Smart organizations recognize their primary objective is to boost the performance of their people. In our knowledge-based work economy, people are the engine that keep companies growing, adjusting, expanding, improving and innovating.
Not surprisingly, well thought out office design can be a formidable tool for maintaining employee performance. And a side benefit is that what usually supports productivity also boosts employee health and wellness. It’s all interrelated!
Given the nature of today’s work practices, how can the office design better bolster employee performance?
How can office design champion all of the various activities involved with knowledge work . . . things like collaboration, creativity, innovation, privacy, and engagement, among other concerns.
In this blog, we’re going to look at how office design in 2019 can affect these concerns. We’re also going to preview other office design trends for the coming year, such as branding, “no receptionist” entry ways and designing for Generation Z.
Agile working centers around enabling office staff to work where, when and how they choose, with maximum flexibility and access to the tools and technology allowing them to perform at peak efficiency.
With an agile office design, it’s likely that a majority of staff won’t have designated desks.
Rather, some might have, while most others are assigned clusters. But basically, they are urged to work away from the desk, choosing a setting that is best suited for the task at hand. As an example, this might include any of the following:
- Soft seating and breakout spaces that are perfect for brainstorming and informal meetings, or just to relax and unwind;
- Quiet spaces that provide a haven for reflection, deliberation and private research;
- Touchdown spaces (or simply desks) that offer staff a place to log in and work from;
- Private meeting rooms meant for more formal meetings.
This approach focuses on performance and results, not just “being present.” It’s been documented in many cases to give rise to more collaboration, improved workplace wellbeing, greater overall productivity and higher employee retention. Work also becomes an activity rather than a place that can be completed anywhere the individual chooses and removes the need of having a reserved desk for every staff member.
Gone are the days when offices and cubicles were the focus of office design.
In their place are well thought out open floor plans with enhanced benefits including ample access to natural lighting with the intent to improve opportunities for staff members to connect, create and sense being better-off and healthier.
In general, the move to more flexible office layouts has also been good for accessibility say experts in the field. “Open work spaces are much more beneficial and useful from an ADA standpoint,” observes one consultant. “Walls, partitions and doors are all potential barriers and also present the best opportunities for errors in design and construction.” As an example, a minimum of 32 inches of clear opening width is required for doorways. Take away the door and away goes the issue.
Need for audio privacy
Noise is a concern in most workplace environments.
As we’ve seen, modern office design tends to focus on open-office layouts that support gatherings and impromptu meetings, but the need for individual focus work isn’t going away anytime soon.
Imagine a person analyzing data or writing in the same room with people answering customer calls non-stop.
In fact, studies have shown that more than 50 percent of open-office users are unhappy with sound levels in their workplace. Distractions and frustrations abound.
Building in spaces where workers can make quiet phone calls, complete heads-down work effortlessly and uphold some measure of audio privacy goes a long way to ensuring workplace fulfillment.
So, how do you create the balance between privacy and connection that workers crave? Designing for and providing a balance of space types to support both focused work and collaboration is important.
A common example of audio privacy is glass meeting rooms. While others can look in and see the people in the meeting talking, they wouldn’t know what the details of the meeting are.
Other firms have put in focus booths that provide space for concentrated work and reflection.
One intriguing approach is the use of “phone booths,” private soundproof pods that allow workers to take private calls without occupying conference rooms or having to wander far from their work station. Such phone booths are sound insulated to produce a situation where users experience greater privacy. Many come fully equipped with motion-activated LED lighting and integrated ventilation, as well as power/USB portal.
Other strategies could include:
- Try separating energetic and noisy areas from quiet spaces. Create places for people to come together without annoying colleagues.
- Ensure that people are sitting nearby those with comparable work patterns or subjects of study.
- Consider a “virtual door” policy in which people sitting in an open work station aren’t necessarily free to talk.
- Describe policies for employees to be able to reserve quiet space and collaborative space.
A healthy employee is a happy employee and in 2019, this is going to be just as important as ever. We’re not saying you have to include a gym in the office (unless you really want to) but do advise encouraging staff to be mobile. More and more architects have begun to integrate office designs to promote workers’ health and well-being.
Use of supportive chairs, good desk layout and standing desks are effective ergonomic strategies to endorse employee health at the worksite.
While it may seem extreme to use the recent popular phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking,” truth is, protracted sitting has been linked to numerous adverse health conditions, including an enhanced risk of cancer, weight gain and back discomfort. Unlike nurses and doctors who may travel among stations and patient rooms, office workers largely spend most of their time in a seated position.
Integrating sit-stand desks, treadmill desks, or bicycle desks helps alleviate the effects of prolonged sitting, supports work productivity and has also been found to support creativity. Strategies include either requiring every workstation as a sit-stand desk or making specified sit-stand desks accessible to anyone when they so choose.
