In a typical year (of which 2020 was definitely not!), the average person spends around 1,800 hours at work. Spending that much time anywhere means it needs to be conducive to happiness, productivity and enjoyment. When it’s associated with work, it becomes even more critical.
Despite this, many of those responsible for configuring the office layout ignores the growing bed of research around office layout psychology and instead continue to create functional spaces that lack creativity and innovation and then wonder why their people aren’t inspired.
Yes, an office needs to have somewhere to do the actual work, somewhere to make a brew and easy to access bathroom facilities to name a few, but that doesn’t mean that those planning how an office should look need to follow a certain kind of blueprint. Making the most of a good layout is no longer a nice to have; it’s a necessity. To allow people to be at their best, they must feel happy, safe and comfortable. They expect their employer to show they care about welfare and wellbeing as well as their productivity.
Office Layout Psychology
Office layout, and the psychology that sits behind it, is also intrinsically linked to culture. There are three main schools of thought here: a culture is either hierarchical (companies whose main objective is to generate an efficient, consistent and predictable output), a clan (operating according to a set of shared values and act based on a sense of “we-ness”), or adhocratic (founded in innovation and a belief that pioneering initiatives will lead to success). Each type of culture strives to promote a different kind of employee output and therefore requires a distinctive office design. Even in the most functional of working spaces, such as a contact centre, for example, there’s still room for creativity.
Whether the office space is spread over an entire building or contained within a single room, the layout needs to maximise the space available. There are several key zones that will be needed and it’s important to get the balance right between promoting collaboration and offering a degree of privacy.
Other aspects of office design – such as desk configuration, the amount of natural light, ambient noise levels – all feed into the employee experience and can influence productivity and engagement. Building this thinking, there is a whole school of science behind the most effective type of fixtures and fittings to promote the desired ways of working. As an example, there are recommendations around the best kind of lighting to promote brain creativity covering everything from the wattage to glare. Not only do employees in an office environment expect a more bespoke approach to lighting based on the office size, available natural light and type of work delivered within the space, but they also expect it to be environmentally friendly and adjustable based on need.
Colour in Office Design
It’s widely accepted that colour is a major psychological factor in office productivity. Different colours encourage different moods: shades of blue can be calming, yellows stimulate, reds can motivate, and greens can soothe. The culture of an organisation and the pace at which delivery is expected can be a big influencer of the colour palette that should be selected.
Furniture is an often over-looked area, with functional styles more often than not chosen over more fluid and stylistic pieces. Many studies have shown that curves are preferred over straight lines, which is rooted in the brain’s reaction to sharp lines versus soft, calming curves, yet office furniture and the meeting rooms it sits within is often the former. This can create a sense of alertness for danger that can be distracting when trying to promote creativity and security.
Conversely, social space is an extension of this, particularly in those organisations whose culture promote adhocracy and this is where comfort is recognised as the driving factor. A new propensity towards having games rooms, table tennis or tv-style rooms is designed to encourage employees to socialise together, improving employee relations. It also allows your employees to build some exercise into their day, which helps to improve productivity. These spaces are often designed to be comfy which is often at odds with much of the surrounding corporate space.
There are unquestionably certain design aspects that will provoke a particular psychological response. Understanding what this is rooted in and how it will impact organisational culture and productivity is critical to ensure that the right investment is made to ensure the commercial benefit into the future.
With the average person spending a third of their life at work, it’s no wonder that 80% of workers believe colour affects their mood. Employees are becoming more aware of how their workplace environment impacts on their well-being.