The benefits of a consciously designed work environment have been widely proven. Good design not only serves to reflect and transmit a company’s culture and identity; it also empowers people at work to reach their fullest potential and leaves a lasting impression on visiting clients. Proper alignment between workspace design and company culture can be inspiring, motivating, and also help to promote the core values of an organisation.
When at work, what do you see when you look around? Do you feel inspired? Whether you are a business owner or an employee, this article is intended to provide you with the knowledge and insights necessary to take your workspace design to the next level.
Offices of the Now
What are the core elements that shape the design of 21st century offices?
If we had to pick one concept around which office spaces have transformed throughout the last decade, it would be flexibility.
Whereas before people would have an assigned desk at which they would sit for most of the day — maybe stepping out once in a while to attend a meeting or go to the coffee room —, nowadays offices are more and more transforming into living spaces that allow people to adapt and move to better meet their needs.
Movable furniture and folding screens - which can be beautiful art pieces that also allow you to easily separate atmospheres - can be a great way to create flexible spaces that allow people to adapt the work environment to their needs.
Collaborative furniture not only allows you to play with the design of a space in very cool ways, but also motivates people to gather to communicate and exchange ideas, supporting and encouraging one of the most essential aspects to any company: teamwork.
Gathering rooms are meant to inspire people to be creative within a relaxed atmosphere where expression and communication flow naturally. These areas should be inspiring and comfortable - although not too much so people feel like taking a nap!
The image below belongs to a gathering room at global design ﬁrm Unispace in Perth, Australia, and we really love it. They chose wood for the structure, giving the space a very natural feeling that makes people feel comfortable and relaxed. Recessed lights give the room an even lighting that emulates natural daylight, and more powerful lights are used to emphasise an earthy-coloured XXL artwork that provides the space with the desired easygoing vibe. Furniture in this case is modern and minimal, with a flexible design that invites people to decide how to use it at the same time that blends perfectly with the room’s overall atmosphere.
Human beings have an inherent need to connect with nature and green spaces. The term biophilia was coined by American biologist and researcher Edward O. Wilson, and describes this innate attraction we have to nature and natural processes.
Researches on the matter have found that evoking natural experiences in your office layout can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and enhance mood and creativity. These and other outcomes can increase wellbeing and productivity, as well as improve air quality and help with noise reduction.
Biophilic design is intended to reduce the impact of our separation from nature by bringing natural elements indoors in a way that emulates outdoor environments. Elements such as sunlight, trees and flowers, as well as natural materials like unfinished wood, sand, leaves and stones can be used to create natural environments within the office.
For all the good reasons, this trend has grown steadily in recent years and biophilic design is becoming the norm for the modern office due to its plethora of benefits.
Needless to say that technology plays a primary role in modern offices, and a proper tech set-up helps employees work smarter, faster, and more efficiently.
Using laptops instead of desktops is a measure many companies are implementing since it gives their employees the freedom to choose where they feel more comfortable working from. AI enabled technology, video conferencing setups, screens for presentations, wireless charging stations, data collecting smartboards, and anything else that is necessary to facilitate smart working is a must in modern offices.
Healthy happy employees will always be more productive than the opposite; what an outlandish idea! Believe or not, this is actually one of the more modern concepts in modern office design to be considered as ‘trendy’. Back in the day, just a comfortable seat and a desk was considered enough.
Fortunately nowadays more and more offices are designed so people feel comfortable and homely while at work. Healthier workplaces have a positive impact on the financial bottom line, and companies now realise that not only is this the right thing to do as a matter of corporate social responsibility, it’s also a feature that’s highly valued potential employees.
But what is exactly a healthy workplace? According to the World Health Organisation, “a healthy workplace is one where workers and managers collaborate to continually improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers and by doing this, sustain the productivity of the business.”
Creating a healthy workplace environment doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. Furthermore, it’s on the company’s best interest to provide and maintain a healthy workplace environment since it improves productivity and reduces costs related to absenteeism, turnover, workers’ compensation, and medical claims.
These are core aspects to look into when it comes to create a healthy workplace:
Company culture. Create a strong positive company culture and make sure is practiced by everybody, so the environment will be healthier and so will people. A great company culture has the potential to keep employees productive and even help you retain the best and happier employees.
Physical environment. Simple things like ensuring that all electric cables are covered or taped down with a cable tray to prevent employees from tripping over them or keeping the office structure well looked after so nobody has to sit under a chipped ceiling or next to a damp patch, are important to ensure a safe workplace environment.
Health and lifestyle practice. Employees will care for the company they are working for if they know that they are being looked after. Putting effort into employee wellness can encourage better teamwork, increase productivity and reduce sick leave and workplace accidents. Offering pilates or yoga classes can be a great idea, as well as nutritional awareness talks and healthy menus if your company features a canteen. Encouraging people to stay active is core to any healthy workplace. You know what they say, ‘sitting is the new smoking’.
