Space design has been consuming me for more than six years since I had the idea to create coworking spaces in Austin, Texas.
Before designing and operating out of these spaces, I managed my business remotely by jockeying for cord position at Starbucks, speaking in hushed tones, and looking over my shoulder.
While I never thought I would be designing space and advising others on it, I needed a professional, welcoming space for working, so that’s exactly where I have found myself.
Here are seven things I’ve learned about making workspaces more productive and inspiring along the way:
With our laptops, tablets, and phones we now carry our work (and our entertainment) with us wherever we go. With all those devices, there are already more than enough distractions to potentially lower our productivity or stifle our creativity. The workplace shouldn’t be one of them.
I like to keep things simple. I give people a view of the outside and clean walls.
I love art and visit museums whenever I travel, but a workspace isn’t a museum. Too much artwork is distracting. If it’s curated, it can work. Oh, and don’t ever do those inspirational quotes–they are so 1991.
I do have one exception to my artwork rule: I put it in meeting rooms, because you might be bored in there. Just saying.
Do you want music? White noise? Pink noise? (Yes, there are different colors of noise.) What level of noise works for your company culture or for the people using your office?
At my coworking space, the extroverts prefer music and the introverts prefer white noise. If you’ve got a bunch of engineers wearing headphones you don’t need to do anything. But if you’ve got a mix of people then you need to figure out what works best for your space to minimize distraction and boost productivity. When I built out my coworking space, I designed different ceiling heights to give me flexibility in setting different noise levels.
I also bought a bunch of Moshi Moshi handsets. They are fun, a great conversation point, and most importantly really help tone down how loud people talk on their phones. Often people don’t realize just how loud they’re being. If they plug in a handset suddenly they’re using their inside voices.
Lounge furniture is great, but not necessarily for long hours of work. Provide tables and power around you in a more relaxed setting so that you can be productive if you choose to not have a traditional work surface like a desk. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the chairs. They are so important to your health. Make sure you give people the option to sit or to stand. Again, it’s a health thing–and standing to work is becoming increasingly popular. Give people options.
Although they are increasingly popular, I don’t have any treadmill desks in my space because so far I’ve found them incredibly expensive, noisy, and quick to break.
Nothing beats natural light, but you don’t always have the luxury of having it in abundance. So, don’t skimp on lighting and provide additional sources of lighting besides just typical fluorescents. Lamps can be fun and functional in an office space. They’re easy to move around and experiment with. Look at residential designs for more variety.
Some lights can be programmed in a variety of ways. How about having the lights change color if the team meets their sales target?
Also, keep the wall color low so the walls are light and bright but also grounded. Don’t splash bright color everywhere. Remember what we said about distracting artwork?
I love to let the outdoors be the art. This is why I have a courtyard at my coworking space. If you can’t provide a view to green space, create one with a living wall or skylights. And remember, staring off into the distance is good for our eyes.
Move the lights, move the plants. I have lots of things like etch-a-sketches and silly putty around. They’re the kind of tactile things that people can be working on with their hands when they need a break. Old-fashioned puzzles are another way to get your brain thinking in a different direction and to take a break from your screen.
In my coworking space we even have a cape hanging up in a retro phone booth. (We put it in there in case you need to change into Superman. Or Superwoman.)
If you don’t have a throw-it-out-every-Friday policy for your refrigerator, you are doing something wrong. I tell people I don’t care what it is or what it is in, it is going in the trash. It’s about keeping people healthy. What’s a bunch of sick people going to do to your productivity? It might sound like a no-brainer, but you also need to have a cleaning crew come in every weekend.
To avoid any hint of stale, brain-clogging air we run air purifiers in both of our spaces.
—Liz Elam runs both Link Coworking and Link Too, is the former president and founder of coworking network group The League of Extraordinary Coworking Spaces, founder of national coworking association Coshare and producer of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference.