Simple Workplace Design Tips

2015-08-08 12.17.36

This year has seen interest in workplace design gradually building; a few consultancies have been established; blogs and podcasts have created; a couple of books have been written; and of course the start-ups have been investing their VC’s millions in fancy offices that get plenty of publicity.  It’s nice to see though amidst all of the hype that the basics are still getting some attention; a post by 99u provides some good tips.

I was particularly pleased to see them start by stressing the need for users of a workspace to take ownership of it, since I’d written a whole post on this topic only a few days ago, they say:

The simple act of making your own decisions about how to organize your workspace has an empowering effect and has been linked with improved productivity

Well I couldn’t agree more, based on my own experience, but the article goes on to quote some quantified benefits which are pretty amazing:

Craig Knight, Director of the Identity Realization workplace consultancy, showed this in a 2010 study with Alex Haslam involving 47 office workers in London. Those workers given the opportunity to arrange a small office with as many or few plants and pictures as they wanted were up to 32 percent more productive than others not given this control. They also identified more with their employer, a sign of increased commitment to the team effort and increased efficiency.

This reminds me of studies in care homes where residents who were given some control (autonomy) over their environment had significantly improved happiness and outcomes.  Giving people control over their workplace has a significant impact on their sense of autonomy, which has a huge impact on motivation; another topic I recently wrote about.

Lighting is an area that office designers can significantly improve and it can be easily retrofitted too.  In my wife’s home office for example I Installed over desk lighting that allowed her to keep the room dim, but her desk well lit.  I also installed LED lighting behind all of the bookcases that had a simple colour wheel allowing her to change the colour of the room to suit her mood and the task at hand.  It seems like I was on the right track:

Choosing the right color and lighting scheme for your office is one of the simplest ways your environment can enhance your performance. Different colors and light levels have different psychological effects, so the ideal situation is to install a lighting system that allows you to alter the hue and brightness of your room to suit the kind of work that you’re engaged in.

For instance, exposure to both blue and green has been shown to enhance performance on tasks that require generating new ideas. However, the color red has been linked with superior performance on tasks involving attention to detail. Another study out this year showed that a dimmer environment fostered superior creativity in terms of idea generation, probably because it encourages a feeling of freedom. On the other hand, brighter light levels were more conducive to analytical and evaluative thinking.

In one of our offices at work the occupants got together and agreed to remove every other bulb in the overhead lighting, making the office dimmer; but they then installed desk lights to provide improved user control over how their individual desks were lit.

I’m also a big fan of plants in the office, my personal office at home is in a conservatory and it’s full of plants.  In the offices I’ve designed I’ve filled them with plants and it’s cost effective provided the occupants of the office take care of them.  In some of my offices we’ve encouraged the taking and sharing of cuttings which improved the community feel and creates a healthy pipeline of new plants.  It seems that this personal preference is backed up by science too:

If you only do one thing to optimize your workspace, invest in a green plant or two. Research has repeatedly shown that the presence of office plants has a range of benefits including helping workers recover from demanding activities and lowering stress levels. As a bonus, there’s also evidence that plants can reduce office pollution levels.

It’s worth taking a look at the source article for other tips, not all of them I agree with, for example the benefits of a messy desk, which I think has a lot of downsides too. I do agree with the closing message though:

It’s easy to neglect the importance of your workspace, especially if you’re under pressure of deadlines and not so into interior design. But hopefully this review has convinced you that the spaces we occupy really can affect us psychologically. It’s vital that you choose an office space that you feel happy and comfortable in. If your freedom is restricted, shape the space as much as you can to make it your own. Get your surroundings in order and the rest is sure to follow.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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