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The Performative Office

The era of designing an aesthetically-pleasing office and hoping "it works" is over.


We are currently living through a major step in the evolution of the modern office. Remote work, once an option only utilized on the fringe, suddenly dominates the conversation about the future of work. At the same time, there is a reshuffling of talent associated with the Great Resignation.

The era of designing an aesthetically-pleasing office and hoping "it works" is over. There is a crucial baseline distinction to make between spaces that are functional and spaces that are performative. Physical environments are not neutral. Once formed, the spaces we inhabit send us messages, trigger different interactions, and support (or discourage) specific behaviors. "Functional" is the lowest achievement threshold of architecture. A prefabricated trailer can function as a classroom for an overcrowded school. But does it perform in its role as a classroom? Does it provide adequate light and air to students? What about higher qualities like inspiration and institutional memory? Of course not. The message is that this school's leadership is desperate and, for the moment, failing its students. 

"Performative" is at the high end of the architecture spectrum. If you want to know whether a space is performative, ask yourself if it supports the right mindset for proper enjoyment of the function of the place. A performative baseball stadium provides a good view of the game while invoking both the timeless and modern aspects of the sport. A performative library would support a collection of physical books but also provide compelling points of engagement for accessing (and creating) digital knowledge. A performative theater would literally be transformable, adjusting the shape of the stage or location of the audience to best complement the spirit of the production.

The question now before us is this: what is the performative office? The answer is the one that provides a safe and inspiring environment for human beings to do their best work. A set of universal human qualities are of heightened importance in our working lives, including stimulation, collaboration, focus, and introspection. If these qualities are handled carelessly or ignored, the workplace is functional at best. Suppose each quality is handled with care and channeled for maximum effectiveness. In that case, the workplace can elevate a performative environment that supports people doing work that demands effort to the extent of their abilities.

See it in action...

In the video below geniant's own Chief Experience Officer, David Dewane describes the transition from today's office, to a "Performative Office".

The Performative Office

David Dewane is geniant's Chief Experience Officer
You can connect with him on linkedin and follow him on twitter

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