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Building an Island of Silence



Learning on the job


Always on my mind: Where to work best?

 

It started during examination time at university. For best studying, I needed perfect isolation away from any distraction. I found a super quiet small room with nice views atop a warehouse, courtesy of my dad’s employer.

 

As I was nearing graduation I asked my dad, a traveling salesrep, where his preferred workplace was? “With my customers”, he said. He didn’t like his boss who worked in an ivory tower office in a faraway city and never left it to be in the field. That turned out to be good advice as with Accenture I was to work on client locations (factories, breweries, police stations) for customer needs surveys. Analytical and strategic work I did at home in the evening (and weekend) in the living room. Those work settings continued as I progressed to marketing and sales leadership roles.

 

I took a long time before I got a 9 to 5 in the office job, as general manager of a large DELL phone-based customer interaction center. At first, I had a corner office overseeing the splendid Bray Head near Dublin in Ireland with majestic views on nature: mountain, sea, cattle, sheep. Next was a similar assignment in Austin Texas, where I coached an even bigger team from a stuffy cubicle 5 rows away from the windows. No skies to be seen during the workday in an otherwise very sunny place. I hated it.

 

Back in London for international leadership in the communications industry with WorldCom and Sony-Ericsson, I was blessed with the latest in telecoms - fixed and mobile. I was set free from the office cage and could work anywhere (sort of), anytime. Our London apartment became my base office, with the bedroom functioning as a study during daytime. Not so great acoustics as the living/kitchen was on the other side of the wall. Often, I would get quality work done early morning and late evenings in hotel rooms whilst traveling.

 

Becoming a scholar in Smarter Working

 

In 2007 I was asked to contribute to a VITRA Work Topology Study. Leaders declared that their most productive moments where in Spaces to Think and Places to Interact with Others. Birth of Ideas was triggered by clearing the mind with passive nature inspiration. Deep Reflection came with garden or distant views and being on-the-move, walking or cycling. Refueling during the Workday was considered essential with nature as lead contributor to energising. Joining Forces with customers, partners and associates best done in carefully chosen memorable places. The overall conclusion: little of the most valuable work was done from a desk in a bland office.

 

Wow, that research got me going! I had often felt I was working in wrong places. And the time was ripe for Smarter Working as companies were keen to downsize offices during the 2008 economic recession.

 

Plantronics (now Poly) asked to consolidate 3 office buildings into 1 and took the opportunity to listen to associates with the Leesman Workspace Satisfaction Survey. Acoustics was the biggest pain point. So we transformed one building into an Acoustic Temple with zones optimised for Concentration, Communication, Collaboration and Contemplation. We won a British Institute of Facilities Management award for most productive UK Office. I shared the design and development journey by publishing the Smarter Working Manifesto subtitled When, Where and How to work your Best.

 

Around that time, I had a personal reckoning. On a lakeside vacation in Northern Italy the L'isola del Silenzio (Island of Silence) sparked great business ideas. Not to the liking of my spouse who had noticed that my creativity consistently blossomed during nearby nature time off. She spotted a pattern: the outdoors had become crucial to my know-how work. I started to weave more nature into work life: walking meetings, customer conferences in nature blessed locations, new office locations on riversides. I realised that energetic bike rides provided the best brain stimuli: views of water, trees; sounds of water/wind and birds.

 

It wasn’t until 2013 that I learned that there was a science behind all thing’s nature: Biophilia. It was fully implemented in an HQ office in Amsterdam that won an UK Noise Abatement award.

 

Health Crisis as Home Working catalyst

 

As the pandemic arrived, employees and customers immediately stayed clear of sick office buildings that were spreading virus with their ventilation systems. Working from home became the default and focus work was quickly felt as more productive than in the office. But only a minority of workers had a dedicated closed room to work from. And most homes were not designed for good work performance.

 

I found my own 2004 purpose designed home office in Belgium suboptimal: with poor acoustics due to room shape, no humidity control and domestic lighting unfit for distributed work. I was not alone, most professionals don’t have height adjustable work surfaces to name just one essential. But who dares to admit substandard work settings, afraid one might be summoned back to the office?

 

Designing the Ideal Work Studio


It became abundantly clear that information workers would continue to work from home half of their time with their residences becoming bread-winning workhomes. And with proper home Studio designs missing and good turnkey products not available, we decided this was an opportunity for change.

 

We developed EASI, our simplified Smarter Working Framework where purpose sets the stage and form follows function. And, subsequently wrote a spec for a personal studio where professionals could be highly productive and feel healthy in ideal workspace settings.

 

  • Purpose: create healthy, productive and enjoyable workspaces.

  • Function: enable knowledge workers in their rituals of Energising, Authoring, Sharing & Interacting.

  • Form: driven by wellbeing essentials of natural Air, Light, Sound, Temperature, Materials & Movement 

 

A proof of concept was developed and tested in a Generous Workhome appartement that amazed influencer visitors. You can watch that video here.

 

That became the blueprint for the Savanna Studio. An ecological modular prefab building with a mass timber construction and organic design featuring indoor and outdoor workspaces offering micro zones and ideal conditions in support of the EASI Rituals.

 

We showcased the birth of our product at the 2023 BIS (an annual building and interiors conference in Flanders, Belgium attracting 75k visitors).


Construction of our first commercially available build is set to be concluded over the next few weeks. Watch this space!




Savanna offers modular Studios for work, play, and living.

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