Many employers seem to think to create a designed working environment it is sufficient to fit the office with a number of designer chairs. But they have not understood the power of design. Kinnarps' trend report describes how a well thought-out working environment has an impact on being happy at work, creativity, productivity and health.
Functionality was all the rage when the office environments of the past were planned. Design and aesthetics have traditionally been seen rather as a silk tie, an excessive trimming acquired if there is surplus money to spend. But research now shows that we are influenced by the design of the workplace to a much greater extent than what we previously thought. There is even a strong correlation between the increase in the number of sick days and the lack of consideration given to office design.
Research from Ohio State University and the National Institute of Mental Health in the US showed that people become more stressed if the working environment has not been designed in a good way.
The study compared refurbished buildings with a more thought out design to buildings that were poorly designed. Those working in the older environments with less design were far more stressed, even when they weren't at work. The stress levels were so high that they increased the risk of heart disease.
"The word 'design' refers to a wide ranging concept – it is about finding a solution to a problem rather than just deciding what colour to paint the walls of the reception. It's about a holistic approach to the workplace," says Louise Klarsten, CEO for the trend and colour agency Colourhouse.
It is especially important from a health perspective since illness associated with mental health is now one of the most common reasons why people take sick leave.
Perhaps it is in the transition from the industrial age to a thought economy we have been unable to prevent the workplace accidents of our day. The protective glasses and work gloves of today are possibly even harder to define and contain softer values which are just as important. Well-designed offices can simply keep employees healthy.
Appealing working environments also have other positive effects.
• Staff who like their workplace are also often more satisfied with the actual work they carry out.
• Of those looking for work, almost half said that how the office was designed would affect whether or not they took the job.
• Workplace design also has an impact on our ability to think creatively and critically.
"Natural light, noise levels, temperature and air quality. These things have an enormous effect on how productive we feel and how engaged we are when we are in the office," says Tim Oldman, CEO for Leesman Index which analyses workplaces.
A further workplace design aspect is how the environment can work as an extension of a company's brand.
"Future offices and furniture will become more and more important in the setting up of a certain culture," says Derek Barker, CEO for the design and architectural office Haskoll.
Tim Oldman thinks along the same lines:
"We need to get employees to feel proud of their workplace. It can help if we ask ourselves: Is this a place that I would proudly show my family? Is this a place where I would like to bring my clients? Pride is important for companies as a whole. It gives you loyal employees, who strive hard to represent the company's brand better."
The key to success is to lift one's perspective, away from individual interior and design components, to see the overall picture. What are the company's culture, aims and direction? How does workplace design reinforce the company's internal and external identity? How do staff move around at work?
"Designing the actual products and interior is alone not sufficient. We need to combine design work with a full understanding of the client's culture and aims – that is the only way to succeed," says Beata Osiecka, Managing Director at Kinnarps Polska.
A survey where 120,000 people were questioned indicates that only 52% believe their workplace promotes productivity. In other words, one of the great future challenges is to create an environment that stimulates employees to realise their full potential. How this is done depends of course on the company's core operations, but there are a number of repeating patterns whatever the business.
"In the offices of the future, the focus will be on interaction, to a certain extent on processing, but mainly on interaction, production and exchange of ideas. From there, you go on to selling, auditing and research. Office space has to comply with the demands the different activities give rise to," says Martin Cook, Head of the Interior and Graphic Design Group at BDP in the UK.
– Markus Wilhelmson
"Designing the actual products and interior is alone not sufficient. We need to combine design work with a full understanding of the client's culture and aims."
– Beata Osiecka, Managing Director at Kinnarps Polska
Did you know that…
…the proportion of people who say that the working environment is important to their well-being in the office is 94%, according to a survey Demoskop carried out on behalf of Kinnarps in the spring of 2013.
…according to the same survey, only 1 in 4 are completely satisfied with the working environment at their place of work.
…employees think more creatively if the workplace has high ceilings. Offices with low ceilings are better suited for critical and constructive thinking according to a University of Minnesota study.
…there are 4,500 workplaces for 6,000 employees in the 41 storey high office skyscraper DTAC House in Bangkok. The office space was designed based on the work staff was to carry out. More and more people are working away from the office which places greater demands on flexible offices.