Written by Jon Friedman
As humans, we are psychologically wired to think in physical spaces. Our behaviour and thoughts depend on the space we are in. For example, think about the headspace you have when in the kitchen, office or the gym. Each space will prompt different thoughts and behaviours based on your experiences in that space.
A good example of our dependence on the space around us is the doorway effect. We’ve all had the experience of walking into another room only to forget what we came for. Our attention is constantly divided amongst a number of tasks, from simple to complex. Many of the complex tasks are made up of simple tasks which we carry out automatically. When we leave the context of one room, it can cause us to forget an action that we were carrying out subconsciously.
How does this impact the way we work?
The doorway effect shows how our work environment is crucial in allowing us to carry out tasks much faster without having to think about them. Having different rooms and spaces can help us to be more productive at whatever specialised task we are doing by creating a context that helps to automate the many small and mundane subtasks needed.
At the moment we are unable to spread our day across many venues and most of us stay in one place staring at the same screen for most of the day. Remote work has many benefits, however, it requires new techniques to maintain a routine and differentiate between deep work, meetings or breaks.
New ways of communicating
Services like Slack, MS Teams or Discord are examples of how a communication service can create virtual ‘rooms’ to mirror real life. Different communication tools take on a distinct character and pattern of interaction. The way you communicate in Slack is not how you would communicate in email or even in Microsoft Teams. Different Discord servers feel like different homes or buildings. Things like customisation can make you feel at home and create a sense of community.
On the other hand, these elements create a sense of novelty when you go to a new server. Different channels within the server feel like different rooms and with voice chat, people are free to move around them and socialise.
When I was studying I would often work with my friends on Discord and we would have different channels for work, gaming and even a procrastination station. Having these virtual spaces created rituals to break up different parts of the day and put us in the right state of mind. This also let us help each other in real-time even if we were working on different tasks.
Out with the old, in with the new
We organise our physical tools and workspaces to optimise our flow and allow us to work undistracted. Digital workplace design should emulate this. It is important to create virtual spaces to simulate real-world environments and assist us in reaching the optimal flow state without procrastinating.
Digitization is often centred around automation, but the creativity and quality of the work environment are driven by much more than efficiency. I have often found that the older generations lose their sense of connection with other people when they are communicating through a machine, but the youth see this differently. Our virtual experiences are rich and immersive. In the future, I believe that coworkers will be able to communicate emotively through Teams, voice chat or even GIFs, without losing their sense of comradery. It’s not that I don’t want to work in an office, I just never have and might not ever have to.