Needless to say that office furniture should be ergonomic so working doesn’t cost people their health. When it comes to healthy habits at work, there is a whole new variety of desks and devices out there that promote them. They include treadmill desks, ‘deskcycles’, and devices such as Level: a surfboard-like platform meant to be used with an existing standing desk that requires you to constantly shift your weight to keep balance. No shortage of options… However, if neither of these are suitable for you, the old ‘stand up and go for a walk every now and then’ would also do.
Supportive workplace environment. Everyone has personal problems and it is only human that some personal emotions get brought into the workplace. Promoting a supportive environment starting by being supportive yourself is core. Offering in-house performance coach can be very useful, specially for companies dealing with highly stressful business.
And a golden rule; deal with problems as soon as possible and regularly ask for employees’ feedback on how the workplace could be improved.
Experience driven spaces
Redefining how employees interact with their workplace is part of the dramatic change office design has undergone. Experience-driven spaces focus on the worker experience, and are designed to relieve stress and build a sense of community among workers, which altogether can dramatically improve company morale and boost productivity.
These spaces include meditation areas, coffee bars, game rooms, cinema and concert rooms, karaoke, etc. Some companies even have rock walls built for employees to use (and blow off some steam).
Designing an office space that focuses on experience is not always easy. However, the rewards are well worth the effort.
Design & Company Culture
The concept ‘company culture’ has become a hot topic in the corporate world, however its definition isn’t always clear. We’ll do our best to shed light on this matter.
Basically, company culture refers to how people within an organisation interact with each other and work together.
From a social perspective, culture is the collective knowledge and achievements of a group expressed through patterns of behaviour, art, music, food, religion and language. Culture creates the basis of the values and beliefs of a society, and the culture of a company is similar. It is the set of beliefs, values, attitudes, standards, purposes and behaviours shared among the people who make an organisation. According to a study carried by top consulting firm Deloitte, ‘94 % of executives and 88 % of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success’.
If there is a good well-set company culture, employees will likely be less stressed, healthier and happier; they will get along and communicate better with each other which will create a positive and inspiring atmosphere, will feel more aligned with the purpose of their work which translates into better performance, and altogether this provides massive benefits for the business functioning.
Now, how does design and company culture relate? Quite deeply actually, since the design, appearance and functionality of the workspace tells a lot about that business’ company culture. It is important to have the core values and goals of your business well defined before moving into physical design elements and aesthetics.
'Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.'Paul Rand
Liking a piece of furniture doesn’t mean it will serve the needs of your team members or will help you make the right impressions.Also, when approaching workspace design, it is prudent to future-proof your space. Look at the current reality of your company, think about the design and make sure to visualise how your design will be aligned to your company’s core values and culture, now and for the long-term.
Volcom’s headquarters in Costa Mesa, California is a great example of designing for culture. In the image we can see how the space takes on a hand-crafted, almost bohemian aesthetic incorporating materials such as raw wood, fiberglass, metal and fabric to define and reinforce the Volcom image, while employee and commissioned artwork decorate the hallways. Communal skateboards are made available so employees can roll from office to office. What a great way to inspire people and make their everyday more fun!
Activity-Based Workplace Design
Design is a powerful tool to create healthy work environments where people can perform at their best. Activity-based design is a relatively new concept that aims to empower people with choice through activity-based work environments that enable and boost agile working practices. They include elements such as shared workspaces, break-out areas, quiet and private spaces, meeting areas and technology.
One of the hottest topics in the workplace design world over the past two decades has been the debate around open-office vs enclosed-offices. However and after all, more than having to choose one over the other, what’s important is to look into defining the tasks that are carried out daily in the workplace and identifying the kind of spaces that will best adapt to them.
For instance, let’s say collaboration and problem-solving are core values of your company, well in this case an open floor plan may not be the best option. They can be a great idea in theory, but they often end up sounding more like a library in comparison to private office spaces which offer people the necessary privacy, and help them relax and think by eliminating noise and unwanted interruptions.
If creativity and inventiveness are major drivers of your business, you may want to consider incorporating biophilic design elements into the workspace. Recent studies show that spending time in nature can lead to enhanced creative thinking and improvements in problem-solving abilities. Outdoor workspaces may not be practical or even possible for some businesses, however integrating natural elements such as living walls, live plants, unfinished woods, and natural tones is within everyone’s reach.
Aside from all this, what’s truly important is to look at the people who work for you in a holistic, human way. Ask them what inspires them and what would make coming to work an even better experience for them. These values rise above the functionality and design elements of your space and will help to shape your design in the right direction.
Elevate Your Workplace With Art
First impressions are a big deal in the business world. Whether it’s a potential client or employee walking through your door for the first time, people are receiving valuable information about your company from the moment they arrive in your offices. Art plays a major role in generating positive and striking first impressions, not only at an aesthetic level but also at a psychological one.
'If you enrich a space people feel much happier and work better; a very good way of doing this is by using art'Dr. Craig Knight
The notion that art in the workplace is merely decorative was dispelled in a survey conducted by the Business Committee for the Arts, Inc. and the International Association for Professional Art Advisors, involving more than 800 employees working for 32 companies ranging from food distributors to law firms from throughout the U.S. that have workplace art collections.
