Edited February 2020.
In Cal Newport’s 2016 bestseller, Deep Work, he writes:
“We…find ourselves in distracting open offices where inboxes cannot be neglected and meetings are incessant–a setting where colleagues would rather you respond quickly to their latest e-mail than produce the best possible results.”
The importance of optimized productivity and the need for a specific type of isolation that fosters creativity and innovation are two topics Newport frequently visits in his other publications. In a quickly-growing “thought economy,” one skill will become increasingly important: the ability to do deep work. Deep work is Newport’s specific phrase for an activity our world’s great thinkers have been doing for centuries: recessing for specific periods of time to deeply think, dream, innovate, manifest, and create.
“In an ideal world–one in which the true value of deep work is accepted and celebrated–we’d all have access to something like the Eudaimonia Machine…generally speaking, a work environment (and culture) designed to help us extract as much value as possible from our brains. Unfortunately, this vision is far from our current reality.”
Right now, modern office design–particularly the open-office layout–goes against the principles of deep work, and the environment needed to foster it.
How do we reverse this?
We turn back to Newport’s mention of the Eudaimonia Machine.
In order to truly serve the offices of the future, we must recognize and create space for executives and entrepreneurs to accomplish deep work, because they will ultimately usher in the next generation of creative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.
The Deep Work Office
What is the Eudaimonia Machine?
Early on, in Deep Work, Newport talks about architect professor David Dewane’s brilliant conceptual design called the Eudaimonia Machine. The layout, Dewane explained to Newport, is simple: a one-story rectangular building made up of five rooms. There are no hallways, you must pass through one room in order to get to the next.
What would this look like if we applied Dewane’s layout to a modern commercial office?
Room 1: The Gallery
“The first room when you enter when coming off the street is called the gallery. In Dewane’s plan, this room would contain examples of deep work produced in the building. It’s meant to inspire users of the machine, creating a ‘culture of healthy stress and peer pressure.'”
Room 2: The Salon
“As you leave the gallery, you next enter the salon. In here, Dewane imagines access to high-quality coffee and perhaps even a full bar. There are also couches and Wi-Fi. The salon is designed to create a mood that ‘hovers between intense curiosity and argumentation.’ This is a place to debate, ‘brood,’ and in general work through the ideas that you’ll develop deeper in the machine.”
Room 3: The Library
“Beyond the salon you enter the library. This room stores a permanent record of all work produced in the machine, as well as the books and other resources used in this previous work. There will be copiers and scanners for gathering and collecting the information you need for your project. Dewane describes the library as ‘the hard drive of the machine.'”
Room 4: The Office
“The next room is the office space. It contains a standard conference room with a whiteboard and some cubicles with desks. ‘The office,’ Dewane explains, ‘is for low-intensity activity.’ To use our terminology, this is the space to complete the shallow efforts required by your project. Dewane imagines an administrator with a desk in the office who could helps its users improve their work habits to optimize their efficiency.”
Room 5: The Chamber
“This brings us to the final room of the machine, a collection of what Dewane calls ‘deep work chambers.’ Each chamber is conceived to be six by ten feet and protected by thick soundproof walls…’the purpose of the deep work chamber is to allow for total focus and uninterrupted work flow.'”
How will you design or adjust your commercial office space to promote and foster deep work and innovation?
For more information on the concept of ‘deep work,’ pick up a copy of Cal Newport’s book here.