Welcome to Part 2! Who knew there were so many small and big ways that office design can improve productivity in workers? There are so many, I needed two blog posts just to skim the surface!
In the conclusion of Part 1, I asked you to consider some of the experiences you have had when working in various office settings. Even if you haven’t necessarily worked in a typical office setting, many of the aspects apply to a lot of work settings. I have worked in several office settings and have always enjoyed having a nearby window and being able to see the front door. It made me feel more connected to the goings on around the office to see who was coming and going. Seeing other humans everyday is something I took for granted and am looking forward to the time where more social interaction is safe again. I remember being cold a lot of the time in office settings, and I tended to utilize a space heater and dress in layers. As you read this post, I invite you to consider each of the design measures I mention. Also consider whether or not any of these could improve your current office environment.
Part 2 explores larger scale office design measures and even explores the outdoors and what nature has to offer for improving office designs.
First, one of the major ways that designers can improve an office worker’s daily experience is to promote free address, meaning that the worker has options on where to work and perform different tasks. The worker is then empowered to work in a location that best suits their working style and their task at hand. Many office departments and teams have the need to collaborate on big and small projects. The traditional cubicle bullpen setup is not ideal for meaningful and exciting collaboration. Recent office design utilize open office setups as well as furniture clusters that are exclusively for collaboration. These clusters promote workers to face towards each other and are often more casual settings than conference rooms.
Having seating options that promote teamwork can result in better, more developed ideas. The casual nature of these clusters can open up more free flowing possibilities when a conference room can make a worker feel stifled. Of course, as in Part 1, the way team members work together is based on the workplace culture and the individual personalities involved.
In addition to collaboration, solo work is important for meeting individual project deadlines as well as making phone calls and writing emails. These and other tasks that just require one worker can usually be accomplished in a typical desk setting. Many offices are also instituting “pods” or booths that can be used for these solo tasks and offer separation from acoustic and visual distractions. Many workers can thrive in an open office setup which usually involves clusters of desks with low height or no barriers between desks. There is enough physical and visual separation between desks that workers feel comfortable going about their individual tasks without feeling as if a neighbor is looking over their shoulder. In this setup, workers are close enough to each other to ask questions and converse when needed.
The popularity in co-working spaces is very exciting, and the owners of these spaces understand the need for open office setups as well as small and large group accommodations. The co-working spaces I have visited usually have a free-flowing, open seating and desk arrangement that is a majority of the space. There are also closed door offices with anywhere from 4-10 seats. The furniture is usually fairly easy to move and turn into ideal arrangements for workers of all work styles.
Work from Home
Office managers should consider granting workers the option to work from home part-time or full-time. The global pandemic forced many people to work from home and that option has grown on many workers. Working from home has its own set of challenges and distractions, but it offers a reprieve from commutes and time away from family. Having the option to accomplish work from home is a tool that office managers should use to promote work/life balance and prevent burnout. Giving workers access to servers and other vital information empowers the employees to accomplish everything they would have when in the office. If a worker is sick or taking care of a family member, having access to vital company information can allow them to accomplish tasks and keep projects on schedule. In 2021, office and team managers should be having group and individual conversations with their employees regarding work/life balance and how working from home can play a role in that balance. As we have been exploring, a less-stressed worker will be more productive and most likely stay in their job longer.
Access to Nature
Humans, of course, have an affinity for plants and being in nature. Nature provides all we need to survive and has allowed humans to thrive even when we don’t reciprocate the favor. Studies show that viewing and being around natural elements has shown to reduce stress levels. Many office settings include potted plants or green walls and roofs to add greenery and an element of life to their space. Plants can also offer air purification qualities in addition to the stress relief mentioned above.
Parks, jogging paths, greenspaces, and safe bicycle lanes are wonderful amenities that many neighborhoods lack. Even more so, urban workplaces usually border parking lots and busy streets. When finding an office location, it is important for office managers and owners to consider access to green spaces and walkability for their employees. Workplaces can consider employee benefits for walking or biking to work and provide lockers and other amenities that would be helpful for someone not commuting in a car. These can include showers, bike racks, and bike tools and pumps.
Employee Health and Fitness
If the workplace setting is not currently ideal for biking or walking, office managers may consider contributing to their employees’ health by paying for full or partial gym memberships or participation in sports leagues or competitions. Healthy and fit employees will most likely be more productive and be better workplace team members. Recreational activities in and around the office can also be great team building activities.
In addition to fitness benefits, walkability around the office gives employees access to nearby local restaurants and events. Even if workers commute to work, the adjacency and easy access to unique, local organizations can build a great sense of community. Workers who are more connected to the local community will hopefully feel a sense of purpose and togetherness. As a result, they may be more likely to work harder, since they are working for a cause of sorts. Companies may consider contributing to or matching employee donations to local charities. I have seen big and small companies pay their employees a certain number of hours per year to volunteer for a local cause. This approach and the employee health and fitness approach above are more about office programming than design but can play a big role in the overall goal of thoughtful office design.
Access to Healthy Food and High Quality H20
Office design should include easy access to drinking water, so employees can easily stay hydrated throughout the day. Healthy food and drink options in the vending machines and cafeterias can contribute to employee health. For reference, the WELL Building Standard has useful and accessible guidelines for promoting employee health and fitness including guidelines for food and drink offerings.
Safety & Security
Many office employees work a typical 9am-5pm schedule. With family demands, traffic, and more flexible schedule offerings, employees have been amending this typical work day. Arriving earlier and leaving earlier benefits those who wish to avoid rush hour traffic and/or may need to transport children to school. Others thrive by arriving later and leaving later. As work styles vary, so should access to the office. Early birds may arrive before the sun is fully risen and night owls may leave after the sun has set. Security systems and controlled access are pretty typical among most offices. The office may want to use controlled access 24/7, or just outside of work hours. Office managers should ensure that the office and the surrounding area is a safe place for employees, even outside of the 9-5 hours. Well-lit sidewalks and parking lots offer more security and a sense of safety than dimly lit ones. Also, lines of visibility vs. obscurity can make for safer walks to and from the office. This safety and security allows workers to work a schedule that benefits both themselves and their employer.
Many offices utilize some of the measures discussed in Part 1 and Part 2. Offices should strive to obtain as many as possible, in my opinion, to empower their employees to be the best version of their work selves. The result will be an empowered workforce that is committed to the company and the community. A workplace culture that is focused on providing an ideal office environment is one that will retain employees as well as attract the best talent. So, we know now, that office design is much more than desks and rolling chairs, and good office design is a major contributor to employee productivity.