The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Tim Harford takes a good look at what makes for the best productive work environment. Surprise — pristine, design focused spaces are not the answer.

He covers some history in this post, including the details of M.I.T.’s infamous Building 20 (also covered in detail in Deep Work) and the Pixar offices under Steve Jobs. Through the piece, Harford is making the case that so many great innovations come from spaces where the worker is in control of the environment. He refers to studies that prove just that:

Haslam and Knight have confirmed what other researchers have long suspected – that lack of control over one’s physical environment is stressful and distracting. But this perspective is in stark contrast to those who see office design as too important to be left to the people who work in offices.

So why has the trend of building elaborate buildings loaded with all the bells and whistles and free beer become a fixture in the Valley? Harford claims we put the emphasis in the incorrect order.

But we’re often guilty of confusing causation here, believing that great architecture underpins the success of great universities, or that Google flourishes because of the vibrancy of the helter skelters and ping pong tables in the Googleplex. A moment’s reflection reminds us that the innovation comes first, and the stunt architecture comes later.

For those of us who work from home, this is a good reminder. We’re in control. We do not have the budget to build a Googleplex, but we do have the ability to shape our space as see best fit. And that is something to be embraced.