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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 and places where people need to perform concentrated work. Workspaces represent company values and culture internally and to the world outside.

Creating an environment where people feel a sense of well-being that 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 practised as an architect: the more we plan our environments according to nature’s laws, the healthier and more productive and mentally balanced we will be. 

If you think about it, people have evolved in nature for millions of years, and the human-made settlements that we know today have only been around for 1% of that evolution. It should be no surprise that we would thrive and are the happiest in nature or nature-like environments. 

But how might we do that without moving into the forest? 

Mimicking nature

More and more studies show how contact with nature has numerous health and well-being benefits for the human brain. Being connected to or looking at nature helps us 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 laws are: symmetry, the golden ratio, ordered complexity and a natural colour palette.

Inserting nature in the environment

Another way to create a sense of well-being 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. These nature-like inputs will create a sense of calm and happiness in the people working in 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 are incredibly dulling to the eye and the brain. This is why the office landscape should support a different set of work styles to create that balance between calm and alertness that we see in nature.

Made to fit

As a natural organism, every organization is different, and each department’s work style 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, 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 and 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 critical. Designers can only do so much. The perfect setting for each individual is created by each individual alone. The ability to choose one’s 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. Other aspects can be office layout, acoustics, social interaction, thermal comfort, lighting, and privacy.