5 Ways To Make An Office A Nice Place To Work, Not A Soul-Sucking Pit Of Despair

You probably don’t go to work every day in a place that improves your well-being–but you could.


While there are numerous opinions on how office environments should be designed and organized, there’s no denying workplace well-being should be a priority for every organization. New ideas and creative design approaches continue to emerge that empower companies of all scale and business focus to take steps that will enrich the lives of their employees.


At its core, this growing focus on workplace well-being harkens back to some of the core principles for human health we’ve always understood: the importance of exercise and movement, access to daylight, clean air, and healthy food. Being able to integrate these elements thoughtfully into our daily work environments will enrich our full lives, beyond what we do outside of work.

Organizations that embrace workplace well-being will benefit from healthier and happier employees capable of increased productivity and innovation. Here are five ideas every organization should consider to strengthen its approach:

1: Promote Purposeful Movement

While we know sitting all day isn’t good for us, the vast majority of tasks and interactions in the workplace involve being in a passive, seated posture. Comparatively, standing alone all day is not ideal either. The real answer lies in providing posture change and movement between settings to offset being staid in one position for more than approximately 20 minutes. Offering various setting to support workers with different postures, such as stand up meeting space, places to perch/lean while participating in group dialogues, flexible modular elements that team members can arrange and work settings that foster movement and balance all better support a more active work environment.

Matching purposeful interactions with the settings–like brief team meetings with stand-up settings, flexible modular elements for interactive workshops, sit/stand workstations for individual work–affords opportunities for meaningful movement imbedded within the daily workflow. Beyond the settings themselves, strategically distributing functions and technology encourage movement and mobility throughout the space, lending toward a more energized and vibrant environment. Certainly, the incorporation of open, inviting stairs and atria that support informal social interactions also facilitate a meaningful way of supporting movement throughout and help create a dynamic environment.

2: Learn from Higher Education: Destination Planning

The corporate world can learn a great deal about encouraging movement from higher education. Academic campuses across the country rely on destination planning where different key spaces–classrooms, labs, the library, the student union–are located in separate areas. This strategic planning requires students, faculty and staff to get up and move to complete activities essential to their jobs and lives.


If we look at this on a macro level for a corporate campus, this is directly aligned with creating a conference center, resource/innovation spaces, fitness center or a dining area (of course, highlighting healthy food offerings) distributed throughout to foster dynamic circulation. Similarly, either between floors or even within a single floor, companies can follow suit by organizing essential work functions, amenities, meeting areas or quiet spaces in separate areas across the workspace facilitating movement between the various destinations. If key technology, team spaces, and resources are strategically and intuitively spread across the work environment via destination planning, this can naturally introduce more movement into employees’ daily routine while strengthening employee engagement. Finally, nearby outdoor spaces are often untapped and can serve as additional opportunities for meaningful gatherings as well as quiet destinations.

3: Understand the WELL Building Standards

Over the past few decades, the design and construction community has focused heavily on making our workspaces highly sustainable, which ultimately impacts human health and wellness. Recently and more directly, the International WELL Building Institute is proactively elevating human health and comfort to the forefront of new building practices that will reinvent physical environments to be not only better for the planet–but specifically also for people.

Companies can put themselves at the leading edge of this movement by familiarizing themselves with the WELL Building Institute’s recent standard, which identifies 102 performance metrics, design strategies, and procedures that can be implemented. These strategies are broken down into focuses on air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Organizations that can address a high-level of these indicators can even achieve WELL Building certification.

4: Integrate Healthy Materials

The materials we select for our physical environments absolutely impact our health. It is important leadership doesn’t overlook material selection when planning renovation or new office spaces. The Health Product Declaration Collaborative can help leaders as they improve the building industry’s performance through transparency, openness, and innovation in the product supply chain. Organizations that understand the materials that make up our products can make informed material decisions that support employee health.

5: Think Holistically: Consider Mental Health

Organizations can’t limit their approach to workplace well-being by focusing only on physical health–they must also address mental and emotional health. One of the key design solutions for strengthening mental health in the workplace is providing universal access to natural light. According to research from Northwestern University in 2014, office workers with more light exposure at the office had longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity and better quality of life compared to office workers with limited light exposure. These results not only enrich lives, but also help create well-rested, healthy and focused employees.


Organizations can also address mental health by integrating spaces that drive employee engagement and create stronger support networks within work cultures. Social spaces like cafés, informal break areas, and game rooms where employees can unwind and relax benefit employees and also drive increased interdisciplinary collaboration. Equally important, and often overlooked, is the need to respect the need for quiet spaces. Creating settings where individuals can minimize distractions, focus on tasks, or de-stress can be essential for best leveraging optimum productivity and effectiveness.

Ultimately, healthier employees lead to healthier organizations and with emerging ideas, professional organizations and design solutions focused on workplace well-being, all companies need to make it a priority. Through incremental steps and bold new ideas, organizations can differentiate themselves to current and new employees by helping them enjoy healthier lives.

About the author

Mark Hirons, Principal/Design Director for CannonDesign’s Corporate Interiors Practice, is an internationally recognized interior architect/designers for corporate environments focused on helping businesses design solutions that turn challenges into opportunities for success.