Concepts and frameworks built around sets of four are strangely common in and around Procol’s field of work. And we say ‘strangely common’ as in many other areas, theories and models are often developed around – or distilled down – not to four elements but three (referred to as a tricolon).
Is there a reason that four seems to have come to the fore in our field? Maybe it’s a day-to-day familiarity with the four walls of the office that has subconsciously shaped the thinking of the thinkers, researchers and fellow practitioners who have written about the culture of the businesses that inhabit and shape the way these spaces are used and designed.
For example, there are Robert Quinn and John Rohrbaugh’s renowned quadrant-based models for analysing organisational effectiveness and leadership roles. And then there is Charles Handy’s Four Cultures of Leadership, which uses the characteristics of four Greek gods as analogies for different kinds of organisational culture.
Our favourite fan of four however, is Frank Duffy.
Duffy, while principally an architect, is also seen as one of the godfathers of facilities management and workplace change. In his 1997 book The New Office he sets out a four-part model of office design.
1. The Hive
Workers in Hive workplaces have their own workstation, routine tasks (such as data entry and processing), routine times of work, and little interaction (or collaboration) between staff.
Think the classic ‘cube farm’ and Dilbert cartoons.
2. The Cell
Cells are spaces used from time to time rather than all the time. They are occupied as necessary by autonomous individuals with the need to work or focus on a particular task. Unlike spaces in Hives, Cells are shared.
So, no photos of the kids, favourite mugs and locked drawers here, as Cells are spaces for sole occupancy but shared by more than one person.
3. The Den
Dens are for group work. They are spaces when people work together, but often in a formal or managed fashion. People in Dens may be working on the same thing, at the same time – or working on separate things at the same time – but not necessarily interacting and collaborating.
The long communal desks present in some modern offices and coworking spaces are an example of a Den.
4. The Club
The clue to Club spaces is in the name. They are areas for interaction and collaboration, and are chiefly associate with knowledge-based and creative workers engaged in a shared activity or project.
To that end, a Club could look a lot like a Den, with just its use at a particular point in time marking the difference. Many Club spaces will be more obviously geared to interaction, however. Boardrooms are the grandparent of such spaces, but in modern workplaces some Club spaces may be more about bean bags and writable walls than leather chairs and oval tables.