A recent analysis from the World Green Building Council concluded that there is “overwhelming evidence” linking office design with productivity and wellness.

But that’s nothing new, right? There has long been evidence to suggest that this is the case. We all know that our productivity levels drop when we feel uncomfortable—whether it’s the temperature, the atmosphere, or the noise levels, we need to be relaxed and comfortable to work at our best.

With this in mind, it’s important that your office design is set up to be the best possible working environment it can be—to make your employees comfortable, relaxed, and productive. 

Read on to discover how you can best utilize your office design for maximum productivity.

Closed cubicles vs. open plan

Cubicles can make your employees feel boxed in. But is an open office plan the solution?

Cubicles can make your employees feel boxed in. But is an open office plan the solution?

It’s the big old debate again—which office is better for employee productivity? Closed cubicles or open plan?

Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer. Each office environment is unique in its size, role, and aims. But before you even start thinking about colors and décor, it’s important to take the time to consider the pros and cons of each layout option, and go with the one that best fits in with the things your employees do and the type of culture you’re trying to create.

Closed cubicles

The closed cubicle has become synonymous with the word “office design.” The irony is that the cubicle was designed to save us from the open plan offices of old (the ones where all the desks were lined up facing the same direction like a school classroom).

In the early 1960s, Robert Propst, a designer working for Herman Miller at the time, concluded that office workers needed autonomy and independence, and offered a flexible, three-walled design that could be reshaped to any given need: the cubicle.

However, it wasn’t long before businesses realized they could use office cubicles to cram more people into a smaller space, and over the years employees began to hate their boxed-office life.

Open plan

Recently, the latest office trend has been to have an open environment. The logic behind this makes sense—that employees will be happier and more productive if they work together instead of being isolated behind office walls.

Open plan offices allow for social interaction and make individuals feel less isolated. The open design can also allow for spontaneous interjections and helps to promote creativity. 

Additionally, it’s potentially helpful for interns and less experienced members of the team to rub shoulders with those in more experienced roles. 

Which is better?

A 2013 report on workspace satisfaction found that employees who worked in an open plan environment weren’t as happy as previous research suggested they should be.

Employees complained about a “major lack of privacy” as being one of the main causes of dissatisfaction at work. They also complained about increased distraction and noise levels as a detriment to job satisfaction. 

However, we mustn’t take these statistics solely at face-value. Few professionals can honestly say they work every minute of the workday. In fact, in the latest Wasting Time at Work Survey, 89 percent of respondents admitted to wasting time every day!

The “lack of privacy” issue may annoy workers in open-plan environments simply because they feel they are being watched and cannot get away with unsolicited Facebook visits during their working hours.

One of the biggest complaints by cubicle workers is the level of noise, suggesting that this is a constant workplace distraction that affects everyone regardless of the office design and layout.

Ultimately, it’s important to look at the size of your company and the roles of your employees to pick a layout that works for you. If your employees spend the majority of their time on the phone, then an open-plan environment might not be the best option for you. But if you’re part of a creative team that constantly works together and bounces ideas off each other, an open plan could work and allow your employees to interact with ease.

The psychology of color

Color can definitely spice up an office... but you probably don't need to go quite this far.

Color can definitely spice up an office…but you probably don’t need to go quite this far.

Different colors can have different psychological effects, and can impact the way people think or feel on a subconscious level. Knowing this, it is possible to influence your employees by using the right colors in your office design.

Green

Research has linked green to broader thinking, and for that matter, more creative thoughts. The color of nature, green is associated with growth and promotes feelings of balance. So if you want your employees to be more productive, consider painting green work areas.

Red

Red is an emotionally intense color. When people see the color red, their reactions become faster and they gain an energetic boost. However, this feeling is likely to be short-lived, and ultimately red reduces analytical thinking.

Red is also known to stimulate appetite, which is why it is used in many restaurants and fast food chains. This could become distracting in an office environment if over-used. Consider applying this color to areas like the kitchens or common spaces reserved for socializing.

Blue

Blue is commonly accepted as one of the most productive colors, and is the most common “favorite color” around the world. Perhaps because it is the color of the sky and the sea, blue is calming and it typically makes us feel stable and at peace. However, don’t forget that blue can feel cold.

Brown 

The color brown can be associated with laziness, and wanting to remain unnoticed, so it might not be the best bet for a work environment. Other meanings of brown refer to seriousness and practicality. 

Pink

Pink is known to have a calming effect—so much so that it is used in some prisons to attempt to diffuse aggressive behavior. This could be a great color for a board room where conversations may get heated.

