Office design is so crucially important to the success of your company, it's well worth consulting professionals to get it right.
"A well designed office may cost a little more, but it is much cheaper than a poorly designed one. A non-functioning office wastes time and causes frustration because it can hinder basic tasks," says Paul Kelly, head of marketing for Morgan Lovell, a leading office interior design, build-out and refurbishment specialist with offices across the UK.
"Good office design solves these problems, but great office design goes one step further. By opening up new lines of communication, giving staff different environments for different tasks, and making them excited about being in the office, a great office design can invigorate a workforce."
Smaller companies and startups may not have the budget to consult design firms, so we've spoken to three top experts to bring you five must-read tips for creating a more pleasant—and more productive—work environment.
1. You can never have too much light or space
"American workers spend approximately 90 percent of their waking hours indoors, many of them at computer workstations far away from the closest window," states Edin Rudic, creative director at MKDA, a corporate interior design firm with offices in New York City and Stamford, CT. Lack of natural light can have negative impacts on mood and productivity, so both employees and their employers would greatly benefit from more exposure.
Natural light is a much overlooked benefit in office design, but it should be one of your major considerations in office design and layout. As Kelly explains, it can make a big difference.
"Natural light offers a much wider color spectrum making it easier for us to see details and perform basic tasks," he says. "There are numerous studies showing productivity improvements with natural light, particularly in manufacturing environments. In addition, our eyes are designed to work with the changing light levels of sunlight, in contrast with the harsh continuous artificial lighting in offices. Natural light will reduce eye fatigue and complaints about headaches."
Rudic has advice on how you can get more light in your workplace: "To improve the amount of natural sunlight within an office, create an open environment by tearing down interior walls, using glass walls for private offices and benching desks instead of claustrophobic workstations.
And with light comes space—another consideration, and not just in an employee's immediate work area, as Kelly explains.
"Give employees enough space. It's not only important to give staff big enough desks, but you must also consider 'circulation space,'" he says. "This is the space in corridors and between desks that enable people to move around freely. There is nothing more disturbing than having someone bumping into you every time they walk by. Just think of the last time you were on an airplane sitting in front of a hyperactive child."
However, you want to try and get a balance between enough space and managing to cultivate a "buzz" in your office.
"Of course you want to give people a quiet place to work, but you also want to create a dynamic and fun atmosphere where people can interact and bounce ideas off each other," says Kelly. "Open plan workplaces literally and figuratively take down walls between people. Bench-desking brings people together and helps to create that team interaction that you may be after."
2. Create break-out spaces
Break-out spaces aren't just somewhere your employees can eat lunch—they provide a crucial place away from the desk, which can aid creativity. "Create non-bookable, break-out spaces for those informal chats or just a change of scenery. These spaces take down barriers to communication and encourage spontaneity in the office," says Kelly.
Rudic agrees. "You want to designate casual meeting or lounge areas in your office for employees not only to relax but also to exchange thoughts. Great ideas come from inspiring casual spaces," he said.
3. Keep things tidy
"When it comes to small offices, it is even more important to make sure that everything works together. In a large office, clients might never see the work area, because there is a 'behind the scenes' space, but there is no such thing when it comes to small offices—everything is out in the open," says Isabelle Glinka, principal of LUX Design, a boutique interior design firm located in Toronto, Canada.
It's crucial to keep your workplace free of clutter, organized and tidy. Kelly shares some tricks employed at the Morgan Lovell offices.
"Keep things tidy. It's amazing how quickly a neat and tidy office can turn into hurricane zone. One of the worst offenders is food at desks. At Morgan Lovell, we have a 'no eating at desks' policy which keeps rubbish in its proper place as well as crumbs off the floor. We also recommend that you ban bins at desks to avoid the inevitable pile up of rubbish at workstations. It also encourages recycling," Kelly says.
"However, all this lost if you don’t address the storage issue. Storage is often an afterthought when companies take on office space, but it is usually the second biggest complaint—after temperature. When you space plan your office, make sure you incorporate a storage audit. There are a lot of great storage solutions available on the market now, half-height roller racking is one solution that comes to mind, as it uses less space and lets light through."
4. Invest in furniture
Cash-strapped companies may be tempted to save money on budget furniture, but in the long-term, you're not saving anything.
"Spend $200 more per task chair to save thousands of dollars in the long run," advises Rudic. "It may be a relatively small object, but workers spend the majority of their workday sitting in an office chair. Only when they begin to suffer the ill effects of an uncomfortable chair—low back pain and general discomfort—do they begin to pay attention to where and how they are sitting."
Kelly concurs. "Don't skimp on furniture. A cheap chair can cause back pain, contributing to complaints and absenteeism. Invest in a good movable monitor arm to put the screen at eye level to reduce neck pain. A good desk will have systems to get rid of annoying 'cable spaghetti' underfoot."
Kelly also has good advice about your IT infrastructure. "Use technology to make working in the office easier. Wireless connectivity in the office enables staff to work anywhere, giving them an excellent way to change their scenery. Impromptu meetings are easier when you can take your laptop with you."
5. Brand your workplace
If your workplace could just as easily be the offices of A.N. Other Inc., then you've gone wrong somewhere. Branding your office is just as important as branding your stationery, our experts say.
"Branding should not stop with the business card and website. It should be infused into the space where everything happens. It should be all around the employees and it should speak to the clients. It should be the environment," says Glinka.
"Wallpaper on the wall is not needed, nor is the coordinated Post-It dispenser or the framed images on the wall, but in a way, these details are the whole point of the office. It gives the space an identity—it tells others and reminds us what we are here to do," she adds.
Another nice touch? A logo, says Glinka. "Putting it on a feature wall is a simple way to create visual interest. Carry any identifying factors through the space, be its color, a shape or idea. If your company is based on the fact that you are a small, but modern business, make sure that the furniture and lighting send the right message. No one is going to believe that you take your company seriously if you say you are modern as you sit on a flowery Victorian couch you inherited from your grandmother. It is all about the message and the image telling the same story."
One great way to combine branding and function is to use your identity as a space identifier, she adds. "A logo for a company we once worked with had bubbles in it. At the same time they needed a way to guide their clients through the space since they did not have a receptionist. We put their branded bubbles on the ground, some in blue, some in green. The different colors lead to different rooms, making it very easy for them to explain to the client where to go: 'Just follow the green bubbles.' Clients notice touches like this in an office, but so do everyday users. It makes the space a little bit less corporate and more personal."
Rudic has further advice on this topic."The physical appearance of your office can lay the foundation for your corporate culture. In designing your office space, inject your firm's slogans, logos, philosophy, attitude, products and color palette into the environment in order to showcase your firm's corporate culture at the most elementary level. The clothing does not make the man, but it does make him more attractive!"