Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.
–Robert L. Peters
When’s the last time you thought about office design? Would you be proud to show your office to family and friends? Are you comfortable in your workplace?
The average full-time employee works 1,800 hours per year, most of which are likely in an office. Here at Bonusly, we recently redesigned our headquarters, which got us thinking about how our space impacts the team. That meant adjustable desks, modern chairs, updated layouts, and new technology. And it all started when we asked ourselves, “How can we design our office for productivity and purpose?” Now we’re sharing our lessons with you!
What is office design?
Put simply, office design is about creating a space that facilitates productive and purposeful work while leaving room for creativity, customization, and personalization. Essentially, you’re setting a stage so everyone can bring their props.
Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.
It’s probably not the first thing you think of, but design has a huge impact on guiding behavior at work. You’re not consciously thinking about it every time you walk through the door, but the space you work in has a powerful effect on your performance and purpose.
Think about your current workspace. Are you a guest, or do you belong there? If you feel like a guest, you’re less likely to put your feet up on the chair or personalize your desk. You won’t be able focus, feel fully comfortable, or bring your best self to work. On the other hand, if you feel like you belong, you’ll feel more balanced and primed to enter a “flow state”. When was the last time you were so engrossed in your work that time disappeared?
There are plenty of interior design factors that contribute to a positive workspace that encourages productivity and purpose: lighting, color, plants, art, food, seating, etc. More on those later.
At the end of the day, design is taking care of people. With the right design, you’ll tend to people’s needs and help your team thrive.
Note that while you’re designing your office space, you can share tips with your remote team members, as well. Design is just as important for a remote office—here are a few inspiring examples of conducive remote setups at Zapier and Trello.
Why is office design important?
Physical workspaces have a powerful impact on a wide variety of factors, like health, morale, inclusion, creativity, collaboration, productivity, and purpose. Let’s focus on those last two:
- Productivity – Poorly-designed workspaces can have a huge effect on work, with 46% of professionals indicating that their existing workspace heavily impacted their productivity. Level up your team’s productivity by improving their work environment.
- Purpose – When we serve others, we become better. Purpose is an extremely powerful motivator, and you can encourage purpose through workspace design. Show employees they’re cared for, their work is valued, and that they’re positively affecting the lives of others.
Balancing common purpose with the individual activities being performed, balancing belonging and the need for autonomy. It recognizes the duality involved in modern-day collaborative office work; it allows organizations to identify what kind of environment that is right for them, and build around that.
–Sam Grawe, Global Brand Director at Herman Miller
Think about it this way: the less time you spend thinking about your work environment is more time spent on working and feeling fulfilled. Great office design decreases mental load and facilitates focus.
How does your current office design impact your employees?
How can you design your office for productivity and purpose?
Plan before diving in
Before designing any space, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. What challenges does your team face? How can the space serve their needs, and how will it change with the team?
Note how people use the current space and think about how it will need to evolve. Observe behavior, discuss future plans, research options, and ask what’s needed. Plan a survey to understand how people like to work and the activities that occur in each space, and then review your results to determine next steps.
And before you get too far, realize that sometimes what people want isn’t necessarily what they need. You might not be able to accommodate every wish, but your team should feel included in the process and feel heard.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to see what works, observe the actual usage of the space, and iterate.
Know working personalities and work styles
Some people need quiet spaces, some need areas for collaboration. It’s your job to create a balanced workplace. Think about providing rooms with whiteboards and natural light for dynamic meetings but also nooks and crannies for those who need to hide. Weigh the options of open workstations against personal workspaces.
You’ll want to figure out your soft/warm rooms and your hard/cold rooms. What do I mean by that? Sometimes you want people to be comfortable, and other times you’ll want to introduce some level of friction. For example, you may not want people to escape to a comfy call room for a phone meeting and then linger for a few hours. In this case, you’d want the call room to be good for about 40 minutes and then encourage people to go somewhere else.
Set and know your budget
When planning your office design, have a reasonable idea of what you should spend and where you should spend it. You’ll need to work with your team to determine the sweet spot.
Sometimes IKEA is the right solution, and you’ll go on a LACK table and faux sheepskin shopping spree to decorate your office Scandivanian-ly and affordably. Other times, you’ll want to support local artists and craftspeople, even commissioning work to make your space just right. For the DIY-inclined, you might be building out your own furniture. If you're big on security and technology, you might opt for a keyless access solution like Kisi.
Depending on your budget, you may need to prioritize over a period of time, starting with necessities and slowly adding the rest.
You’ll also want to understand how long furniture will last you. For example, do you need that chair to last 2 years or 20? If you have in idea of what the future looks like for your company, take that into account with your office design.
Use natural human instincts to your advantage
We’re all naturally wired to respond to certain inputs. As you’re designing a new space, work with the biological and social inclinations of your team, not against the grain. Here’s what I mean:
Lighting is one of the strongest factors in creating an optimal office design. Lighting affects many aspects of work life, from productivity to mental health to workplace safety. Knowing the right kind of lighting to introduce to a space can make all the difference. Natural light is integral to your body’s circadian rhythm, improves your mood, and boosts Vitamin D. Warm light (like lamps) can be more calming and inviting while cooler light can reduce fatigue and encourage collaboration.
