By ROCIO DÍEZ, Rocío Díez, Brand Communications Manager, Steelcase
Occasionally, two seemingly divergent ideas work together. Peanut butter and jelly anyone? I’d like to suggest another unlikely combo: desks and tents. At first glance, this may seem crazy, but this idea is backed by solid research.
Last year, we spoke to 5,000 workers about what they wanted from a modern hybrid work experience. The most attractive attribute of working from home for two-thirds (65%) was that they had a dedicated workspace. So it became clear that giving staff their own private space in the office could be an important part of creating an environment that would entice them to come back to the office. However, with most modern offices being set up in open space and offering minimal privacy, this poses a problem for businesses.
privacy [ˈprɪvəsi, ˈprʌɪvəsi] NAME
a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people
Shelter and privacy
Separate research from the University of Wisconsin shows that visual distractions can interrupt concentration, often more than noise. What this shows us is that while privacy is essential, the dedicated workspace doesn’t need to be soundproofed to be effective. Sometimes the best solution is one that has been around for millennia. One of the earliest forms of shelter and privacy known to man is the trustworthy tent. Although it is just a piece of fabric, a tent has the psychological ability to provide comfort and a sense of security. But how do you make something more common at festivals and campsites work in the office environment?
It became an irresistible challenge for Chris Pottinger, an industrial designer who has spent his career designing outdoor gear from sleeping bags to backpacks for companies like Big Agnes, North Face and REI. “Tents make you feel comfortable and safe when you’re inside,” he explains. “The idea of bringing tents to the workplace is so innovative and something I had to be a part of.”
Tinker and test
Pottinger and the team conducted a series of intense (intentional pun!) design sprints and began experimenting with tension structures – a construction of tension-only elements, with no compression or bending. Rapid prototypes were created using pipe cleaners, string and tape. Of these, a few have been chosen for tinkering and larger-scale testing. Then there was the question of finding the right material that would provide shelter, privacy and light. An opaque material proved to be the most effective.
While the finished tents may look different from what you’ll find at Glastonbury, the original inspiration shines through and is a perfect solution for anyone who needs a little control over their privacy at work.
Sometimes the simple solutions are the best. Unlike the heavy, linear expressions found in many workplaces, tents feature light, airy, and organic shapes. Simple screens and small speakers provide staff with unexpected and playful, yet labor-intensive alternatives to help shield them from office distractions. Whether used as a space for an individual office or as a team lounge, tents can help staff feel comfortable and protected, so they can get on with what they need to do.
Reinventing the office space
The popularity of tents is rooted in the human desire to seek shelter and protection from the natural elements. While leisure tents provide safety and a safe haven in uncertain outdoor conditions, work tents provide office workers with the same shelter and protection they need. With a tensile construction, they combine light and airy organic forms with tent-like and transparent textiles to create a range of flexible and captivating privacy solutions. They challenge conventional privacy solutions by giving people a new and compelling way to work.
I believe that using tents to provide private workspaces could be the catalyst needed to bring staff back to the office in numbers. They can provide the perfect refuge from common office distractions, providing a comfortable and private work environment in which to concentrate or recharge. Tents, with their unique and organic shape, can add a compelling and unconventional visual aesthetic to the modern workplace.
make them smile
With changing expectations, working in the office needs to be an enjoyable prospect for staff to keep them coming back. In an effort to curb the great quitting, organizations need to redesign their office space to become an environment suited to the hybrid working style workers seek. However, budgets remain tight.
The advantages of tents are numerous. They’re versatile for multiple uses, flexible and easy to move, offer decent ventilation, and are a fraction of the cost of traditional stand-alone pods and enclaves. More than that, they provide staff with their own workspace within the office to reinforce their sense of belonging and emphasize how valued they are by the company. They help the staff to work and make them smile. It’s a win, a win.