The discipline of office design is not a mystical art or special power. However, when comparing the ideas of the big thinkers that inhabit or inform our area practice, it seems we benefit not from the power of the force, but the fours

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.

The four-seeable future

When Duffy published his book, Hives were the de facto standard in workplaces. He imagined that changing and Clubs eventually becoming the norm.

Hives certainly have become far less common over the last 25 years. And the hybrid ways of working now becoming commonplace post-Covid are likely to see Cells, Dens and Clubs further add to the decline – but not eradication – of the Hive.

After all, while many people love the new normal of hybrid working, it’s not for everyone and some people (due to roles, preferences or personal circumstances) need a permanent Hive-like place as a professional home.

So, most offices are still likely to comprise – or would benefit from – a considered mix of all four of Duffy’s zones for the foreseeable (or four-seeable!) future.

For advice on any aspect of office design and creating professional working environments, call 01225 701701 or email enquiries@procol.co.uk.

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