We’re in the midst of a trendy office design renaissance. Swings, picnic tables, moss-covered walls, and carpet-covered bunk-bed nooks are replacing the stale cubicles, sterile walls, and uncomfortable, rolling chairs.
Employers are finally starting to recognize that physical space matters not only to the quality of our work, but also our engagement. And this makes a lot of sense—we’ve always sensed that our physical location impacts our energy, mood, and spirit; why wouldn’t your workspace impact your productivity, quality of work, ability to collaborate, and, for some industries, the ability to attract and retain key talent?
But are those spaces and those design choices sparking real productivity?
If you look past the novelty in office design trends, there are four office design tenets that guide the most innovative and productive workspaces.
Americans work among the longest hours of any industrialized country in the world. According to Gallup, 21% of Americans work 50-59 hours per week. Many of us spend more hours at work than we do at home. So, why not design an office environment that blurs the line between office and home?
To do this Noa Santos, co-founder of Homepolish, a New York City-based interior design firm considers the activities that a person would do in the home, like entertaining, and incorporates them into the office spaces he and his team design. The result, bars in offices, large plush sofas and chairs for conversation and collaboration, and tables you might find in your breakfast room in the center of a conference room. Gone are the sterile, white walls and harsh overhead lighting.
In many cities, office space is expensive. Maximizing space is essential. For example, in New York City, horizontal space is a premium, so if you can go vertically, you can literally double your square footage. In this environment carpet-covered bunk beds built on the walls go from a cool novelty to a functional design element that makes sense.
They not only efficiently utilize vertical space, but they also provide places where people can work independently without the distractions often found in large, open collaborative spaces. If you need privacy for a team meeting, "build conference rooms on demand by using pre-fab greenhouses which can quickly be disassembled and stored," says Santos. The goal is to create enough variety in your space so that it supports multiple types of work and collaboration.
For startups, the number one concern regarding their space is how their space will support their future growth. This concern is often echoed by larger, more established firms where the costs of relocating employees and office space is very expensive. As you consider your space, ask yourself what is the current and future make-up of employees? Will you double your tech team in six months or will you completely outsource your inside sales team?
For Santos, this means that he and his team always suggest bars because people can stand (it is the height of a standing desk), can sit or it can be cleared for a large project meeting or a party. The goal is to create a feeling and sense of permanence but provide a working environment that is as impermanent and flexible as possible.
The U.S. unemployment rate is currently at 5.4%. The labor market is tight and the attraction and retention of key talent is highly competitive. In the tech market where the unemployment rate is currently 2.3%, competition is fierce. As a result, a startup competing for talent will use their offices as a recruiting tool. The goal is to make the office space the coolest space in this person’s life so he or she will want to spend time at work.
Don’t assume that only startups are thinking about space this way. One of my company’s Fortune 100 clients, who leads part of their e-commerce strategy, called to talk about their work space and how it was impacting their ability to recruit talent. This company is not located in a major urban area, so it does not have the allure of Los Angeles or New York and his team works in a large cubicle village. Needless to say, I was initially surprised by his call until I started doing a little research on the impact of space on recruiting. Space matters. Don’t overlook it as you seek to attract and retain superior talent.
Bold workspaces are designed with a keen understanding of both the people that occupy the space and the work that is performed in the space. It is this astute insight that makes bold workspaces highly productive.