As managing and maintaining big data becomes a more prominent and indispensable part of the modern workplace, businesses are taking a closer look at what sort of work environments are being designed to best suit innovative, 21st century job fields such as data science. Chiefly, what kind of workspaces will foster the most efficient and creative data scientists? What architectural elements are implemented into a design to create such results?
In response to these pivotal questions, architects have been taking progressive steps toward improving the way that modern workplaces implement and reflect the vital skillsets and technologies of the 21st century workforce. From the necessity of collaboration with coworkers to the slew of new technologies required to do work with big data, the demands of today’s 21st century work world have radically changed the way that offices are being set up. Of these developments, perhaps the simplest yet most effective way to get the most out of your data team is to design ergonomic workspaces that emphasize flexibility and comfort.
After all, most people working in data science, and office jobs in general, spend roughly eight hours a day sitting in a chair behind a computer. If the physical working conditions are not right – if the chairs don’t support proper posture, for instance – then workers are less able to concentrate on the job at hand, inevitably leading to an inherent reduction of both efficiency and overall resourcefulness. On the other hand, workers who are placed in comfortable environments and given flexible amenities to suit their individual needs are better able to hone in on their work without the distraction of physical discomfort.
“Work, especially office work, engages both the body and the mind,” Dr. Tim Springer, head of the Human Environment Research Organization, said in a report about the future of office ergonomics. “Cognitive ergonomics examines how our minds work and considers mental processes like focus, attention, and memory. Together, physical and cognitive ergonomics constitute a comprehensive approach to people at work.” A comfortable body yields a focused, active mind.
These facts are what prompt architects to take ergonomics and workplace comfort more seriously today than in the past, when these considerations where forgone in lieu of more cost-efficient furnishings and designs.
Having done a lot of work on designs that maximize school and workplace ergonomics, I believe that the fundamentals of natural light, good acoustics, comfort, and control of the temperature are all conducive to the work environment that data scientists require. Modern offices optimized for maximum productivity and efficiency should be equipped with each of the following:
- Offices should be furnished with flexible chairs that can be adjusted to provide the comfort and support required by any given individual while also allowing for easy mobility when collaboration is required.
- Windows should be strategically placed to maximize natural light rather than relying on the bleak, cold fluorescent lighting that is so archetypal to offices of the past.
- Workspaces should come equipped with high-performance HVAC and natural ventilation systems.
- The walls and ceilings should be built with materials with noise-reducing properties, such as gypsum board partitions and dry-felted glass fiber panels, to keep the space as quiet as possible, thereby limiting distraction.
Moreover, when it comes to office furnishings, namely chairs and desks, flexibility and maneuverability are indispensable elements in boosting work productivity to its full potential. As Dr. Springer notes, “Virtually all office jobs include periods of focused concentration and instances of interaction and collaboration with others, periods of sedentary postures while using technology, and periods of dynamic activity. Chairs should support all the activities in which people engage, not just one primary activity.” Offices should provide employees the option to personalize their individual workspaces by equipping them with mobile, flexible chairs and desks that can be easily adjusted to a variety of heights, postures, angles, positions, and locations. By allowing people the freedom to choose whether they work at a standing or sitting desk, a couch or a chair, companies will foster their data teams’ idiosyncratic working styles. The use of such flexible furniture, as Dr. Springer attests, “will support both the physical and cognitive nature of your work, enabling you to be more efficient and effective.”
Perhaps the biggest concern employers will have when faced with these decisive workplace enhancements is cost. How much will all of this cost, and how will it pay off in the long run? True, implementing these improvements will initially cost more money. However, when one considers the surge of efficiency, concentration, and overall resourcefulness enabled by such changes, the value of these investments becomes immediately apparent. By designing office spaces around these progressive architectural concepts, employees will spend less time shifting about in their chairs or rearranging clunky, immobile furniture and more time working on the job at hand. These spaces also are more effective at promoting worker collaboration, allowing data scientists and office workers to interact in a much more seamless manner. So in the end, spending the bit of extra cash to produce such dynamic work environments is the obvious and invaluable choice.
Despite being connected to technology, as human beings, we all still require the basic necessities that allow us to feel comfortable and focused in the places where we live, learn, and work. By creating environments that take these basic needs into account, offices and the data scientists working in them can optimize their productivity and creativity when uncovering the meaningful patterns and insights hiding in big data.
Brian P. Whitmore is a licensed architect, LEED Accredited Professional, and Associate Principal at BCA Architects. Brian’s specialties include expertise in the definition of the educational environment for 21st century learners, including a focus on collaboration, flexibility, natural day-lighting, acoustics, and integrated technology. Brian also focuses on sustainable design, including the practices and incentives of LEED and Savings by Design.
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