Office Design Tips for the Ideal Work Environment

Last updated: Feb 25, 2020

Can a coat of paint in the break room inspire breakthroughs for sales? Can a row of sleek new desks motivate marketing to a metrics-smashing rash of creativity? Research suggests yes. Smart workplace design can do wonders for innovation, productivity, and employee morale. If you’re ready to learn how sprucing up your office can transform your whole team’s output and outlook, follow the experts’ office design tips for the ideal work environment.

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The Link Between Workplace Design and Innovation

In its 2016 U.S. Workplace Survey, global architectural design firm Gensler surveyed 4,000 American workers about the modern workplace and how better design can unleash creative potential. The upshot: The office is no longer focused on the desk. The survey found that the most innovative organizations and employees work in a variety of spaces: co-working, conferencing, learning, focusing, socializing and, yes, personal desktop space. Gensler found that innovative companies design their office spaces so that effectiveness and engagement are built in, rather than pasted in as an afterthought.

Not every organization has the budget for a complete rehab of their offices, but there is strong evidence that you can’t afford not to update your office design. A tired, shabby space has real consequences for your bottom line. Outdated workplaces damage productivity, perceived value, recruitment, and retention.

 

Designing an Ideal Office Layout

Because every organization is different, so are the design solutions, but a few layout templates can offer a starting place.

  • The newsroom layout is a version of the classic bullpen floor-plan, no cubicles, no walls, lots of buzz, chatter, and shared ideas.
  • The library layout features large shared spaces, often with benched desks, plus lots of quiet workstations and nooks and crannies for uninterrupted work.
  • The innovation lab layout is meant to facilitate collaboration and “serendipitous encounters,” characterized by both open spaces and pods (which could be anything from a cluster of couches to a treehouse), seamless technology, and visually stimulating environments.

As you envision the layout that could work best, survey your team about what they want and need. But before investing in designers or buying new furnishings on your own, carefully observe how your team is using your current layout and amenities, based on seven factors of great office design, including size and exposure.   

 

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In the Zone  

Extreme designs get all the attention, but the most effective modern workplaces tend to operate like a balanced ecosystem, with a variety of separate and shared spaces working in harmony. In its 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey, Gensler focused its questions to 6,000 American workers on the relative influence of co-working versus private spaces on productivity, profitability, and employee engagement. Interestingly, respondents report working alone (45 percent) or in collaboration (44 percent) just about equally. Almost 80 percent of respondents who work in an environment with a variety of settings — shared and private — report a “great” in-office experience.

How to optimize performance through design? Offer options: communal, quiet, and hybrid areas. If your space or budget doesn’t permit such richness of choices, focus on one type and consider accommodating the need for the other types by changing the company culture and rules, allowing for occasional remote work, off-campus co-working spaces, and the use of noise-canceling headphones.

But if budget and space do allow, get into the zone: Create zoned spaces custom-made to deliver workplace effectiveness.

 

Zones that Nurture Creativity and Innovation

Brainstorming, daydreaming, and innovative solutions don’t always require a group effort, but building creative areas into your office design can boost your potential for a-ha moments.

At the minimum, plan to include cozy collective seating and a large worktop near a coffee station. Then, provide the tools of expression: whiteboard wall with a rainbow of dry-erase markers; giant doodle pads; large screen to cast webpages, video chats, idea boards, and images; quality speakers for a playlist that inspires.

Your creative zone must have:

  • Good lighting (preferably sunlight)
  • Greenery (although you don’t need to go full moss wall)
  • Energizing colors

 

Zones that Support Productivity

Want a more productive workspace? Let in as much natural light as you can. Research finds that natural light reduces eyestrain by 51 percent and worker drowsiness by 56 percent. What’s more, working in natural light can keep you on task 15 percent longer than working in artificial light.

Recognize that distractions reduce productivity — 70 percent of surveyed employees report feeling distracted on the job — so use good office design to reduce distractions: movable partitions, quiet rooms, noise-muffling acoustic panels.

Your productive zone must have:

 

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Zones that Encourage Collaboration

The open-plan office seems like the obvious choice here, and removing physical barriers can encourage the exchange of ideas on collective projects. But flexible modular furniture and small conference rooms can be the better option when teams from disparate business units or staff and clients need to put their heads together.

A popular option to get a group flowing is the “touchdown” space. Informal, with elements of both a lounge and a conference room, a touchdown space is designed for small groups and their portable technology (wire management and charging stations/outlets should be integral to your office design).

Your collaborative zone must have:

  • Flexible spaces that be made more or less private as needed
  • Branding with color and décor (a visual reminder of your shared company values)
  • Caffeine and snacks

 

Zones that Foster Individual Focus

Workplaces have evolved so much that it is hard to imagine privacy as anything more than the illusion of it, as witnessed by the cubicle farm of the 1980s. But there are times when individual focus is a necessity and you need solo spaces that make uninterrupted concentration possible.

For deep work, weigh the merits and costs of a soundproof pod, “phone booth” or sanctuary room with just enough square footage for a desk or shelf, chair, laptop, and phone. It’s a space designed for short-term, highly focused work. At the very least, a small conference room can provide respite when a coworker needs to grind out a project or make an important call.

You focus zone must have:

  • A door
  • Soundproofing
  • Wireless connectivity for project research

 

And Now, Make It Stylish

You now know that zones are the way to go and you certainly already know how to waste hours on Pinterest (so there is no tip here for that) but experts suggest you steal inspiration anywhere you find it to make your office design welcoming, evocative of your brand, and beautiful.

 

Some Parting Words on the Open-Office Floor-plan

There are proponents and there are profoundly outraged opponents of the open-office floor-plan. But fans and haters alike need to come to grips with the fact that open spaces have a useful place in the modern office.

The key to making peace with them and using them to their full potential, according to Gensler, is to create flexible spaces that offer options and an office culture of autonomy so that employees who want sociability and collaboration sometimes can find it in the open sections and those who need peace and quiet can find that, too, behind a closed door.

 

Our Door is Always Open   

At USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education, we’re here to help you become a workplace leader with courses and certification in project management, human resources, process improvement, or hospitality leadership.

 

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