Monday, 16 January 2017

Bloke down the pub told me … we can learn from pub design


Some of you may know that, as well as my keen interest in workplace design, I have a passion for beer – I’m training to be a beer sommelier and also part-own Haresfoot Brewery. As a consequence, I receive regular updates on the beer industry’s activities from the Morning Advertiser – “pub trade news from the industry's oldest and most-respected magazine”. 

I was particularly interested in the recent article “top pub interior design trends for 2017”. Whilst the article focuses mostly on the décor (e.g. masculine versus feminine, eclectic furniture, rawness and honesty), I have always thought that the pub offers so much more that can influence office design. Let me explain further.

Traditionally pubs had several rooms – a public bar, lounge, family room, smoking room or snug etc. Each room was differently arranged and furnished for different purposes, and often the beer prices also varied in each room. Nowadays pubs trend to be open plan (for efficiency) yet they still offer a range of distinct spaces. Those wishing to socialise may sit on stools at the bar or around a large “Kitchen table”, whereas others requiring discretion may prefer the more secluded nooks or banquettes with semi-privacy created by screens, planting or furniture. The lighting is also selected to enhance each type of space. Raised floor levels, mezzanines and balustrades are used to create zones (and interest) without partitioning off the space. There is a wide choice of settings down the pub.

Quite often pubs have a cosy domestic feel. The Danish term hygge is gaining traction in the workplace design community. Whilst there is no direct translation, it certainly refers to comfort, cosines, being with friends and family, having a warm fuzzy feeling and wellbeing etc. This is something the traditional English country pub, with its open fires, subdued lighting and hearty food, has offered for some time. Whilst not always appropriate in the office, hygge design can promote wellbeing, help with reenergising workers and foster (social) interaction.

Biophilic design, and evolutionary psychology, are also hot topics for the workplace design community. Pubs have always offered access to the outside pub garden, even before the smoking ban, and many offer indoor-outdoor spaces such as conservatories. And, of course, pubs offer a range of drinks and food which, along with open fireplaces, supports our inclination to share stories rooted in our hearth mentality.

I have solved work problems and had some of my most creative ideas down the pub – well a least I think they are (and perhaps 20% are valid the next day). It’s not just the alcohol that gets the creative juices flowing but the relaxing eclectic social setting, which promotes (perhaps allows) behaviour quite different to that in the sterile, stuffy, contrived and controlled corporate world. I know of a few organisations that offer a cheeky beer to their staff on a Friday afternoon or early Thursday evening. It's usually a mix of education and socialising – and both knowledge sharing and social interaction help build trust which is a prerequisite to collaboration. So it's not surprising that trendy co-working spaces like WeWork offer free beer to their members.

Co-working spaces are on the increase but pubs, like the early coffee houses, have always provided such space. However, co-working in pubs is more appropriate now that just drinking coffee in them is more acceptable, and now that most offer free Wi-Fi. Simply choose a nook or snug if you want to work solo or work in the more open areas if you are looking to network.

Are there any other lessons we workplace consultants can learn from pub design? What is your favourite example?

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