Narrative, Nodal, Neighbourly and Nomadic are not adjectives you associate with office spaces. Those, however, are exactly the emerging approaches to office-space design, according to Jeremy Myerson and Philip Ross in their book The 21st Century Office (Laurence King Publishing, 2003, London).
The world is approaching workplace design very differently today than it did in the 20th century. The changes brought in by a new economic order and the new paradigms of communication have necessitated changes in the configurations of office spaces, in their looks as well as in the kind of amenities that are considered necessary today. Who would have thought that offices need to tell stories? But, as Myerson and Ross show, many large companies such as Toyota and Reebok, are turning their office environments into continuous brand experiences. These offices are almost similar to sets—only, they are real.
The Nodal office, similar to the Narrative office, is particularly popular with organizations where communication is central. The Nodal office is a “knowledge connector”, spaces where ideas are shared within an organization or with clients and new ones created. Training and conferencing facilities are obvious candidates. In principle, these spaces are fixed anchors, or “hubs… to pass through or connect to” for the floating workforce of the knowledge-driven economy of the 21st century.
The Neighbourly office provides a balancing vision of social contact and community to the more business-oriented approaches above. “The office of the last century was designed to keep people apart—a division of labour. Now, the office is increasingly designed to encourage chance encounters from which good ideas flow,” say Myerson and Ross. Not surprisingly, many offices designed on this concept are conceived as villages, cities or neighbourhoods. Most businesses today, not just the traditionally adventurous ones such as marketing and advertising, can easily work better with the Neighbourly office.
The Nomadic office is a truly interesting category that recognizes that work is not tied to specific places today. Thus, business clubs or workstations at airports are emerging concepts across the world, alongside older ideas such as the home-office. A rich variety of operational models and experiential approaches is possible within this category.
The great conceptual variety involved in the four categories may not be immediately visible in a majority of offices in India or even in the West. That’s why books tend to be published about this, after all. At the same time, it is becoming clearer that clients—companies making workplaces for themselves—need to get more imaginative and insightful about the need for customized workplace concepts. The four conceptual categories mentioned above are not watertight. Every interesting office would have strands from each approach. This means that whatever the business function, some inspiration can be derived from these conceptual developments.
In all this, of course, there is a danger of thinking creatively of workplace design only in terms of improving productivity and profit. If a 24x7 work culture is inevitable, then a stimulating, supportive work environment is not an option, it is a necessary prescription at the very foundation of internal social responsibility in an organization.