Does workplace design matter?

Does workplace design matter?

We’re painting the roses red…and that wall orange, and over there is where the table football will go! And so begins the well-intentioned effort to make another workplace a bit more funky, a bit more fun, a bit more like Google… The question is, how likely is your feature wall to make your results a bit more like Google? The answer isn’t straightforward.

There’s solid research to support the creation of more engaging workplaces. Findings from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace make it clear that giving employees choices and variety in their workplace can improve engagement and productivity. Research by IBM and Globoforce found that “employees experiencing a higher level of humanity at work…are more likely to exert extra effort…and are less likely to quit.” And Susan Cain, founder of Quiet Revolution, has shown the potential innovation that is lost to businesses that put introverts – who need space for quiet reflection – into standard open-plan offices.

Psychology also has some helpful tips for your feature walls. Green, with its association to a lush, abundant natural world, has a well-documented relaxing impact, so take a cue from theatre green rooms if that’s what you’re after. Green is also the colour that requires the least adjustment from your eyes when looking at it, so it’s a fantastic choice for easing strain after hours staring at a computer or tablet screen. Orange, on the other hand, has a stimulating effect on both the body and emotions so it’s a better choice to inject energy; blue, in contrast, stimulates the mind and promotes focus but can feel cold and authoritarian. So don’t just choose the MDs favourite colour – you might not get quite the effect you were after!

Before you start an office revamp, especially if the motivation for the change is to improve productivity and engagement, ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What kind of work will people be doing in the space? This is likely to be different for different teams, for example sales, R&D and finance will all have different needs and may need to be considered separately
  • What kind of people make up the teams? Extroverts who thrive on interaction and visual stimulation? Or introverts who may find all forms of noise and visual disturbance a distraction? Think about making space for different needs – this is a great opportunity to seek insights from other perspectives.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what kind of company are we? What is our main focus? What is the culture we want to promote?

Why is this last one the most important? Because, and this is the crux of the matter, I have seen many well-intentioned office revamps, and they don’t all play out well in real life. One, for example, had all the elements – feature walls, table football games, and break-out areas with funky seating – but somehow the offices still felt grey and lifeless. Why?  Well I have a theory about that. You see, despite the injection of a bit of physical modernity, the company’s focus was still all about a finance-driven approach to management of the bottom line. Communications and meetings all focused on margins, project plans and business cases and, let’s face it, when your boss is constantly breathing down your neck about the overrun on the last project – oh, and by the way, we’re removing the office plants to save money – it’s hard to engage with a funky, fun workplace.

Don’t get me wrong, a rigorous financial focus can be exactly what a business needs, and most people will absolutely engage with that if they get a clear message that’s what the focus needs to be. My point is that’s probably not the time to add a playful note to the office décor…

People respond to congruence in messaging – when what we say and what we do match up – and this has a far greater impact than a coat of paint. So, if you’re thinking about an office revamp, just make sure that the new look is in line with your company focus and culture, and is what you want people to experience every day.