What really makes a good office space?

A 'good' office space is a very subjective thing - some peope enjoy the hustle and bustle of coffee shops, while others can't stand the distractions. Freelance writer Hazel Davis shares her experience of searching for the perfect workspace...

Sometime last year after another cafe-based conference call punctuated by the sound of grinding coffee, drops in broadband and Red Hot Chilli Peppers on full blast, I decided to look for some proper office space.

I mostly work from home, in a cubby hole in the (tiny) spare bedroom, while my other half wrangles our two noisy young daughters downstairs and tries to prevent them from coming up and “just” asking me a quick question. I punctuate this with a LOT of cafe working, frantic typing in the car while waiting for children to emerge from various clubs and late-night kitchen table candle-burning.

I visited a few likely candidates. I tried the large media centre in the nearby town, with its clinical orange walls and massive tables. I tried a lovely little co-working space in a nearby town. It had shared tables and a friendly vibe. “We don’t have closed doors here,” the enthusiastic owner told me. “We like to be able to lean over and chat about what we’re doing.” I turned and fled. I nearly signed up to a shared large mill space with a pleasant, chatty photographer but when it fell through I was secretly pleased as I imagined all the lunchtimes I’d have to sneak out with my book under my arm while she tried to talk to me about politics or artisan coffee.

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Since then have been holed up in a friend’s broom cupboard. It’s freezing, there is no natural light and it’s full of rubbish. And I love it. It has wifi and a kettle downstairs and nobody can hear me and I can hear nobody.

However, as someone who works in the media and who regularly writes about the workplace, I am aware that I am supposed to seek openness, transparency, and collaboration in my office setting. But, frankly, I get enough of that at home.

The research seems clear about what makes a good workspace. Collaboration, social interaction, unplanned meetings (the thought of which gives me shivers) are all, apparently, crucial. Companies spend millions creating spaces where staff can play ping-pong with each other and have brilliant ideas on beanbags. Others have started putting departments, cafes and toilets deliberate distances apart specifically to create “collision spaces” (which to me sound absolutely horrific).

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Then there’s the argument that collaborating in an office space breaks down both physical and figurative walls.

But what if you’re an introvert who works best when you’re sitting on your own in a cold cupboard with no windows, not being disturbed by anyone? Author of Quiet, Susan Cain, thinks that forcing people to work together in a face-to-face format stifles introverts, makes them miserable and and can lead to reduced creativity.

Digital advances have meant that I can easily spend eight hours alone in a tiny cupboard (with four delicious walls and a lockable door) and have 20 conversations with brilliant, disparate individuals, all of whom have a different perspective to mine and all of whom challenge the way I think about things. And, even better, I don’t have to share my biscuits with them or change out of my pyjamas.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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