Maximizing the quantity of natural light
This is another workplace design objective that can be achieved by increasing the amount and size of windows, helping to make the most of smaller spaces. Exposure to an ample amount of natural light is highly important for one’s health. One opinion is that it helps to regulate circadian rhythms – a person’s daily cycles of waking and sleeping hours. When circadian rhythms are unregulated and upset, people are more apt to undergo higher stress levels, a drop in productivity and constant fatigue.
Beyond natural light, it’s also important to take into account the role artificial light plays in a workplace. An absence of suitable indoor lighting can contribute to an assortment of physical health issues including eyestrain and headaches. While the amount of light required may differ among employees, depending on their age, task and how they work, it’s crucial to implement a lighting design that provides adequate lighting that can also be adjusted.
About that mid-morning break
The mid-morning coffee break of years past is now all about finding moments for reflection. With studies indicating even the briefest moments of meditation have a profound effect on a person’s energy and focus, it’s important to encourage employees to take a break, and perhaps a few deep breaths. Open conference rooms and empty offices can easily be used as 10-minute stress reduction spaces – no phones allowed – with the addition of a few pillows and throws.
Climb those stairs
Another tactic that has gained popularity is the use of internal connecting stairs. Incorporating accessible, thoughtfully placed stairs within the office environment can reduce the dependence on elevators and offer a convenient way to mix short periods of physical activity into the workday. Climbing stairs is a low-impact physical activity that increases heart-rate and burns calories, and research has demonstrated its connection to cardiorespiratory fitness and a lower risk of stroke.
You want employees to engage with one another
It’s been shown that engaged employees are more productive, more profitable and safer than less engaged employees. They tend to create stronger customer relationships and stay longer with their company. Engaged employees are likely to be a company’s best source of new ideas.
According to a recent study by Steelcase, however, workplace disengagement is a widespread problem not only in the U.S., but around the world. Studies have shown that disengaged workers cost U.S. businesses up to a whopping $550 billion each year.
Workplace strategies to foster better employee engagement include:
- Provide work spaces that enable better visibility, openness and greater mobility to foster engagement. When workers are more likely to see one another, they are more likely to connect and collaborate.
- Provide collaborative spaces that incorporate the five “Cs: coffee, CNN (or other news outlet), circulation nearby, connectivity and comfortable seating. These five are especially successful for “hub” spaces on the floor.
- Organize a floor plan into “team neighborhoods,” to promote team identity and sense of place.
Let’s take a few minutes to preview other office design trends that will be popular this year.
What, no receptionist!
That’s right, some companies have decided to do away with the traditional front-desk receptionists, sometimes using technology to direct guests to where they need to be or having a more informal entry area.
In many offices today, virtual receptionists have taken over the phone lines and visitor management systems handle signing in visitors. This is especially true among tech companies.
More and more start-ups don’t have the budget or the need for a full-time receptionist. For example, they might not receive many visitors or get a lot of calls on their central line.
For a variety of reasons, some large tech companies are also opting not to use a receptionist and are designing their office spaces to accommodate this decision. One CEO believed that a receptionist would “serve as a buffer” that “makes the organization seem too formal.” He went on to say that the best way to design the entrance area is by making it a comfortable lounge area where people can meet on equal terms.
Turn your office into a branding tool
Many organizations want their workspace to reflect their brand, a marketing tool that helps them stand out, as well as a way to reinforce the company’s culture among its employees.
This design concept is based on the office space idea that companies have a story to tell the way you design your interior can help you share that story to inspire your employees, the community in which you operate and prospective customers. Put simply, this concept uses office and interior design to give your work environment a sense of identity.
When the brand becomes part of the office life, then it is no longer solely the job of the marketing department to communicate that brand. The brand becomes everyone’s responsibility.
So, how is this achieved?
The company uses space as a physical embodiment of the brand. This is achieved through architecture, lighting, landscaping as seen in retail stores, office showrooms and office environments.
Move over millennials, designing for Gen Z
Much has been written about how offices have been designed for millennial employees, but fact is, many designers have shifted gears to learn how to more effectively design for the newer, younger Gen Z, loosely defined as those born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
Research indicates that a Gen Z workplace needs to emphasize technology, encourage stability and boost efficiencies. Gen Z can be expected to prefer collaboration and open work spaces more than their coworkers. According to one recent survey, Gen Z-ers believe their colleagues enable them to do their best work.
When in the office, the Gen Z-ers want a more flexible office design, with the freedom to easily switch locations rather than being stuck in a cubicle. This shift can begin with flexible furniture, such as adjustable desks and tables, adaptable chairs and sit-stand workstations. Moreover, there should be a variety of spaces for distinct types of work, such as collaboration zones, meeting rooms and places for individual work.
So, there you have it. You’ll see that there are a number of common themes running through these trends to include collaboration, open office space with a choice for privacy, and a need to recognize the importance of employee wellness, to name but a few.