The Welcoming Workplace: rethinking office design to enable growing numbers of older people to participate in the 21st century knowledge economy

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design

Abstract

In the early years of the 21st century, there are growing numbers of older workers who will not retire from the office workplace but will remain at work for longer, many of them on a consultancy, special-project or part-time basis. Several factors are driving this trend: a shortfall in pension funds; a management emphasis on retaining knowledge and experience built up over the years; ago and disability discrimination legislation offering more protection to older workers; and, above all, the plain demographic facts of population ageing (one or two adults int he European Union will be over 50 by 2020).

At the same time at the age balance of the workforce is changing, the type of work we do in offices in changing too. Today, much of the repetitive process work that once occupied vast numbers of office workers is done by computers. The contemporary workplace is increasingly the setting for a new type of work for which the most common term is 'knowledge work'. This type of work depends not so much on formula and process within a supervised hierarchy but on applying theoretical knowledge and learning as part of a culture of collaboration, sharing and initiative.

Taken together, the ageing of the workforce and emergence of new patterns of knowledge work present a critical challenge to current practice in office design, which has traditionally been geared to younger workforces rather than older ones and simple, linear, process-driven work patterns rather then more comlex knowledge-based ones. Technological advance with intelligent building systems and wireless technologies underpin this paradigm shift, supporting working styles that are more mobile and networked and work environments that can be customised to individual needs and abilities.

This project addresses ways in which the office environment can be redesigned to offer greater levels of comfort and flexibility in the new age of the odler knowledge worker. It builds on a strong record of investigation, expertise and publication by the research team at the Royal College of Art, led by Professor Jeremy Myerson working closely with practising architect Dr John Smith.

The study seeks to examine the interconnected factors that make up the office environment- physical, spatial, technological, economic, social, cultural and philosophical - and develop a theoretical framework within which a programme of user research and design interventions on specific workplace sites can be planned and delivered. Significantly, the project will pilot a number of new design research techniques, including the use of 'mode-mapping' as a rapid ethnographic technique used in conjunction with architectural drawings and space plans.

By observing the movements and motivations of older knowledge workers and plotting their daily lives in time, place and space, the project will seek to generate new conceptual approaches to office design that offer an alternative to the current model derived from the factory floor. These will be simulated and tested in situ and the results of the entire project disseminated to academic, design and office professional audiences through a major book, exhibition, conference and design guidance document.

Given the growing pensions crisis and anticipated 'knowledge gap' in the UK workforce, the subject described above is of real concern to Government. If we are all going to have extended working lives in the 21st century, the places in which we work will need to flex and adapt to make us want to keep on working. This research project sets out to explore ways to achieve this.

Publications

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Erlich A (2008) The Welcoming Workplace: designing for ageing knowledge workers in Journal of Corporate Real Estate

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Helgeson. S. (2008) Ready For Future Demands

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Jeremy Myerson (Author) Employees of a certain age' in Unknown

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Jeremy Myerson (Author) Look to Thyself' in FX 1

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Jeremy Myerson (Author) '...designers to remember the need to concentrate' in Interiors 1

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Myerson J. And Warner. P. (2009) Good Office Design

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Myerson, J. (2009) Office design: managing change in the workplace in What to Buy for Business

 
Title Dynamic Lighting 
Description A lighting design system that allows workers to control light temperature, colour and mood from a laptop. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2006 
Impact This innovation has been widely adopted in the lighting controls industry as solid state technologies have been developed. 
 
Title Future Sound of the office 
Description This animation describes a new technology to transform office noise into a soothing soundscape e.g. whale music or choral music. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact An RCA start-up company, Future Acoustic, was set up to commercialise this technology. 
 
Title Inside it's raining: natural elements to support the older worker 
Description A room divider which features a falling wall of water to provide a soothing effect in stressful office environments. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact n/a 
 
Title Living Proof 
Description An exhibition curated for the 2008 London Design Festival which featured innovations from the Welcoming Workplace study. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact n/a 
 
Title Office Garden 
Description A design installation that enables workers to tend to their own mini-garden. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact n/a 
 
Title The Welcoming Workplace 
Description Exhibition as part of Living Proof Show for 2008 London Design Festival, showcasing design interventions from Welcoming Workplace study. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact The ideas around use of natural materials and water were widely emulated at industry show Orgatec in Germany in subsequent years after the exhibition. 
URL http://www.hhc.rca.ac.uk/welcomingworkplace/news.html
 
Description The Welcoming Workplace project investigated ways in which the office environment could be redesigned to provide greater levels of comfort and flexibility for older workers to participate in the 21st century knowledge economy.

There are today growing numbers of older workers who will not retire from the office workplace but will remain at work for longer, many of them on a consultancy, special-project or part-time basis. Several factors are driving this trend: a shortfall in pension funds; a management emphasis on retaining knowledge and experience built up over the years; age and disability discrimination legislation offering more protection to older workers; and, above all, the plain demographic facts of population ageing (one in two adults in the European Union will be over 50 by 2020).

At the same time as the age balance of the workforce is changing, the type of work we do in offices is changing too. Much of the repetitive process work that was once done by vast numbers of office workers is now digitally automated. The contemporary workplace is increasingly the setting for a new type of work for which the most common term is 'knowledge work'. This type of work depends not so much on formula and process within a supervised hierarchy but on applying theoretical knowledge and learning as part of a culture of collaboration, sharing and initiative.

Taken together, the ageing of the workforce and emergence of new patterns of knowledge work present a critical challenge to current practice in office design, which has traditionally been geared to younger workforces rather than older ones and to simple, linear, process-driven work patterns rather then more complex knowledge-oriented ones.

The Welcoming Workplace study examined the interconnected factors that make up the office environment - physical, spatial, technological, economic, social, cultural and philosophical - and developed a theoretical framework within which a programme of user research and design interventions on specific workplace sites were planned and delivered.

Knowledge workers aged over 50 in three 'knowledge industries' (pharmaceuticals, technology and financial services) were interviewed and observed on three different continents The research was undertaken by the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art, London, in partnership with Kyushu University in Japan and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The purpose of the study was to use a range of design research methods to give a voice to the 'silent' group of older knowledge workers, including research chemists, process engineers and financial analysts, within the work environment - a group that deliberately does ?not draw attention to itself.

Research was carried out in the offices of major companies in London, Yokohama and Melbourne. Both older workers and the senior managers in facilities, property, occupational health and so on, who are responsible for their welfare and productivity, were interviewed.

Experimental design interventions were then built onsite in rapid response to the findings to further deepen the dialogue around people's expectations, needs and preferences. More than 80 corporate staff worldwide participated in the study.

By observing the movements and motivations of older knowledge workers and assessing their daily lives in time, place and space, the project generated new conceptual approaches to office design based on knowledge work, that offers an alternative to the current model derived from the process-driven factory floor. These were simulated and tested in situ.

The research discovered that older workers are struggle with new lean and digital ways of working, which cuts down paper and promotes clean desk policies. They are badly affected by noise and distraction, are especially sensitive to environmental and ergonomic conditions, are hampered by IT systems that are not easy to use, and are discouraged by organisational ambivalence to ageing, which sees older people fall off the radar for career training and advancement.

The study made a rigorous critique of open plan offices and presented a new model of space planning for older knowledge workers - based on providing dedicated settings for Concentration, Collaboration and Contemplation (the 3 Cs model). While there has been a swing from concentration to collaboration in workspace provision in recent years, contemplation space (for rest, recovery and recuperation during the working day) has been almost entirely overlooked.
Exploitation Route Overall, the research made a coherent and actionable case for change, based on the results of a series of rapid design interventions, and produced practical guidelines that could be implemented by policymakers and practitioners.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.hhc.rca.ac.uk/welcomingworkplace/
 
Description The Welcoming Workplace project highlighted the environmental requirements for older workers in the 21st century knowledge-based workplace. At the heart of the study was a series of 'rapid design interventions' on sites in the UK, Japan and Australia to create temporary experiential settings for testing and evaluation. The research team worked with international academic partners (University of Melbourne and University of Kyushu) to create a series of lighting, technology, furniture, acoustic and special effects interventions within the time and operational constraints imposed by large organisations. The result of this work was the development of the 3 Cs model (Concentration, Collaboration and Contemplation) as an alternative workspace design strategy and as a critique of the shortcomings of conventional open plan working. The study was designed to have an impact on both policymakers and practitioners. Findings were referenced in a guidance note from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (2011) on older workers, authored by the Department of Work and Pensions. PI Myerson was invited to join the Workplace Productivity Group of the BCO (British Council for Offices), a professional body responsible for writing the BCO's Office Specification Guide (2009), which gives detailed guidance on older workers. Case study interactions during the study in the UK, Japan and Australia with companies in pharmaceuticals (GlaxoSmithKline), technology (Ricoh) and financial services (National Australia Bank) resulted in those organisations modifying their approach. Global manufacturer Plantronics built an entire facility in Swindon, UK, based on the study's 3Cs model. Management publisher Gower commissioned Myerson and co-authors Bichard (an anthropologist) and Erlich (a psychologist) to write an academic book on global changes in workspace design, based on the Welcoming Workplace project. The book, New Demographics New Workspace: Office Design for the Changing Workforce, was launched in London in May 2010 with a speaking event at the showroom of office furniture manufacturer Haworth and has been widely reviewed and cited. In June 2011, for example, the book was cited when Myerson was named by Wired Magazine as one of Britain's 100 most influential people in digital technology. The results of the Welcoming Workplace project have been widely disseminated to academic, design, policymaking and office property professional audiences through a major book, exhibitions, conferences and a design guidance document. The study was launched in the UK at the Work Tech conference at the British Library, London (November 2008), in the USA at the Build Boston convention (Nov 2008) and in Asia Pacific at the Reinventing Retirement: Employment and Active Engagement Beyond 50 conference attended by Singapore's Prime Minister (Jan 2009). An exhibition, Living Proof, showcased innovations from the Welcoming Workplace study at the London Design Festival in September 2008. A regional seminar based on the Welcoming Workplace study was accredited for Continuing Professional Development by the Royal Institute of British Architects. This seminar, with an accompanying exhibition showcasing the design interventions, visited Southampton, Reading and Livingston in autumn 2008, organised and sponsored by industry partner Kinnarps. The research team has therefore sought to maximise impact through professional channels (BCO, RIBA), policy-making platforms (DWP) and industry collaborations (GlaxoSmithKline, Plantronics, Kinnarps) in order to disseminate and apply the findings of the study as they relate to improving the workplace for older workers in the knowledge economy.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description British Council for Offices and Kinnarps partners on the Welcoming Workplace design guidance publication 
Organisation British Council for Offices
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Collaboration with sponsors on publication of the design guidance
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration with sponsors on publication of the design guidance
Impact n/a
Start Year 2008
 
Description Kyushu University Faculty of Design in Japan and the University of Melbourne Faculty of Architecture in Australia partners on research 
Organisation Kyushu University
Country Japan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration on research, fieldwork with local companies and workforces
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration on research, fieldwork with local companies and workforces
Impact n/a
Start Year 2008
 
Description Kyushu University Faculty of Design in Japan and the University of Melbourne Faculty of Architecture in Australia partners on research 
Organisation University of Melbourne
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration on research, fieldwork with local companies and workforces
Collaborator Contribution Collaboration on research, fieldwork with local companies and workforces
Impact n/a
Start Year 2008
 
Description Paul Clarke in partnership with 3D Reid, Arup, British Council for Offices, Child Graddon Lewis and Fletcher Priest Trust, Project entitled 'Metricity: exploring new measures of urban density' 
Organisation Fletcher Priest Architects Charitable Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Information taken from Final Report
 
Description Designing workspaces for people and change - International Space Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Talk sparked discussion around designing workspaces for people

Increased awareness of the importance of workspace design
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description From the machine to the network: evolutions in office design - New Ways of Working Conference - Helsinki 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk and discussion about the future of office design

Increased awareness of changes in the future of office design
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description How can workplaces meet the need of ageing employees? - Guardian Article - J Myerson 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Increased awareness of workplace design for older employees

n/a
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/05/workplaces-meet-needs-ageing-employees
 
Description New Demographics New Workspace - Worktech conference - Amsterdam 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk and discussion on the ageing population and workspace design

Increased awareness of workspace design for an ageing population
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description The Inclusive Workplace - Innovation for All conference - Oslo 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk and discussion on inclusive design for the workplace

increased awareness of the need for inclusive design for the workplace
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Welcoming Workplace - Office and Faculty Conference - Warsaw 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk and discussion on the Welcoming Workplace project

Increased awareness of the Welcoming Workplace project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Workplace Design for the Ageing Workforce - Reinventing Retirement Asia Conference, Singapore 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talks and discussion on design for the ageing working population

Requests for information about the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009