If you look at offices designed 50 years ago, you will find a good number of buildings that look impressive from the outside, but with very little attention having been paid to interiors. Beyond the construction of executive offices, there was little attention paid to the environment people were working in. Since then, there have been various attempts to change this, but only in recent years have we come to understand the difference it makes to productivity. Simply put; a happier workforce is a much more effective one and office design is an important contributing factor to that happiness.
An appealing exterior
Focusing more on interiors doesn’t mean there’s no longer any call to make office buildings look good from the outside. Not only does an impressive exterior add to the prestige of the company that uses them, it also makes employees feel more positive as they go in to work. As far as they’re concerned, it’s important that the building should feel welcoming – not just a place that has obvious status but somewhere one would want to spend time. Studies have shown that Georgian architecture is particularly good at achieving this effect. You don’t need the budget for creating a whole building in that style in order to incorporate some external flourishes that will increase its appeal to the people working there.
According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, the ideal height of a ceiling depends on what the people working in the building will be doing. Eight foot high ceilings seem to be best for workers who need to focus on specifics, while ten foot ceilings produce better abstract thought. Other studies have shown that high ceilings significantly improve mood. This correlates with the finding that people have a greater sense of freedom when they have more space around them, supporting the case for open plan offices. People can become uncomfortable when they feel they are being watched all the time, so it’s useful to create some sense of separation within that space. Partition walls that don’t reach all the way up to the ceiling are one approach to this. Executive offices should be separate – so people don’t feel they’re under constant scrutiny – but nearby and not too ostentatious, so that they seem approachable.
Within a space like this, individual workstations should offer room for employees to express their individuality. Simple tricks like using a variety of colours within them can provide an immediate sense of personal space that disappears if every workstation looks the same. Providing noticeboards and shelves gives employees room to organise their workloads more effectively and provides space for personal photographs and other such items. Providing good quality chairs that are adjustable and properly support the spine means employees will be much more comfortable whilst working – and therefore less distracted – and are also less likely to suffer from back problems.
When people don’t get enough access to sunlight, their risk factors increase for all sorts of health problems, from insomnia to cancer. They’re also more likely to have problems with concentration and difficulty maintaining their energy levels over the course of the working day. This means that having more windows is always a good thing in an office environment and it’s important to think about the way that light travels through the offices (which will depend in part on the orientation of the building). This has to be balanced against factors like temperature control and noise pollution, which makes it a good idea to consult specialists like The Wholesale Glass Company that offers types of glass designed to tackle these problems. It’s now possible to get fire resistant glass that meets building safety standards for most types of business, so you can use glass in internal windows and doors to make the environment brighter without compromising too much on privacy. Don’t forget that it won’t be bright every day and make sure individually adjustable artificial illumination is available at each workstation so that employees can work without risk of eyestrain.
The psychological effect of colour is something that has been extensively studied in domestic environments but hasn’t received nearly as much scrutiny in relation to offices. What we do know is that offices mostly decorated in light colours attract a more positive response because they’re perceived as letting in more light, but incorporating blocks of stronger colours can lift the mood. Blue has a calming effect and makes people feel positive about environments where hygiene is important. Wood tones can make an environment feel warmer, and the presence of real wood makes employees feel more positive about the workplace. Red, orange and lime green can make a space feel more energetic. Neutral colours work well for carpets but otherwise you should avoid large expanses of grey or taupe. Too much of any one colour can become oppressive.
To function well in most office environments, employees need opportunities to talk to each other during their shifts. Providing an area with comfortable sofas, tea and coffee making facilities and fresh water can actually make employees more productive because it reduces stress and increases the sharing of ideas. It’s less likely to be abused if it’s part of an open plan office arrangement, because employees don’t like to be perceived by others as failing to pull their weight. Being able to take breaks as needed to rehydrate improves employees’ concentration and overall energy levels.
The finishing touch
Employees are happier and more productive when they feel their employers care about them. One way to demonstrate care is to go beyond the basics and provide little extras that bring the office to life, such as putting artworks on the walls. In China and Japan, it’s a long established principle that having plants in an office makes employees feel more at ease. This increases the perception that an area is getting a lot of daylight. Little touches like these can take an office design beyond the merely functional and turn it into something that both employers and employees consider is approaching perfection.