We’ve examined the evolution of the office space – from cramming as many desks possible into a cramped space to classroom-like arrangements and open floor plans to cubicle farms. Modern offices take an entirely different approach to design, often crafting plans based on available space and type of business.

Young, progressive companies like to keep things fresh with “fun offices,” though some of the fun additions – recreational equipment, sensory features, office toys and chill-out areas – were found to annoy 25% of workers. Even still, some businesses are strong proponents of their unusual offices, claiming that hay bales and yoga studios in the workplace serve to increase happiness. Suffice it to say that the jury is still out on fun offices.

Changing the layout of an office can be enough to really get the ball rolling in terms of efficiency. Though modern offices almost universally use open floor plans, these types of layouts have been shown to negatively impact work flow. Developing a design that incorporates personal space and a level of control can have a tremendous impact.

Minimise Noise
New faces in the workforce (i.e. millennials) are able to multitask very well. Their innate abilities are thanks to exposure to high-stimuli environments from an early age. Multitasking comes naturally when you must keep up with technological and social demands. However sufficient one is with multitasking, the ability depends entirely on careful balance and mental focus. A study called “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers” showed that the more tasks a person takes on, the easier it is to throw them off-kilter. Distraction is detrimental to multitaskers and offices are full of distractions. Noise is one of the major offenders, a constant distraction in an open office. A chatty coworker can be the death of multitasking.

For this reason, it’s imperative to maximise the abilities of your workforce by making quiet spaces available. A smaller office separated from the main one can offer stressed out employees a place to center their thoughts or escape from people infected with the Friday feeling.


Introduce Privacy
Those in positions of power may scoff at the notion of giving employees privacy, but allowing employees a little breathing room really does make a difference. Constant surveillance from higher ups can make someone feel anxious and a lack of division between coworkers can lead to feelings of scrutiny. Really, open floor plans are not ideal. It’s hard to concentrate on work with the eyes of your manager drilling into the back of your head or peering at your screen. Imagine, having them within earshot at all times. Talk about the death of open dialogue.

Instating a measure of privacy in the office with dividers and separate spaces can make employees feel valued. Their comfort is more important than following the mould and adhering to societal norms. A sense of privacy engenders trust, ultimately facilitating authentic conversation between coworkers and with management.

Personalisation Station
Everyone is totally unique. Some may drool over a supportive ergonomic chair while others scoff at it’s inability to engage the core, preferring  a desk chair that incorporates an exercise ball. Allowing staff to have a say in the office furniture, within reason, can influence the perception of the work environment and work outcomes. Those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies will cringe at the thought of mismatched furniture, but giving staff a bit of control doesn’t have to mean suffering an ergonomic chair and leather wingback in the same room. Adjustable desks (adjustable sit-stand desks are ideal) can allow employees to exercise control over their environment, as can lighting control and access to multiple rooms, like a quiet room or breakdown room.

Employees spend nearly half of their lives dedicating time, effort and brainpower to their company. It’s time these people get as good as they give. Some businesses will find themselves restricted monetarily and/or spatially, but the important take away here is to provide employees with some level of control over their environment.

Trust the Home Bodies
There is a stigma about working from home. It requires the person in charge to trust in their employee (an impossibility in ill-run workplaces), and let loose all facets of control. Perhaps it is not the lack of control that is a problem, but the fear that employees will slack off when left to their own whims. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that employees allowed to telecommute or work from home were actually happier with their jobs. Their productivity was increased when allowed to work in comfort from home.

Take note employers, it’s time to take off the bridle and allow your staff to govern themselves. People are capable of keeping on-task without constant surveillance. Consistently working from home might not be possible for all businesses, but employers shouldn’t write working from home off on the basis of productivity; that straw man won’t hold up against Harvard.

In theory, designing an office perfectly suited for your workplace culture, location and mindset could work wonders for increasing productivity and happiness. Success comes from within, but having a place that embodies your company and respects its employees can budge things along.

Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).
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