Ultimately, the objective of any office is to provide a comfortable space that will be conducive to work. The aim is to help your staff feel at ease, while also giving them easy access to all of the resources they need to be productive.
Offices can vary greatly from business to business but this objective is universal. What’s different, is the way that companies try and go about this, or how much attention they pay to specific aspects of their office design. In this post, we’ll look at some universal truths that can help any office to be more productive and comfortable.
A good office should be stimulating, which is to say that it should help to promote enthusiasm and creativity among the workforce. This is something that businesses have taken a long time to get right. Traditionally, the word ‘office’ has been something that we associate with small, grey cubicles and a distinct lack of colour.
Today, psychologists tell us that a ‘rich environment’ can help to trigger a highly productive flow state. A colourful and rich surrounding causes the brain to wake up and this helps to improve focus and attention while we’re working. Meanwhile, more varied stimulation is very positive for creative problem solving… and for helping staff to not hate coming into work!
Of course this doesn’t mean you should hang Disney themed wallpaper around the office. There’s a thin line between stimulating and distracting and an equally blurry line between creative and unprofessional. Just don’t be afraid to include a little colour and consider investing in décor that you’d be happy to stare at for 8 hours a day…
Another form of stimulation is social stimulation. There are few things that aid with the formation and development of ideas as well as chewing them over in a group. As the now-famous TED talk from Steven Johnson explains, ideas need a gestation period and the best way to coax them out from hiding is by discussing them with a group and having someone to bounce them off of.
Likewise, there’s often a big benefit to letting different departments work together to achieve greater synergy and share their knowledge. We all know the story of how Steve Jobs changed Pixar’s office layout to encourage more communication between animators and script writers. (Oh, you don’t? Then check out this post!)
Steve’s approach was to create an office that would facilitate ‘unplanned encounters’. Generally, a more open space can be a good strategy too though and this also has other benefits – making the space appear larger and lighter for instance.
Again, you don’t want your team to spend all day chatting and no time working. But segregation is not the answer. Encourage your staff to mingle and it will help to bring a livelier energy to the office.
Try writing an essay while someone stamps on your foot. Harder isn’t it? This is a great example of why comfort is so important. If your team aren’t comfortable where they’re working, then this is going to make it much harder for them to hold their attention for long periods of time.
What’s more is that allowing your staff to recline might also be good for creativity! This is because creativity is closely linked to a more relaxed state of mind – and it’s only when we allow our minds to wander that we can combine disparate concepts to come up with something truly new.
Again, you don’t want to take this to ridiculous extremes. Reclining lazy boys are not the answer here. But buying comfortable chairs and even creating the option for staff to unplug and take their laptops onto the couch can make a big difference.
It goes without saying as well that an office needs to provide adequate support and to benefit the long-term health of your workers. Don’t be that manager who puts off replacing old office chairs because you don’t want to spend the money. Not only is it a moral obligation, it’s also an investment with a particularly high return. Desk jockeys who are crippled over in pain are not good workers!
All this talk of openness and collaboration is not to say that all traditional notions of the productive office have been thrown out the window. Organisation is still very important and this ultimately comes down to ensuring that your team can quickly and easily find the documents, tools and supplies they need, when they need them. Time spent digging through filing drawers is not time spent well – and especially if it means things end up getting lost permanently.
And good organisation comes down to a lot more than just giving every employee their own desk caddy. It also means ensuring that there are enough work surfaces for the number of people who are likely to need somewhere to lean at any given time. And it means ensuring that workers can move freely around the office without bumping into each other. It means opening up those traffic lanes and keeping things within arm’s reach.
This relates closely to stimulation but deserves its own heading. A good office should be aesthetic, meaning that it should look pleasant and it should look the part. This is important not only for the morale of staff but also for the image you project when staff come to visit, or when you upload team photos to Instagram.
A good office is open, spacious, light, modern and well decorated. It should also be appropriate for the impression that you’re trying to give off about your business – whether that’s ‘hip, young startup’ or ‘trusted, corporate firm’. If you can find ways to make your office memorable (with a giant t-rex perhaps?), then it can even end up becoming a form of marketing in its own right.
Finally, make sure that your office is unique to you. While these universal rules apply to all businesses, the finer details are all down to you. Ultimately, the best office is one that helps you to achieve your goals – which means it needs to be different from the office of other companies, with different goals. Sometimes this is going to mean thinking outside the box and scrapping the rule book.
When everything works perfectly, an office will be a reflection of the company that owns it. That makes it a form of expression and gives it a personality even. And when your office décor is aligned with the values of your business, the requirements of your work and the ethos of your team – that’s when amazing things happen.