“We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
The nature of my work has taken me to many different offices, boardrooms and training venues. Many of them are well designed and everything works well, but many of them aren’t.
So, what are some of the thorny issues I’ve observed and experienced as a result of poor design? And what factors should you consider to create your ideal office?
Hot and Cold
In some buildings, where every office has separate air conditioning, regulating the temperature to suit everybody can be tricky. If your colleague’s internal “thermostat” doesn’t work in the same way as yours, what might be warm to you is cold to her. This is also a common problem in training rooms and lecture halls, especially in less sophisticated venues.
When I lecture at university I’m often allocated space in a new glass building with modern lecture halls. The foyer is open all the way up to the top floor, and a huge wooden staircase connects all of the floors. All of the lecture halls lead from corridors that look down onto the foyer area.
Because of the huge open space and hard surfaces, sounds reverberate through the whole building. And the lecture halls aren’t soundproof, which means that any noise in the building influences how well lecturers and students can hear one another. On busy days, the noise factor becomes quite stressful.
I’ve also facilitated at a beautiful venue that’s next to a major airport. It’s convenient for delegates who fly in from different cities, but the conference rooms aren’t soundproof. Every few minutes I have to halt as a plane roars overhead. It’s definitely not ideal.
Struggling with doors and locks is one of my pet hates. I’ve been in countless buildings where doors have no signage: you push instead of pull, or pull instead of push. Sometimes you do both, and still the door won’t open! Eventually you work out that the door slides, and you just hope that no one saw you struggling.
In older buildings, some doors should come with an instruction manual saying something like, “Push the door with your left hand, while turning the knob with your right hand and giving it a robust bump with whichever hip is closest. Then go to room 10 for medical assistance.” Seriously!
I’ve also been to training venues where the doors get stuck, won’t shut unless you lock them, or work with keypads designed for use only by people with very short nails.
I have to add that even though I sometimes struggle with these issues, and others, you can always work around them. It’s often the difficult situations that challenge me to think creatively, and to work out how to make the best of a bad situation.
Your Ideal Office Design
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week, we discussed your ideal office design. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses:
Q1. What do you like most about your current office? Why?
@KobusNeethInst Our office is a creative space where we allow people just to be.
@carriemaslen The best offices provide space to collaborate and space for privacy.
Q2. What do you like the least about your current office? Why?
@NWarind If the job is paying well and I like my work, the office doesn’t really matter for me.
@Midgie_MT I work on my own and there is no social interaction, which is something I do like to have at times.
Q3. How important is your office design to your happiness at work? Why?
@MicheleDD_MT Very. I need a place to cocoon when I am strategizing and designing – a thinking spot. If I don’t have it, I get irritable and I can’t produce my best work.
@LifeSpeak Office design is crucial to employee happiness. We spend so much time at work that it can have long-term effects on our well-being.
Q4. How does office design affect physical health?
@harrisonia Office design must incorporate good ergonomics. Chair versus desk height. Computer screen size, height and distance. Wrist rests.
@SabrinaCadini Office design has a huge impact on your physical health. It can improve your creativity and productivity. For me, facing a window when I sit at my computer is everything!
Q5. What role does color play in your ideal office design?
All of the participants agreed that color is important. It’s an element that office designers should pay close attention to.
@PG_pmp Color plays a major role: it sets the mood, brings vibrancy.
@BrainBlenderTec Color increases comfort and production as well as creativity. It’s about choosing colors that create your best possible atmosphere.
Q6. How can office space design affect productivity?
@JKatzaman Office design can perk you up or beat you down. Any of this will affect your happiness and productivity.
@Yolande_MT Too much noise and distraction would definitely also have a negative impact on my productivity. I prefer working on my own.
Q7. There is a backlash against open-plan designs in some workplaces. Why might this be, and what could be the solution?
Some people love an open-plan design, while others prefer working alone. However, there’s more to consider than just personal preferences.
@sittingpretty61 Confidentliality could be a factor, as well as the idea of forced focus, to stress discipline and the work and motivation ethic.
@harrisonia An open-plan design might save on some resources but I’d rather have my employees in a space where I know they’re comfortable and productive.
Q8. How could you improve the non-desk areas within the office or building: meeting areas, kitchens, restrooms, entry lobbies, corridors, elevators, and so on?
@MicheleDD_MT Incorporate a living wall into work spaces. Incorporate windows, skylights and light tubes to bring in natural light.
@hopegovind No separate area for executive eating – so all, irrespective of grade, can eat together. Less electrical light and more natural light. Maximum space for employees.
Q9. Office furniture and decor are influenced by fashion, just like home furnishings. What old or new approaches do you like or dislike, and why?
@sittingpretty61 I like a traditional office space, but with the focus on comfort and people’s needs for communication, casualness, and ease of being in intimate conversations. But there’s nothing worse than when I can’t get out of a chair or sofa. Embarrassing!
@Yolande_MT I dislike stark, clinical designs and spaces. It makes me feel unwelcome. I like warm, elegant designs incorporating natural materials such as stone and wood. It has to look and feel welcoming.
Q10. What are the three immediate changes that you will make (or ask to be made) to your office design?
It seems that some people work in strange conditions!
@hopegovind Remove the CCTV from the inside office area, remove the cubicle kind of structure, and keep it open. No biometrics in the office.
@JKatzaman I generally go with the office design flow, knowing nothing is set in stone or lasts long. In an Air Force cubicle office, we moved three times in four years. When I left, my desk was arm’s length from when I arrived. It’s not worth fretting over.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.
We might think that ideal working conditions produce high performers – but do they? In out next Twitter chat, we’ll be discussing the question “What Do Top Performers Do Differently?” Are their actions more intentional, or are they simply more disciplined? Click here to see all of the options and to cast your vote.
Meanwhile, here are some resources that can help you to learn more about desgining your ideal office:
How to Focus in an Open-Plan Office
Minimizing Workspace Stress
Creating a Healthy Workplace
Improving Physical Health and Well-Being at Work
How to Manage Hot Desking
How to Thrive in a Multi-Generational Workplace
Working From Home
How to Collaborate Successfully
Management by Wandering Around
How to Stay “in the Loop”
Members of the Mind Tools Club can also access the full versions of the following articles: