New technologies are driving a major rethink of office space design
Exciting workplace ideas dominated Clerkenwell Design Week, Workplace Week and London Design Festival this year, which got us thinking about office interiors.
Take a look at plans for the highly anticipated White Collar Factory at Old Street and Google’s state-of-the-art offices at Pancras Square and you’ll get an instant insight into the way office design is heading.
Employers are increasingly waking up to the fact that inspiring surroundings can have a direct effect on their employees’ creativity – and offices, big or small, can implement simple design changes to get those creative juices flowing.
Great design means happy employees
According to studies done on workplace productivity, the most significant factor in determining an employee’s ability to focus is their physical environment. A well-designed environment can have an impact on employee health, happiness and can increase productivity by 12 percent.
Flexible spaces for individual needs
With technology evolving so rapidly, it’s no wonder that today’s design emphasis is on flexibility. Simon Allford, one of the architects that worked on Google’s latest headquarters at Pancras Square explains:
“We’ve talked with Google about theatre, stage set and props. The building is the theatre. It lasts 100 years. The stage set is the auditorium. It lasts 20 years and is a building within the building. The props are things like the little meeting rooms, the furniture, all this, which ideally you could reconfigure overnight.”
Office space design needs to be as dynamic as today’s companies. It means a changing landscape of think-pods, portable meeting rooms, beanbags, room dividers, laptop stations and floor-to-ceiling curtains. This kind of temporal design allows businesses to adapt their space to new challenges as they grow. The great news for start-ups is this type of set-up can be low cost, with multi-use furniture and room dividers making it cheaper to play with space without having to take down walls or remove built-in furnishings.
Slides, bowling alleys, arcade games – while it’s important to give employees somewhere to kick back and unwind, it pays to remember that you’re also trying to create a space in which they can work effectively.
Dan Germain is Head of Creative at Innocent, which frequently pops up in ‘coolest offices in the world lists’, and he knows exactly what we’re talking about.
“We want [our office] to be as relaxed and informal as possible, but you have to have a balance – you can’t just have rooms full of bean bags and free sweets – there is a transaction occurring, people are being paid to come here, not lounge around and ‘be cool’.”
Today, environments are being designed for activity-based working, where people have a range of spaces in which they can work such as dedicated ‘quiet zones’ including formal and informal meeting rooms, rather than just one desk space in an open-plan office.
A simple way to improve office design for your employees is to break your space up into areas that are designated more informal and areas that are better equipped for quiet, focused work.
Focus in a pod
A July 2016 survey for the British Council for Offices found that almost half of workers in open-plan offices were dissatisfied with noise levels. As a result, there’s an increasing move towards office space design that tries to strike a happy balance between open-plan and the privacy and quiet of cubicle offices.
Don’t worry. Cubicles won’t be making a return anytime soon, but portable pop-up pods are becoming increasingly popular. Google, Capital One Labs and PwC even installed ‘nap’ pods in their offices recently. The benefits of getting enough shut-eye are well known and an afternoon nap can have some measurably positive effects for employees, helping them regain concentration, boost productivity and reduce anxiety by minimising levels of cortisol.
And pods aren’t just for napping. Pop-up meeting room pods were unveiled at Clerkenwell Design Week, and they feature prominently in the ‘Inspirational Fit-Outs’ for the highly anticipated White Collar Factory. Taking inspiration from the pods created by design guru Jean Prouvé for his Sahara House in 1958, White Collar Factory is kitted out to accommodate independent box structures and pods for use as personal offices, meeting rooms or creative spaces. They can be permanent, flexible, open sided, glass, timber – you name it. It’s an easy way to create portable, private and secluded spaces for focused work.
Art and design to increase health & happiness
Karmarama has one of the most stylish office spaces in London, and its founder, Dave Buonaguidi, highlights a change that’s really driving office space design right now:
“Often, agencies will have a swish reception with the workers crammed battery chicken-style into grey offices behind or above. We wanted to be different.”
Designers are ever more focused on the health and happiness of employees as it’s increasingly recognised that happier workers are more productive workers. This means careful consideration of the impact of things like artwork, furniture and technology as well the more traditional office elements of lighting and layout. Research carried out by the Identity Realisation group (IDR) at the University of Exeter has found that supposed ‘distractions’ such as artwork can actually increase the productivity of workers. Dr Craig Knight, who has studied the psychology of working environments for 12 years, says:
“There is a real tendency to opt for sanitised, lean workspaces, designed to encourage staff to just get on with their work and avoid distraction. If you enrich a space people feel much happier and work better; a very good way of doing this is by using art.”
You might not have the budget for an Anish Kapoor or a Damien Hirst, but there are plenty of ways you can help employees’ health with some clever office space interior design tricks that won’t cost a fortune.
- Plants – plants don’t just look beautiful and help you add colour to the office, they help improve air quality, reduce stress levels and increase happiness and productivity too.
- Adjustable height desks – every single desk at Google’s new Pancras Square office is height adjustable. Sitting in an uncomfortable position for prolonged periods can be bad for your health and spending time in the day standing while you work can have a range of health benefits including reducing risk of weight gain, back pain and heart disease.
- Integration of technology – be careful to strike the right balance between being tech-savvy and tech-overload. Computer workstations, TV screens and games consoles have vital roles to play in the modern office environment whether it’s for work or after hours entertainment, but consider providing tech-free areas too.
- Lighting – science has proven that we thrive on natural light. Studies have found that natural light significantly increases our energy and creativity, so try to maximise it where you can. If natural light is lacking, invest in daylight lamps and soft light bulbs around the office to brighten things up.
One major office furniture trend shone through at Clerkenwell Design Week this year. Modular furniture, which lends itself perfectly to the new flexible office design landscape. From flexible mix-and-match seating to stand-up meeting desks and compact, flexible workstations, clever furniture design makes it easier to pull up a chair, put down your laptop and collaborate anywhere in the office.
Choose your colour wisely
Colour really can affect mood and different palettes have measurable influence over our thoughts and emotions. Studies have shown that certain hues can have an impact on productivity as well as mood. Humans have ingrained reactions to different colours due to our relationship with nature – it’s the reason why marketers use certain colours to sell certain products.
The University of Texas recently discovered that grey, beige and white offices induced feelings of sadness and depression, especially in women. Meanwhile, men were more glum in purple and orange workplaces.
A lick of paint is a quick way to change your office environment for the better. So which colours should you go for?
- White – according to studies this is the worst colour to paint an office, hindering productivity and giving off a cold and isolated feeling. It’s best to use white for accents only.
- Yellow – this is linked to positive emotions, happiness, optimism and excitement. It looks great as a splash of colour in creative areas.
- Red/orange – splashes of reds and oranges around the office, such as a painting or accent wall, can create an energetic environment. Red is known to increase heart rate, which can boost the body’s ability to complete physical tasks, but avoid using it in areas where employees will spend extended periods. It’s also a really effective ‘call to action’ colour to get people’s attention.
- Blue/green – the most common shades found in nature have a calming effect on us and can help to ease anxiety. They have a lower wavelength so don’t cause eye fatigue and are perfect for areas where people need to focus for long periods.