The Swedish Office

Exporting design values to Cambodia and beyond

Despite what IKEA would have us believe, Swedish office design isn’t all LILLÅSEN, ERIK and FJÄLLBERGET (that’s a desk, a cabinet, and a chair for those not fluent in IKEA-speak). Nor is it necessarily clean lines and pale colours - although they do lift the spirits during those long dark winter days. So what is it exactly? The Room Design Studio has been in the business of office design for almost 15 years, and while no two projects are ever the same, where appropriate, we take inspiration from Sweden’s archetypal workplace principles based on our homeland’s cultural values, lifestyles and traditions. So, put ideas about aesthetics aside: here’s the essential Swedish style 101.

First, Swedes take workplace equality very seriously indeed. That could be linked to gender - both mums and dads are entitled to 480 days of parent leave per child, for example - or hierarchy. Compared to elsewhere, Swedish companies tend to feature a somewhat flat organizational structure. In newer offices in particular, that levelness is reinforced through open plan layouts: great for communication, collaboration and inclusiveness, they help break down barriers between colleagues.

Now that we’re all on the same level, it’s time for everyone to pitch in with their contributions and opinions. The upside? Bouncing around loads of great ideas for better results! The downside? All those meetings. For that reason, we’re big fans of incorporating multipurpose stations for ad-hoc briefings, get-togethers, and conferences into our office designs. Whether it’s a pantry, standing table or sofa, building flexible spaces into offices allows for agility and range. Because after all, it’s true what they say: creativity really does lie in flexibility.

Now, I may be biased, but many will agree: Sweden’s breathtaking natural beauty is second-to-none. That’s why protecting the environment through a variety of sustainable practices is central to the workplace. Nothing if not well-meaning, Swedish companies are global leaders when it comes to corporate social responsibility, and in 2013 we topped the RobecoSAM Country Sustainability Ranking. Needless to say, environmental initiatives feature heavily in CSR budgets. As designers, we can play a more direct role still both by incorporating low-impact materials and energy-saving technologies into workspaces, but also aiming for timeless aesthetics, rather than following fads.

Finally, health and well-being matters! Maintaining a work/life balance is a priority in Sweden, where savvy employers recognize that a happy staff is a productive staff. With that in mind, at Muraya Shanghai we’ve imported one of my own favourite Swedish traditions: Fika. A mandatory midmorning pause for chit-chat, coffee and cake, it’s great for refreshing and reconnecting colleagues, albeit bad news for the waistline…

Now, admittedly it’d be a stretch to attribute all of Sweden’s design and innovation success stories solely to the offices they were cooked up in. Nonetheless, thoughtfully designed workspaces certainly help. Much more than just whitewash, pine, and made-up furniture names, the Swedish office is all about inclusiveness, health, sustainability and flexibility. Whether you’re in Stockholm, Phnom Penh or somewhere else, what could a Scandinavian approach do for your workplace?

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