Looking for new office space? Make sure it has a large staircase.
Do you wonder why stairs matter to your creative workspace? Well, stairs are more important than you think. Let me explain why and show you some examples.
#1: Visual Connectivity
Stairs that are not hidden in a stairwell but instead, are placed in a central open space, allow views across different floors of a building.This creates some sort of bonding and connectedness between people, even if they work in different departments on different floors.
The “Innovation Tower” of Poly-U Hong Kong, housing the design school, was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. The entrance to the iconic building is characterized by the narrow stairs that connect the 15 floors of the building.
While being on the stairs, one could sneak into every floor or across the entire building. The open structure and central location of the stairs creates vistas between floors and lots of interesting views.
#2: Chance Encounters
Stairs are the new water cooler or coffee corner. It is here where people meet by coincidence.
The position and size is key here: The stairs should be placed in a central area to create some kind of bottleneck where everybody passes through. If a building has several staircases at different ends of the office (which is often the case because of safety reasons), people from different departments may never meet each other. The reason for this is that people tend to use the stairs nearest to them.
Studies show that more chance encounters (also called “collisions”) in an office would increase the quality of communication and on the long run also lead to an increase in performance. For example, a study demonstrates that reducing the number of coffee machines in an office forced people into chance encounters, which could be directly attributed to an increase in that company’s sales by 20% (Waber, Magnolfi, and Lindsay, 2014). The central staircase can be that coffee machine where everybody meets and where the important discussions and decisions take place in between lunch break and meeting room.
Another problem can be found in stairs that are too narrow. If the stairs do not allow for more than one person to pass at a time (as pictured in the example below, also from PolyU Hong Kong), people will not have a chance to pause and chat for a few minutes. They will see each other, say a greeting, but that would be it. The central stairs are some sort of meeting point, but they are simply too narrow to invite longer conversations.
By contrast, the central staircase at Steelcase Learning and Innovation Center (LINC) in Munich is wide enough to hang out for a few minutes, in case you meet someone you haven’t seen in a while. The large and wide staircase is the centerpiece of the entire office building. It connects all floors and allows visual contact. And it is wide enough to invite for a casual chat in between floors. Perfect!
So, if you are looking for new office space, or even building an office from scratch, make sure you have a wide staircase at a central position. It will make a great meeting point.
But also outdoor stairs can make a great place to hang out during lunch breaks, or on your way to or from the office (provided that the weather is good, of course). The picture was taken on the campus of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London.
#3: Interim Workspace
Finally, a staircase can also serve as a workspace itself. If designed appropriately, a staircase can invite people to hang out for a little longer and do some actual work, like reading or working on a laptop.
Transition spaces like hallways and stairs can make a great creative workspace, because they often provide stimulating views, and passers-by can stop for a minute to chat. Sitting on the upper steps on an elevated level will give you a good overview of what is going on.
The hallway stairs pictured here were found at Umeå School of Design and Architecture in Sweden, designed by Henning Larsen Architects. They were used frequently by students and visitors to hang out, read, chat, or have lunch.
The stairs were deliberately designed for the purpose of working and hanging out. Cushions provide a comfortable seat, and plenty of sockets (at least one on each step) allow for computer work.
If you are lucky and you already have a large and wide staircase in your office, consider adding some cushions or place some chairs and side tables at the platforms to invite people to hang out.
Stairs may seem like a minor element in the creative office, but as I have demonstrated in this post, they can have a real impact. They allow you to visually connect with people working on different floors, they provide chance encounters, and they can even serve as a casual workspace.