Modern office design has sometimes become synonymous with lavish workspaces injected with the company’s personality where employees come not only to work, but also play, decompress, and socialize. Corporate giants such as Google, Pixar, and Facebook have initiated the trend to energize their work environments, and started ditching the white walls and bland workstations to make room for perk-laden facilities that feature anything from a climbing wall to a sushi house to a world-class auditorium.
And yet, sparkling creativity in workers and inspiring their mind requires far less. In fact, some experts believe that some of the many perks and benefits offered by these companies are in contradiction with the pioneering technology they help create and can even hamper workers’ creative abilities. As it turns out, the secret to designing a creativity hub is less about spending millions on futuristic furnishes and more about finding a balance between innovative and tried-and-true office design principles.
Surely there’s no other trend as overwhelming in commercial office space as the desire to turn the stodgy, cubical farm into a stylish, collaborative open-plan space. And while bringing down the walls makes a lot of financial sense for office managers and encourages collaboration between workers, the constant noise of chattering colleagues may not be conducive to focus and concentration. Not only that, noise in the workplace is also a safety issue, as it has been proven to negatively impact workers’ mood, increase hormone levels, stress, and fatigue, and lower morale.
The solution to limiting both audio and visual distractions without disrupting collaboration in a typical open-plan office includes adding sound-absorbing panels to reduce sound paths, introducing plants to naturally absorb and reflect sound waves, making certain insulation improvements, both inside and outside the building, to prevent exterior noise from getting inside, and adding furnishing solutions that keep the noise to a comfortable level.
Nothing is good in excess, and this applies to collaboration, as well. Companies’ efforts to constantly bring people together may achieve the opposite effect since many workers derive their energy from working quietly and focusing on their work alone for long periods of time.
According to Steelcase’s director of research Donna Flynn, “The need for privacy sometimes, at work as well as in public – is as basic to human nature as is the need to be with others.” The more collaborative people are expected to be, the more important is for them to have a space where they can retreat afterwards, whether it is to concentrate on work tasks or simply relax their minds without being interrupted. The solution is, therefore, to strike a balance between individual spaces and open plans, and that’s exactly what Susan Cain’s Quiet Spaces by Steelcase or Haworth’s Openest modular office system do. By offering workers the opportunity to work uninterrupted whenever they feel the need, they are making them more productive and give them a greater control over their environment.
As companies are tearing down the walls to reduce real estate costs and encourage collaboration, many employees are forced to say goodbye to their personal workspaces, and that’s often a cause for disengagement. Many companies place workers closer together at communal desks and shared workstations, and many seats are left unassigned to be able to accommodate the increasingly mobile workforce.
In order to make the wall-less office warmer, friendlier, and more productive, workers should be given permission to personalize their space (within reason). Being able to have personal items within their visual range will give them a sense of control over their environment and will prevent them from feeling secondary to the company’s collaboration objectives. In a space they can call their own, people will no longer feel transient.
Another factor that affects productivity – and is often overlooked by office managers – is the quality of lighting. The reality is, spending hours on end working in poor lighting has effects well beyond just harming one’s vision, and that a well-lit environment can greatly increase workers’ productivity. A study conducted by the Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois found that exposure to natural light had significant benefits for workers’ health, who reported they slept better, exercise more often, had increased alertness, and better metabolism than workers without windows.
Aside from lighting, color has long been proven to influence workers’ productivity and performance at work. Renowned psychologist Angela Wright revealed that, while individuals have certain color affinities based on their personality type, colors influence people universally. According to her theory, green has a calming effect while red stimulates a faster heartbeat; blue makes people feel relaxed and stimulated and yellow inspires creative thinking and inquisitiveness.
Creating an efficient workplace where employees feel motivated to put their talents at work means something different for every company. Contact your local office space planner to find out what it means for your company and what you can do to turn your space into a more productive environment.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.