White 

White has a modern appeal. Apple, for example, has used white to brand their clean, sleek look. However, too much of a monochromatic look can cause people to reflect on their own thoughts. A person shopping in a monochromatic store may become distracted from the task at-hand, when their mind begins to wander because of the lack of stimulation.

When deciding what color to use in your office, an obvious choice might be to go with your brand colors. However, it might instead be worth considering the connotations and psychological effects of those colors, to check that they are in line with your employees’ aims and objectives.

Windows and lighting

Large windows and lots of natural light can increase both morale and productivity.

Large windows and lots of natural light can increase both morale and productivity.

Numerous studies have reported on the impact of lighting on productivity and wellness in general, but it is still an afterthought in most office environments, as it is deemed one of the more difficult factors to change.

In a study entitled “Impact of Workplace Daylight Exposure on Sleep, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life,” researchers compared workers in offices with and without windows:

“The extent to which daylight exposure impacts office workers is remarkable,” said study co-author Ivy Cheung, a neuroscience doctoral candidate at Northwestern University. “Day-shift office workers’ quality of life and sleep may be improved via emphasis on light exposure and lighting levels in current offices as well as in the design of future offices.”

Increased levels of natural light also encourage the appearance of office plants, which have been proven to lower workplace stress levels and increase productivity.

Look for natural lighting 

As you go on viewings to consider office spaces, make a note of how much natural light the office receives, and if there is any way to increase or make optimal use of it. You could try positioning desks so that they receive a good amount of natural light.

If you have to set up in a windowless space or receive very little natural lighting, there are other ways to up your light intake. Artificial lighting is your new best friend. If you want to mimic the look of natural light, use full-spectrum bulbs that simulate daylight to keep the light soft and warm. Spotlights are also a good choice.

Using natural elements to decorate the office can also help compensate for a lack of natural light. Plants such as ferns or spider plants tolerate low light, making them ideal choices.

You could also consider investing in reflective office furniture to help reflect light and create a light, airy feel.

Should your boss mix or be kept separate?

In my own office, our boss sits with us in an open plan environment, which means that he can hear and see everything we do. You might think that this is intimidating, and that we all sit in silence and don’t talk about anything non-work related for fear of getting a slap on the wrist, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We still talk about our weekends, and the latest reality TV episode. We still share the latest viral videos with each other and we still pull the occasional prank.

You see, my boss believes that happy employees are productive employees. He has created a workplace which is open and friendly; a place where we all feel comfortable and can communicate easily with one another on existing projects and new concepts.

What’s more, we don’t “fear” our boss. We’re not afraid to approach him with our work-related issues, and these issues can be solved and addressed instantly, without delay. 

Of course, as with everything in life, there are slight drawbacks as well. Our boss has admitted that he sometimes gets easily distracted by us, and gets too involved with tasks that he doesn’t need to be a part of, simply because he can hear us discussing them. 

Also, if we require a private word with our boss, it’s obvious to the rest of the staff that’s what we’re doing—of course, leading to speculation and rumor.

I’m interested to hear your views on this one—how would you like it if your boss suddenly pulled up a desk near you? If you’re the one designing your own office space, would you include management team members in an open plan or look for a space with private offices?

Do you think a boss should remain separated from the daily activities of their employees, or does daily interaction make for a more comfortable and more productive atmosphere?

Creative, cool office design? Or just plain childish?

Office design has become something of a novelty. Recently, it seems that brands and businesses are competing for the most innovative, unique, creative, and playful workplaces—but are they missing the mark?

It has become decidedly cool to have meetings in a ball-pit and slides instead of stairs, but would these professional business adults find a ball-pit in a park just as cool? In a public, non-working environment, would you see a guy in a suit going down a slide? 


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete kill-joy. I believe in a creative work environment, and I believe in good interior design. But do I need to replace my office chair with a bean bag? No, thank you. 

It’s important not to get too carried away and end up with something that not only costs you a fortune, but also results in a completely impractical working space, that works against you and your brand. 

Are your customers and clients going to take you seriously if you have a huge mural of Mario or other 80’s game characters in your reception area? Obviously, it would depend on whether you are, in fact, Nintendo, or not.

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself if you are sending the right message. A good office design should last you for a good number of years. You want to inspire your employees and make them feel comfortable and productive, which is a hard thing to get right.

Join the discussion by commenting below and let me know what you think: Is office design important to you? What are your biggest office pet-peeves?

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