A woman pinning a piece of paper with information onto a grey felt board.

Making space for work

Are you at work right now, sitting in a modern open office space? You are not alone. We talked to Emma about the room divider SIDORNA and continuing the shift from a traditional office where everyone had an assigned desk, to activity based workspaces with the ability to choose where to work.

When Emma really needs to focus at work and can’t be distracted she brings her laptop to one of the high focus rooms —a room with office cubicles so quiet you could hear a pin drop. More often she is in meetings or gathers her team in one of the workshop areas where they can pin sketches on the felted room dividers. How much time does she spend sitting down at a desk, then? Approximately two hours a day, she says.
Emma Johansson, Product Design Developer at IKEA, works with products for office spaces, which includes storage, desks and tables. She has also focused on how activity-based workspaces are best designed, and she has studied many offices around the world. The two hours a day she spends at a desk is pretty representative for most of her colleagues.

“Before the activity-based workspace was introduced here at IKEA and everyone still had their own desk, we did occupancy studies to see how the workplaces were being used. It showed that the average co-worker spent 23 % of their time at their desk. Those numbers are not unique to us, you will find this in many workplaces,” says Emma.

The angle of a piece of fibreboard covered with grey felt and a blurry image of a woman in the background.

A modern office mirrors the employee’s needs. That is how Emma describes the idea behind activity-based workspaces. An activity-based workspace can easily be changed depending on the kind of work being done. The space is usually divided into three different types of work areas – working alone, working together and focus areas – allowing the co-workers to be in the location that best suits what them at the moment.

“It is important to find a good fit for both the co-workers personality and what kind of work they do. People have different needs. If you work in a finance department, for example, you probably spend most of the time sitting in one place – maybe the whole day. Then it might be important with a sit and stand desk of your own and an ergonomic chair for extended sitting. If you work as a product design developer like I do, you need to work with the products hands-on together with others and a wall to pin sketches,” says Emma.

Emma describes the first workshop areas at IKEA as pretty big, and people could meet without booking a time.

“We noticed early on that we needed more smaller spaces to visually concentrate. We didn’t want to divide with real walls. Instead, we wanted a workshop area that easily could change size.”

A colourful room with a green wall, framed images and several pendant lamps, a sofa, thick carpets and two workstations.

That is how the team began working with the room divider SIDORNA to create semi-focus areas. SIDORNA is a flexible system where you are able to build different solutions for different activities. Traditional materials and methods were out of question and they wanted an affordable alternative easy assembly and re-assemble. They decided to work with a hollow M-board made out of laminated recycled paperboard and surfaced with a recycled polyester felt. The lower panels give you privacy in a sitting position, but eye contact when standing up. The high panels create a room in a room. The assembly solution has been designed in such a way as to enable one person to build complete walls alone in a matter of minutes.

When we meet Emma to talk about her work, it is in one of the workshop areas divided into rooms with the first SIDORNA prototypes. Soon the room dividers are ready to be tested outside the IKEA office in Älmhult. The dividers will be sold in the IKEA stores in Poland and Sweden and online from April.

What kind of feedback do you hope to get?

“Does it work in real life? Is it as easy to assemble and re-assemble as we think? The room dividers are tested and approved for sound reduction, but we also want to learn whether sound absorbing room dividers are necessary as well,” says Emma.

A hand holding back the angle of a sheet of felt material with MDF/cardboard underneath.

What is your advice to a company ready to implement activity-based workspaces?

“One thing is for sure, you cannot expect people to adapt to an activity-based workspace if they are not involved in the process. Management has to involve people and recognize their needs. I have seen a big movement in the last couple of years. Employers realize more and more that if they invest in the office space, the employees thrive,” says Emma.

Do you remember the first time you didn’t have your own desk?

“I guess I am a typical Generation X, born in the ’70s. When we stepped into the workplace we were assigned a desk. When I first experienced an activity-based workspace I was a little confused. I looked for a place to keep all my stuff, but after just a couple of weeks, I realized that I didn’t need a desk of my own. I was constantly moving around in the building meeting people anyway and I never sat down at the same place. I just needed a small locker to store things. And to be honest, I don’t use a locker anymore. Everything I need is in my computer and in my bag.”

What will our workspaces look like in the future?

“I am sure they will be even more flexible than today, thanks to technology. People will meet in digital meeting rooms more often to reduce travel. I think we will see more co-working spaces where companies share workspaces with each other, whether it is a big company or if you work on your own,” says Emma.

The flexible room divider SIDORNA comes in two sizes, and will be sold in IKEA stores in Poland and Sweden and online from April 2020.