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The Future of Work

6 Ways Your Office Design Is Bumming Everyone Out

If you're making people sit in poorly lit, scrunched-together spaces with no potential for chance encounters, it's time to rearrange.

[Photo: Flickr user Tom]

Today, the average worker is working in a space with 1960s design and thinking, says Rex Miller, coauthor of the book Change Your Space, Change Your Culture, because most organizations can’t connect the dots between office design and innovation. In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of the workforce is disengaged and a lot of it has to do with the shrinking office space we are working in.

Companies with a highly engaged workforce understand that the office space that you work in reflects the values of the company and helps shape company culture, which in turn is the catalyst for engagement, collaboration, and innovation.

Below are a few clues that the design of your office space may be leading everyone to feel disengaged.

Stagnant Light Color Temperatures

"We believe that a space is a working organism and it has to respond to the change in the day, the change in the environment," says Stanley Felderman, who runs design studio Felderman Keatinge & Associates with his wife, Nancy Keatinge. In short, as the day changes, so should the color temperature of our lighting.

In the morning, office lighting should be cooler, or retain a more bluish tint, and as the day progresses, lighting should gradually change to a warmer, or more yellowish tint.

According to Stanley, it’s basically in our DNA that we just work better this way. "Cooler light reflects the natural daylight, but when we go home, we like our homes to be warm," he says. "We tend to want to be in a place longer when it’s a warmer [light color] temperature."

Walls Block Out Natural Light

According to Felderman and Keatinge, drywall needs to come down for lighting benefits to have even distribution. With glass walls, everyone is able to benefit from the changing light colors.

"It becomes very unproductive and disengaging when there are high panels on the work stations and they don’t have access to [the changing] light," says Keatinge. "We find that this makes a huge difference in how people interact and engage with one another."

"The idea of separation and isolation no longer work in a space, even if the nature of your work is independent," says Felderman.

Fixed Tables In Brainstorming Areas

In areas allotted for brainstorming and collaborative purposes, give people options to change their environment.

What no longer works? "The old, grand conference tables in the center of the room that can’t be busted up, can’t be rolled away or folded up or nested," says Mark Konchar, chief of enterprise development at infrastructure group Balfour Beatty and coauthor of Change Your Space, Change Your Culture. "The room has to be adaptable. The group can start with 10 or 15 people and an hour later, they want to break into two smaller groups. It just makes is easier for teams to be productive."

These areas need to be adaptable throughout the day because the work that people are doing changes every hour of the day, he says.

Desks In Between Other Desks

What’s the worst seat on an airplane? The middle one, says Konchar, so keep that in mind the next time you’re thinking about office layout. Don’t make employees feel like they’re sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, crushed between other people.

Obviously, it’s almost impossible to never place someone’s desk in between other desks due to square footage constraints, but employers can help create a sense of space by providing bumpers and objects that allow people to break up their spaces.

Spending The Most Money On Public Spaces

A lot of companies put money in the front, public spaces, either the conference rooms or meeting rooms, but want to save money in the back of their office. Felderman and Keatinge have advice for these companies: Don’t do this or you’ll mess with company culture.

"We really feel that you have to share wealth, that you have to look at this as a community of equals," says Felderman. "Different functions, yes, but all is part of a chain link, and if you break part of that link, it doesn’t work anymore."

Separating Departments

We know stairs are important because they create chance encounters, but there’s another reason why open, interconnected stairs will become more common: closing the separation between departments.

According to Miller, it’s a bad idea for departments to feel secluded from one another. They can be separated on different stories or levels, but open stairs make the floors feel more connected with the rest of the office. This only ups the chances of serendipitous interactions—and collaboration—with people in different departments.