Your environment can improve or harm your productivity. If it’s too loud, too quiet, too hot, too crowded, too this, or too that, you’re not going to get much done. Eileen Vitelli is an interior designer and project manager for //3877, a boutique design firm focused on high-end residential, restaurant, and hospitality projects (Fun fact: The company’s name is actually the latitude and longitude of DC, where they are based.). She recently took on cove as a client, a company that empowers individuals to work when, where, and how they want through a network of convenient locations. Since cove is all about productivity, I spoke with Eileen about what she thinks it takes to design spaces conducive to getting things done.
First things first—before you can design a productive work environment, you first have to define what a productive work environment is. For cove, Eileen sees the need to create spaces for people to really focus. There are a number of elements to think about when creating an area for heads-down work, such as how many inches of desk space each individual needs, creating separation at communal tables, and having a variety of seating types.
“Productivity is different for every person,” Eileen said. It might be different on a given day, depending on what you are doing, and the space needs to account for that.
In recent years, workspace design has been trending away from the cube farm and toward an open floor plan. There are several things that are hard to account for in this setup, including the concept of ‘social privacy.’ You want to be around others, yet you don’t want someone looking over your shoulder. Eileen said the biggest reason people don’t like the open office floor plan is because of the noise—it’s hard to focus when there’s constant chatter and commotion happening all around. She offer several ways to modulate for sound:
- Carpets and fabrics, including soft furniture and drapery. Restaurants sometimes put foam under tables to absorb sound. Hard spaces make it louder.
- Adding layers. In fact, brick walls aren’t completely flat so sound actually gets trapped.
- Bring in acoustic materials. Next time you’re in a restaurant, glance up at the ceiling. You’ll often see black vertical panels between speakers and lights that are incorporated into the design—these are acoustic panels that help absorb sound.
- And lastly, bring down the ceiling height, as well as have lower lighting. People tend to lower their voices with these two factors because it feels more private—there’s a lot of psychology around this.
cove Chinatown (DC)
Another concept cove is looking into is how space can facilitate community. A balance between private and social is important, but Eileen said there are ways to encourage social interaction through space design:
- Create space where people can sit facing each other.
- Create open spaces where activity may elicit conversation—at printer station, at the host station, and at the beverage station.
- Standing tables—being at eye level makes it more likely for people to talk.
Other things to take into consideration on how to increase productivity through work space design include color, light, and plants.
Cool colors are great for productive spaces, as they’re calming. Warm color are more exciting and dynamic. The color of the tables even make a difference. Plain grey tabletops make for less welcoming, colder spaces, while wooden, more natural tabletops create a more welcoming environment.
“It’s office vs. coffee shop. Corporate vs. totally hippy. I think cove wants to be comfortable without being slouchy,” Eileen said. “People don’t want to be in severe, cold spaces anymore.”
Natural light is important, but it can be faked with lighted panels or by adding imagery through artwork with natural images. Wooden tables also offer a more natural feel.
Light can also help people ‘claim their territory,’ such as with pendants or task lights. There’s psychology around people gathering around a pool of light.
There’s actually a great TED Talk about indoor plants—they quite literally grow fresh air inside. But Eileen makes a good point, when she said, “Live plants are better than no plants, but no plants are better than dead plants.”
The team at cove is excited to see how Eileen and //3877 further develop the design concept for our locations. With a goal of creating an incredibly productive environment, we anticipate more natural tones and furniture, private and social seating areas, and better sound modulation. Stay tuned!