With the average American spending 40 to 50 hours per week at the workplace, it is essential that employers provide their staff with office environments that are happy, safe, and inspiring.
Interior design experts say companies that take into consideration what employees need to be effective can create well-designed workplaces that boost productivity. An office’s design must also be based on the business culture and an understanding of what being an effective employee means.
“You have to look at the work that is intended there and ask: ‘Does the existing environment do that?’” says Janetta McCoy, an associate professor at Washington State University who teaches interior design and interdisciplinary design.
McCoy, an Interior Design alumna of The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, says the way interior designers work with businesses on their office design has changed in the past couple of decades.
“When I first entered the design profession, it was top-down approach — we talked to the top person at the company and he would tell us what the staff needed,” she says. “But then, there came an increasing focus on employee effectiveness, creativity, and productivity. And in order to truly find out what the staff needs, we have had to look lower in the food chain.”
Addressing staff needs is critical to office design, says designer Jillian Northrup, founder and co-owner of Because We Can, a “design-build” studio that provides design and production of interiors, buildings, furniture, and products.
“Keeping the staff in the loop early on is key,” she says. “And it gets everyone excited about the project.”
Good design not only increases productivity, but also lifts morale, helps reinforce the company’s identity, and attracts and retains a quality workforce. As more companies recognize the need for a well-designed office, they start to ditch the cubicles, white walls, and bright fluorescent lights.
A well-designed workplace fuels staff energy, instead of draining it, Northrup says.
“We have found that the best designed spaces are interactive and changing, not sterile. They are even a little messy,” she says. “A space that encourages everyone to be involved and to incorporate their own touches boosts creativity, energy, and makes people smile.”
McCoy has studied the relationship between work environment and creativity. In her research, she discovered four workplace characteristics that stood out as being critical to employee satisfaction: spatial organization, access to adequate resources, access to the natural environment, and the ability to leave the desk and walk around.
“People want to work and work well, but many times the workplace can get in the way of doing effective work,” she says. “Or, if the environment is so boring it is stifling.”
Pleasing interior design and decorations are enhancing the other benefits some companies offer their employees. Not only does Google’s Zurich office in Switzerland offer colorful and ergonomic design, it’s decked out with perks including a game room, a slide, fire pole, and private cabin areas where employees can attend to personal affairs. Google employees are also treated to gourmet meals, workouts with a personal trainer, and massages.
Meanwhile, Kraft Foods incorporated employee-friendly and eco-friendly additions into the design of their Sucat, Parañaque office in the Philippines. The office building includes a gym and spa, a round-the-clock canteen, a Zen garden, and a green park to encourage employees to spend time outdoors. The Philippines headquarters is also reducing its environmental impact by collecting rainwater for use in local landscaping and toilet flushing and has skylights to bring natural light into the building.
“Access to the natural environment comes up as very important to [employee morale],” McCoy says. “People want to be associated with nature and need natural light.”
As for offices that are more creatively inclined, interior designers and employers should consider how they can incorporate the employees’ interests into the office design. McCoy says minimalist, clutter-free, and accessible workspaces give creative teams a chance to add personal touches.
“Highly creative teams will hang things on the wall that remind them of being successful and decorate according to their own styles,” she says. “So if we overdesign the workspace and create restrictions, we may be limiting their ability to express themselves.”
“Not only does the staff need spatial organization, but that organization needs to free the employee to feel like they are in control of their surroundings,” Northrup says.
Contributing writer for EDMC.