Work! What Is It Good For?

We know that meaningful work can enrich our lives, but can it actually make you well? The fundamental question that Heidi Smith, partner at Gray Puksand, organisational psychologist Dr Adrian Medhurst of Benny Button and Maria Bourke, Asia Pacific Communications Director at Steelcase, endeavoured to answer during their DENFAIR Speaker Series panel – the first of the show, moderated by Angela Ferguson of Futurespace.


Catch their expert insights, and a full video of the talk, below.



“Around 10 years ago when we started to see that technology was becoming more dominant in people’s lives, as a workspace designer, I thought I’d be out of a job.


We can work anywhere, at anytime, and the workplace – we’re not going to need it anymore, because people can work from home, or they can work from a cafe. Instead though, I think that the opposite has happened: that physical place where people come together to do work has become more important than ever. 


What’s really happened is that the meaning of it has changed. Instead of a utilitarian environment, where work is equated with toil or effort, or chore – these are all of the words in the thesaurus associated with work – the best workplaces today are geared towards other, more meaningful experiences.”



“The design of workspaces and what they look and feel like today is important, because it comes back to the bottom line: it’s all about the people.


How we interact as humans, how we best learn from each other, how we feel inspired, what we need to do our best work, to be our best, to feel supported and to really be able to contribute. I think that that’s why workspaces look different.


And I think the underlying change there that you’ve identified is that the idea of work has changed fundamentally from what it was 20 years ago, 50 years ago. So as a result, our workspace need to change to reflect that.”



“To come at it from the perspective of behavioural science, a sense of belonging is key. And the fact that you can feel a sense of belonging within a workspace is really powerful as a motivational force for people doing work that they find meaningful. And the meaningfulness of work is another contributing factor to their motivation.


‘If we want to get the best out of people, we should aim to create spaces where people can feel that sense of belonging, and then give them work that is meaningful.”


“People, as well as organisations, need to take more ownership and be a little more conscious about what type of environment is going to be best for the type of work that you’re doing. And it’s true that some tasks, on some weeks, might be performed better in a different environment. And that might be at home, or it might be a cafe.”



“We all need a sense of purpose, and I think purpose is what brings us to work.


If you think about it, every morning you wake up, the time you have in your shower is probably the only time you have without your devices. And you’re disconnected from your work for only that period. You have information coming at you 24/7. So by the time you get to work, you need also your work to support you.


Those moments were you feel, ‘how am I going to get through this day?’ it’s actually your workspace and the design is what’s going to help you. It gives you that time to focus. If your space is not designed to support that, that’s where stress starts, and that’s where wellbeing becomes a huge factor.


And now, leading organisations recognise that if stress and wellbeing are not being addressed, it’s costing them billions.”