Sunday, 14 September 2014

Dreaming of the perfect office are asking bloggers and designers to come up with their own dream office spaces. Having always worked in the voluntary sector I know dream offices and working spaces are often just that, a dream. In reality when you are surviving on shoe string project grant every penny you get goes on paying for the best you can get your hands on for the young people you are working with, not on fixing your office space (however badly it needs it). I know in nearly all of the positions I have held our office space could have been likened to that of a broom cupboard, dark, little light and with every corner possible filled with resources and people working with no room for extras or space to breath. Many of the buildings I have worked in look like their windows would fall out if pushed and they are not the dynamic creative spaces that we would desire to run inspirational and life changing projects.

My background is dance and arts management and I enjoy working with people in general. The last position I held was in the USA and I worked with vulnerable over 55's on a residential apartment site (not really like anything I would do back here in the UK). My job was a 'jack of all trades' activities coordinator where I led and facilitated everything from bingo through to health talks. Before that I worked with vunerable young adults 16-25 year olds to help them get back into education, training and employment here in the UK, which is now where we reside again. A very tough and rewarded job and one I would very much like to go back to in the future, and one that would have a much larger impact if delivered in a space tailor made for it.

So what would my office look like? It would be modern, contemporary and light for a start, a stark contrast to my previous office facilities. With plenty of flexible working space. I like open plan but you also need a bit of your own space within that, as well as some spare desks that feel unthreatening to young people using them. The office captures the essence of office life for them enough that they can learn the skills needed to be in that environment without feeling threatened. This office space would be separated by glass so it is still part of the other spaces but is quiet enough for people to get work done, it would also contain bright lockable cabinets for storing sensitive information. We would also need a dance studio/ multi functional room for physical activities, workshops, events and a big meeting space which would cater for young people and board meetings and a kitchen.  A bit of a big ask but its what would be ideal.

I love the concept of these moveable sitting areas and how multi functional they are
What I hate about meeting rooms is that they feel stark and impersonal usually where as this meeting room will be a creative, imaginative space with plenty of storage to stick away the resources needed for each group that accesses it. I am thinking coloured ceiling height units which form the walls, but also could be moveable to create new spaces as and when needed. These units will be pockets of bright colours, one for each group that uses it so it's obvious where your equipment is. A vaulted ceiling makes the space feel bigger without it feeling enormous, and an inspirational quote wall with messages to inspire and spark creativity in its rawest form. If I was designing the space from scratch it would also be part of my dream to give the young people some ownership of it and the quote wall and some wall decorations would be apart of that ownership. I created a pinterest board to help visually gather ideas and there are lots of different moveable wall options including glass ones.

When I talk about dividers I really want the space to be able to be as versatile as possible. It all adjoins and connects. In essence if you had all the space together it would become a huge activity centre with full working kitchen, a sitting area (previously named the board room) and resources galore. The dividers also create more flexible smaller rooms. When I initially meet someone in order to give then the best opportunity with a project you have to understand them and their needs. There are always sensitive issues relating to their personal situation that need to be said but don't need to be known by everyone so you need some privacy. At the same time you also don't want everyone to be working in isolation. I find glass is an excellent divider because you can still see the big picture without the noise of lots of people in the next room. Glass also makes a space light and airy which is so important particularly for young people who don't want to feel like they are in school but are being respected as adults in contemporary adult settings. Blocks of coloured glass are also a great way to inject some energy into the space.

As for furniture I would want it to be as multi-functional as possible. I can't stand a great open space that then has loads of tables and chairs stuffed in the corner because the room has been cleared for a workshop and there is no-where to put them. So I would come up with clever designs to solve that. Interlocking tables that change shape and function; boardroom, classroom, activity stations. Perhaps they could hoist into the ceiling when they are not being used, or fold down off the walls. A range of different chairs. I would also love a giant touchscreen (or two) that a group of young people could work around, collaborating their ideas and suggestions. Rugs are a great way to add texture and colour to a room with a hard surface floor and make it feel more homely.

Colour is also so important to me as a person as I believe it brings with it vibrancy and energy that no one else can bring. Colour can be in furniture, on walls, in glass but it needs to be there careful planned out. We lived in an apartment with red concrete floors and it's that subtle energy that can really change the feeling of an office. My colour palette would be bright but I don't want to limit it, it might also work if we coloured coded areas to reflect the different moods. I want it to be an office with a wow factor.

The kitchen is the heart if the home, and the heart if the office too. A communal space for inspired conversations over the kettle boiling, where problems are solved and when we spark an idea when we are not even looking for one. It's also a great resource for developing life skills for independent living, delivered through serving others as a volunteer. Big enough to hold office staff and young people in a communal safe space, a haven from the usual office working. In any project with young people its great to mix office staff with participants.

I love this rug and the texture it adds to the space
Finally the dance studio would be sprung, a vaulted space but one that is inspiring too. I picture images of dancers in black and white imprinted along the wall. The space also needs natural light to be in it to, many a creative dance moment is born from light shadows that create a mood but also inject life.

I want an office space to be one that I want to go to, that inspires from the moment I arrive. One that captures my vibrancy and allows me to share that with other people. Its a safe space for young people and others to feel secure enough to come and participate and leave feeling refreshed and re-energised. Every single part of the office space is carefully considered to make it very much a working space, functionally on every level. No space is unused and no space is uninspired. The space loving shapes and encourages young people who previously have never engaged and gives them vigor to thrive.

What would your dream office space look like? 

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