Think about amplifying the effects of lighting by using mirrors, curtains, and light/dark walls.
The color of our surroundings can change our moods and prompt different reactions from our bodies. Soft, muted colors have a different effect than hard, energetic ones. Natural colors like green and blue can improve efficiency and focus, while warmer colors can spur innovative thinking and intensity.
Think about the kind of work that will be done in a space. Match that with the right color, and line it up with your company brand.
We’re naturally inclined to connect with nature, and having plants in the office is a surprisingly potent way to improve workspaces. Plants reduce stress, clean the air, and even help to reduce noise levels.
Unfortunately, 1 in 3 people say there are no plants at their workplace. Combat this by making your workspace greener. Not everyone’s a gardener, but there are plenty of low-maintenance office plants that can get you started on the right foot.
Having art in the office has been shown to increase creativity and productivity. Increasingly, companies are appreciating the benefits of displaying art around the workplace. It enhances aesthetics and also serves as a point of pride for those who work around that art.
What kind of artists should you look for? Start by asking your team—here at Bonusly, we use a local female artist, Abby Gregg, for our work, and we’ve grown our collection over the years.
My simplest advice: Find something that’s likable but not generic.
Food and beverage
Today you’d be hard-pressed to find a workspace without coffee or tea. However, there’s a lot more to supplying the right kind of food and beverages to your team, including improved energy, more focus, and fewer sick days. You don’t need to pay for lunch every day, but encouraging hydration and providing healthy office snacks will go far.
People are more productive when they can bring their full selves to the office. That goes for office decoration, clothing, and even desk trinkets. Make it easier to see your coworkers as individuals with their own identity, and build empathy by inviting them to bring their personality to their workspaces. It’ll decrease stress and help them feel more comfortable.
How do we do this at Bonusly? Tiny dinosaurs that hide in cabinets, postcards from travels, and a special duck decoy.
Movement and seating
At this point, you’ve likely already heard about the dangers of sitting at work—to be fair, you’ll need to sit at some point, but designing for movement around the office is key.
Create a conducive workplace that fits your company culture. There’s a time to stay in one place and focus—you might opt for open seating, private offices, or a mix of nooks and crannies—but getting out and walking, running into colleagues around the office, and breathing some fresh air are all necessary for a healthy workspace.
When designing an office, it’s your job to encourage behavior without dictating it. That means creating spaces where people can bump into each other where they might not normally, on the way to the kitchen, meeting rooms, or even the bathroom. For example, you might want to keep water close to people but bathrooms far away.
Another important factor to consider when selecting furniture for your office are materials. Make sure to consider not just the visual impact of the material and how well it will hold up, but also how it feels when you touch it, or even the way that it sounds when you interact with it.
Glass can be a great material if you’re working with a small space. It provides functional space while keeping things visually light. But, it can also feel cold and fragile. If you’re selecting a glass coffee table, try softening it by setting a plant or bowl of fruit on the table. And, be sure to keep coasters on hand to both prevent rings and dampen the sound of placing you coffee mug down.
Metal is a great option for durability and can be handy for spaces you need to keep sterile. It’s a great way to go when you’re trying to keep your space modern, though it can also come across as cool or uninviting.
Wood is a classic choice that adds visual warmth and stability to a space. It can also feel more natural than harder surfaces like steel or glass. While it’s comfortable, wood does absorb moisture (watch out for stains), and it will expand and contract depending on the temperature.
Fabric is another important consideration. Keep in mind that some people have sensitivities to certain upholstery—imagine a suit made of windbreaker material and how awful that would be! And, your vegan coworkers won’t appreciate if all of the conference chairs are leather. Try to choose materials that have a bit of texture to help hide stains, and be sure to offer a variety of upholstery options for seating. At Bonusly HQ, we have everything from plastic to sheepskin to tweed and even velvet!
Use your physical space to show your team how their work affects stakeholders and why their contributions matter. Highlighting impact, or purpose, is important to keep employees engaged. 57% of younger Americans said that they wanted to be part of something that was enjoyable or made a difference in society. And knowing how our work helps others affects productivity and motivation.
Think about how to do this in your own office. It might take the form of thank you notes from customers displayed around your space. It could be reminders of your mission. If you create a product, showcase it for your team to regularly see or post relevant KPIs on an office dashboard.
At Bonusly, we have our own employee recognition display playing on a large monitor in our main entry/communal space.
Designing for productivity and purpose
When designing an office, or any workspace, you’re contributing to a key element of the employee experience. Your work will directly impact the productivity and purpose of your team, in a space they’ll spend much of their waking hours occupying. Good luck, and if you’ve found success in your own office design, we’d love to hear about it! Tag us on social media, and let us know how it’s impacted your company’s productivity and purpose.
Learn more ways to improve your company culture below: