A reality that can’t be overlooked: where we work impacts how we perform.
Have you ever stepped back and assessed your workplace environment? Is it a vibrant, light-filled workplace where employees can quickly rearrange their spaces for spontaneous meetings? Or is it a dark, enclosed space in which employees remain fixed to their workstations?
After over 50 years of meeting with clients across the nation, we’ve encountered workplace settings that range from insular offices that promote fatigue to active spaces where creativity and teamwork thrive. It is clear that design impacts mood, concentration, and most important, performance.
Modern television shows give us an entertaining, if incomplete idea of what’s out there, from the open team environment of The Office to the private offices of West Wing. Then there’s Bull, with its spacious glassy office within a historic building. And how about Madmen, complete with bar cart and ashtrays? Well, perhaps it’s best that those days are gone.
Where do you work best? Get your best ideas? Learn best? During programming and planning sessions, we’ve asked these questions to thousands of clients ranging from corporations and municipalities to higher education institutions and hospitals. Though the answers are diverse, we’ve managed to find a few common denominators in the design of an efficient and productive office environment.
The following design essentials, based on our research and experience, all lead to the same result—environments that empower individuals to perform better.
1. Give Employees Control over Their Environment
Is there a person in your office who’s constantly complaining that it’s too hot? What about someone who’s always bundled up?
Physical discomfort impedes one’s ability to concentrate. Therefore, the ideal modern office environment gives individuals more control over temperature and ventilation. Solutions range from something as simple as operable windows to personalized control systems at each workstation.
Employees should also have control over lighting. Dimmable LED lights (versus fixed fluorescent ceiling lights) with distinct zones not only project a soft light that is easy on the eyes, but also enable workers to determine the level of lighting that hits their spaces.
Semitransparent shades increase employee control over light. For instance, during fall, morning sunlight that streams through the windows on the east side of a facility might be distracting. Employees along the windows can close shades to block that light, but still allow natural light to penetrate the office.
2. Bring in Natural Light and Views to Nature
For many years, offices were dark, dreary places. The only light employees had came from the harsh fluorescents above them, and the only vegetation was the salad in the fridge.
Fortunately, forward-thinking members of the design community have begun to respond to biophilia, or humans’ innate desire to connect with nature. Research has proven that settings with natural light and views to the outdoors can improve attitude, boost concentration, and enhance overall performance.
One common problem that we encounter is private offices, conference rooms, or bulky desks blocking perimeter windows. Why not bring those offices and meeting spaces to the center of the space, then distribute workers with less obstructive desks nearer the windows? Then the light washes over the main work area/bullpen and still reaches core offices and shared spaces.
Hints of nature can also appear in furnishings, walls, ceilings, and floors. For instance, some carpet patterns bring to mind water or foliage. References to the outdoors can be embedded into the glazing that separates offices. The right lighting, along with vibrant green walls and an undulating wood ceiling, can give an outdoor feel to a windowless room.
Another architectural element that helps bring nature inside is vegetation. On one extreme, there is the interior “living wall,” a vertical garden filled with real vegetation. Organizations with a tighter budget might want to add more plants (or even pictures of outdoor environments) to register with employees’ desire to connect with nature.
3. Offer Diversity of Workspaces
During the last decade, technology has changed the way that we work. The days of the solitary genius working away in a corner are long gone. Collaboration is the thing. There is a movement toward clean, open, light-filled workspaces that support teamwork and idea generation.
Still, workers often need a place to retreat, whether it’s a quiet zone to focus on a task, a lounge to take a break and have a meal, or some place to have fun and blow off a little steam.
Legat’s recently renovated Gurnee studio features a large bullpen area in which architects work in clusters of four. If a team needs to meet, its members need only turn their chairs and gather at a small table at the center of each cluster. The studio also offers large and small conference rooms, a “grille” for design discussions, and a flexible “backyard” complete with lounge chairs and a ping-pong table.
4. Find the Balance with Color, Texture, and Pattern
With its multiple deadlines and constant barrage of information, today’s workplace can be a major stressor. It can wreak havoc on our digestive systems and sleep patterns. Depending on its design, an office setting can either exacerbate this issue or it can help reduce workplace anxiety.
At the same time, the design of an office setting should stimulate employees and convey a sense of liveliness. Calming but not boring, vibrant but not overstimulating. This is the line the designer must walk.
A design that promotes calm, yet communicates energy starts with visual connections to the exterior, exposure to natural light, and the other elements mentioned above. On top of that, interior designers draw from a toolbox consisting mainly of colors, textures, and patterns to create a setting where concentration and serenity thrive.
Studies substantiate the impact that color has on mood and performance. Consider an interior space that has no windows. Painting the walls a springy green, fine-tuning LED lighting, and integrating natural patterns and colors into the design can create the impression of being outdoors and therefore alleviate tension.
An attractive floor pattern and an exposed ceiling or compelling ceiling feature create a much more inspiring workplace than the old nondescript carpet and dropped tile ceiling.
Additionally, designers can juggle colors, logos, materials, and other brand standards to achieve consistency across several buildings. Visitors know right away who operates the building.
5. Promote Mobility
Unfortunately, most office workers spend over 75% of their day sitting. When we stretch and move around throughout the day, we are more productive. Tables that adjust for seating and standing only go so far, and walking stations aren’t always a viable option.
The design of an office can actually encourage mobility among employees and visitors. For example, a light-filled staircase topped with intriguing light fixtures can draw the eyes upward, and inspire occupants to take the stairs in lieu of the elevator.
There are also ways to create movement within the station. Lower partitions encourage employees to reach out to others, and the placement of storage areas can force employees to stretch.
The Path to Performance
This May, we will celebrate the two-year anniversary of our Gurnee studio, a buildout of an unfinished office space in an industrial park. As designers, we appreciate the frameless glass, exposed ceilings, custom-shaped conference table, and many other details. But as businesspeople, we value the outcomes of that design that we have observed—improved attitudes and camaraderie, more spirited idea exchange, and enhanced creativity. All this adds up to increased performance.
When their workplace offers the five elements mentioned above, employees feel more energized and better connected. That translates to what all organizational leaders, whether they’re in a corporate headquarters or an educational institution, are searching for—performance.
Think about your own coworkers. How would they assess your workplace? Would they say it’s animated and inspiring? Or would they call it out-of-date or dull? If it’s the latter, perhaps it is time to consider a few tweaks.
Contact us to learn more about workplace design or comment below to share your thoughts on this post.