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Coffee-machine meetups and other success-inducing office design tips

June 5, 2019 | by Jo Cipolla

There’s a reason that leading companies prioritize a well-designed workplace.

One of the best parts of an office move is the opportunity it offers to create a better—think: healthier, more productive, more innovative—work environment. “Our clients find that top talent want to work in the types of positive, pleasing work environments where their creativity and thinking can blossom,” says Phil Sofia, VP of Sales at SquareFoot. “And, of course, those clients want to attract and keep those talented employees.”

So, as you contemplate desk layouts, who gets what office and the merits of a foosball table, it’s worth considering the following suggestions, which research indicates contributes to a more successful workplace.

  • Create ways for people to “collide.”

The buildings in Google’s ground-breaking Googleplex, which resemble bent rectangles, were meant to drive colleagues who don’t normally interact with each other into chance encounters. At the global co-working space Second Home, transparent walls are designed to engineer serendipitous connections. For most companies’ purposes, that function is just as well served by cafes, coffee stations and vending machines. The data suggests it’s worth encouraging such meetups: unplanned interactions between knowledge workers improve performance.

  • Establish different types of work spaces.

Studies indicate that employees are more productive in offices that offer a choice of work area. So provide options, from collaborative spaces to quiet concentration zones. Your employees will gravitate towards the environment that makes them feel most productive.

  • Incorporate natural elements.

Forget treadmill desks and nap pods. What employees want, more than anything, is some natural light and good views. So says Jeanne C. Meister, of Future Workplace, in the Harvard Business Review. Research by Mirjam Muench explains why you should want it too: Those who work in artificial light become sleepier earlier in the day. (Maybe that’s because workers with windows report sleeping an average of 46 minutes more each night.) Interestingly, those without a window or view are five times more likely to install plants of their own and three times more likely to hang pictures of nature. That’s a smart bit of self-care, as another study found that nature paintings decreased levels of workplace stress and anger.

  • Turn down the volume.

The rise of open-plan offices has created a noise crisis. Conversations, ringing phones, closing doors—almost three quarters of workers say they experience “many” instances of noise disturbances and distractions, according to Cornell workplace design expert Alan Hedge. Of course, noisy environments only get louder as people raise their voices to be heard. Thus the value of quiet rooms and zones. Soft design elements like carpets and wall decorations absorb sounds, as do plants (another benefit of natural elements).

  • Choose the right furniture.

When it comes to furnishings, two factors significantly impact productivity: comfort and aesthetics. One study found that the most high-performing workplaces strongly emphasized ergonomics and sit-stand workstations. Because proper posture matters, and not everyone’s body is the same, adjustable chairs and desks are critical. Design also has an impact on recruiting talent and keeping employees’ spirits high. Second Home, for example, installed mid-century modern chairs by design icons like Robin Day. Your people are spending one third of their lives in the space you’ve built for them. You owe it to them to make it somewhere that they can feel at home.

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