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How your office design impacts the productivity of your employees

Workspaces are complex environments. They are hubs for ideas, halls of exchange, places where people need to perform concentrated work, but also places of representation of values and culture internally and to the world outside.

Creating an environment that people feel a sense of wellbeing, that does not hurt their senses but supports them in the kind of work they have to do is a tricky balancing act. And here is the main idea that I have learned in the many years I have practiced as an architect: the more we plan our environments as nature does, the healthier more productive and mentally balanced we will be.

So how might we do that?

Mimicking nature

More and more studies show how contact with nature has numerous health and wellbeing benefits of the human brain. Being in contact with or looking at nature helps us to relax, focus and even recover from sickness much faster. Therefore, understanding the underlying rules of nature and applying them in our “man-made” environment will only contribute to our overall health and wellness. A couple of such rules are for example symmetry, the golden ratio, ordered complexity and a natural color palette.

Inserting nature in the environment

Another way to create a sense of wellbeing is to allow nature to come in. That might mean making use of natural light, allowing views towards a park, introducing plants in the room and making use of natural materials pleasant to the eye and touch. All of these nature-like inputs will create a sense of calm and happiness to the people inhabiting the space.

Nature like experiences

Where in nature have you ever seen a tree like the next one or a series of rocks each exactly like the next one? Repetition and lack of variation is incredibly dulling to the eye and the brain. This is why a diversity of spaces supporting not only a different set of work styles but also design settings create that balance between calm and alertness that we are seeing in nature.

Made to fit

As a natural organism, every organization is different, and the work style of each department is very different from one another. Before designing, each department’s workstyle needs to be “measured” and monitored to understand what sort of design elements are most appropriate to them. For example, the finance department sits long at their assigned desks and use a lot of paper while the sales department is always on the phone or on the go making lots of noise. Should the workspaces of these departments be the same in design? And what problems in productivity could occur if they sat next to each other? These and many other questions need to be addressed with design.

Freedom of movement and choice

Where in nature do you ever have to sit put for 9 hours and not move? Humans have to be both active and at rest as well as be able to engage with their environment. So besides introducing spaces fit for rest or physical activity another way to allow freedom of choice is to introduce setting controls.

Can you open the window? Can you turn down the blinds? Lift the table and work standing? Make the room hotter? Brighter? Not feeling stuck and powerless with one set of predesigned conditions is key. Designers can only do so much. The perfect setting for each individual is created by each individual alone. The ability to choose one’s own perfect settings for work gives people the feeling of “empowerment” which boosts individual performance.

These are only a couple of high-level ideas that contribute to creating a quality work environment for the employees. Once these are established, aspects that need to be looked at in detail and have a direct impact on performance are office layout, acoustics, social interaction, thermal comfort, lighting, and privacy.