The results of this study showed that art in the workplace helps businesses build customers and community relations, leads to networking opportunities and transmits the company’s interest in improving their staff’s quality of life. It also helps reducing stress, increasing creativity, enhancing morale, as well as broadening employee appreciation of diversity and encouraging the expression of opinions. These benefits increase when employees play an active role in the design of their workspace.
Research conducted by Dr. Craig Knight at the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology have concluded that employees who have control over the design of their workspace are not only happier and healthier, but also up to 32% more productive. They observed that the more control people had over their office spaces, the happier and more motivated they were in their jobs. They felt physically more comfortable at work, identified more with their employers, and felt more positive about their jobs in general.
Dr. Knight, who has studied the psychology of working environments for 12 years, has observed however that there is a real tendency for businesses to opt for lean workspaces designed to encourage staff to just get on with their work and avoid distraction. ‘If you enrich a space people feel much happier and work better; a very good way of doing this is by using art’, he says. — By ‘art’ he means original works of art and not so-called motivational posters as in ‘Do it because you love it’ or ‘There is no “I” in team’. Those don’t work!
Now you could be thinking ‘ok, that sounds fantastic but, what things should I consider when choosing artwork for my office?’. No worries, we’ve gathered a few practical tips for you.
1. Identify your message and theme
Amongst the many options for addressing branding and company culture in the workplace, art plays an important role when it comes to communicating key brand messages in a nonverbal way.
For example, an organisation that displays unusual artwork is likely to be seen as conducting business in less traditional ways or marketing less conventional products; art that seems based in multiple ethnic traditions can signal multicultural management practices, etc. But really, at the end of the day it’s all reduced to what you want to transmit to people with the art you display.
When in comes to choosing artwork for the design of different workspaces it is key to take into account the physical possibilities of the space, its purpose and the energy you want to create for it. Are you designing the lobby, the offices area, the chill-out zone? Are you aiming for a more relaxing environment that promotes concentration, or maybe one that encourages productivity and creative thinking? Keep in mind that each space needs to be addressed separately to achieve the best possible result.
Airbnb for instance creates different meeting rooms that reflect the individual and unusual tastes of all their clients. Some may work some don’t, but all are very personal and appeal to everyone in different ways. We’ve chosen this one for its singular design; a random gallery wall along, mismatched furniture and decoration elements that don’t really follow any specific style, altogether give the room a unique specific feeling that is far from coincidental.
2. Choose the palette
Artists and designers have studied the effects of colour in the human mind for centuries and developed a multitude of theories about its use. The number and variety of such theories demonstrates that universal rules cannot be applied, since feelings about color are often deeply personal and rooted in the own experience or culture. For example, while the color white is used in many Western countries to represent purity and innocence, it is seen as a symbol of mourning in many Eastern countries.
However, while perceptions of colour are somewhat subjective, there are some colour effects that are universal. For instance, red hues are known as warm colours and evoke emotions ranging from feelings of warmth and comfort to feelings of anger and hostility. These include red, orange, and yellow. On the other hand, blues are known as cool colours and are often described as calm, but can also awaken feelings of sadness or indifference. They include blue, purple, and green.
No universal rules apply to the use of colour, however it is a powerful communication tool that can be used to signal action, influence mood, and even influence physiological reactions.
This color palette below shows how colours and emotions are linked, helping to better understand the effects that can be achieved through colour, and maybe help you choose the combination that best suits your needs.
3. The importance of lighting
Light is a crucial element to consider when designing a room. Ideal spaces are those with big wide windows that allow sunlight shine through, the more hours the better. Not only natural light is planet friendly, but also free and healthier for us. It also provides one of the best environments for showcasing art.
We’ve gathered a few useful tips that will give you some practical knowledge that you will need when placing your art:
First and foremost, make sure you place the art on a wall that’s not getting direct natural light. Indirect light is okay, but avoid direct light since it can damage the artwork. North-facing light is optimal, but if you don’t have this option, choose a wall where daylight is not aiming directly at the surface of the piece.
When using artificial light, never use fluorescent bulbs. Those that replicate daylight are a much safer choice than bright, white, artificial light. It’s always important to remember that light can damage art over the long term. Some of the halogen lights directed into one area of the painting will gradually burn away the materials. To minimise the damage, you can keep halogen lamps a safe distance from artworks and equip the lights with UV filters. Or you can use LED bulbs, which emit no UV and little heat.
Smaller works usually go best with picture lights since they put the light source really close to the work, typically with very low-wattage lamps, and are great for drawing your eye directly to the details of the piece. If you use them, keep them as dim as possible to protect the artwork and choose a substantial frame that can support the fixture.
Large pieces look best under recessed or surface-mounted lighting. The idea is to evenly illuminate your art by pulling the light source away, which will prevent shadows and reflections on your artwork. Using nonglare museum glass rather than regular glass will also help you to avoid reflection. Works of art with texture, such as oil or acrylic paintings, can be lit so the shadows created on the surface are minimised or emphasised.
No matter the size of the business, be aware of the fundamental role art plays as a catalyst for energies and make it an essential element in your work space; you will soon realise its benefits both at a human and corporate level.