a tale of good intentions gone wrong. It was designed by Robert Propst and it started off as an innovative design concept called the "Action Office." 

      They realized that they could just cram lots and lots of workers into these boxes and then say, 'Look, you have your own space.'- Nikil Saval, author of  Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace 

      It's kind of an interesting story and how even aspirational or idealized notions can often end up being sacrificed on the altar of corporate motives or need to manage the cost pressures and so forth. Is there anything you can do as a designer to change that way of thinking? 

      I think it's important for us to demonstrate to our clients that there's a lot of added value in design and it's not just about cramming in as many people as you can, maximizing every square foot. It's really about utilizing your employees and making sure that they're getting the most out of their workspace, and they're actually being efficient when they work, in that they come to a place where they want to work and they're actually being productive. 

      You can cram in a ton of people into a small space and then everyone's unhappy and no one's really being productive. I think you've got to be really careful about how you design your spaces so that you can cater to these different types of people and personalities, that they come to work and be happy to work. 

      This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Click the listen button above to hear the full conversation.

       

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