Business Advice Centre

Saturday 23 August 2014

Innovative office design can boost your bottom line

Business Brain

Denise O'Connor

Published 20/03/2014 | 02:30

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Asking your employees what they would like to see in a working environment is not something you should be scared of.

I was once the architect for the design of a new HQ for a UK-based holiday company. The company was housed in a large barn in the countryside that it had tried to adapt to suit its needs, but the rapid growth of the firm meant it had outgrown its home.

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As part of the design process, we developed a questionnaire and surveyed the company's employees. One of the questions we asked was what one thing would make the biggest difference to their working life. The answer was quite surprising. It was not a pay rise, but "a really comfortable chair". This was in 1998.

Today, asking employees what they want in order to achieve the best from them is something that the new companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple have embraced to great effect. For SMEs, without the grand budgets of these tech titans, asking your employees what they would like to see in a working environment is not something you should be scared of. In fact, the benefits of an improved workplace design and environment can provide you with a return on your design investment in the form of increased productivity, improved morale and better communication between staff and management.

Research has shown that happy and relaxed workers tend to be more creative, focused and generally more productive at work. If your employees like where they work, they will be more likely to work overtime when needed without complaining, whereas if they feel stressed and anxious they will be counting the minutes until they can leave. Design is not about imposing a style or aesthetic but working with the client and their employees to draw out what makes them feel comfortable and then building a scheme around that to create the perfect working environment for their needs. This will only happen if the design takes into account the specific requirements of that user.

Today, companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple utilise employee feedback to inform the design of their offices. Google carries out extensive research about how its employees want to work and what they would like their environment to be. The findings of this research form the basis for the company's workplace designs. A standout finding from Google surveys was that staff wanted their workplace to feel like home. By simply asking its employees what kind of environment they want to work in, Google has successfully created a workplace that is not only extremely productive, but a pleasure to work in.

As a business that is at the forefront of innovation and creation, it's no wonder it is pushing boundaries. But it's not just the tech giants that are leading the way in office design. We've worked on recent office refurbishment projects where, even with a relatively low budget, an environment can be created that promotes better communication, higher morale and better productivity.

If we look at the more conventional- style office of cubicles, it is probably the most demoralising kind of office environment you could imagine. Nobody likes oppressive, grey cubicle walls. People are more inspired and creative in a space that is itself inspiring and creative. And inspired, creative employees are productive employees.

Natural lighting also plays a large part in personal satisfaction, which fuels work performance. Those working in dark spaces or under artificial lighting are more likely to develop a negative attitude towards work. Creating a lively, innovative environment will not only increase employee satisfaction but will also help with recruiting, as people consider well-designed offices as an attractive aspect of the job.

Building a company and a brand is about so much more than sales – it's about creating the right environment to attract and retain the right employees. "When employees feel that the company takes their interests to heart, then the employees will take company interests to heart," said Noelle Nelson, a clinical psychologist and author of the book 'Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy'.

As our environment has a direct impact– not only on our wellbeing, but also on our ultimate happiness – by making sure the design of the working environment is suited to the needs of your employees, you are ensuring your workers will be happy.

And that can only be good for productivity and, ultimately, your bottom line.

  • Denise O'Connor is an architect, and managing director of Optimise Design. She is also a writer and TV presenter.

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