The world of work has changed significantly in the last few decades, and our expectations of our workspaces have changed with it. We’ve developed a much deeper understanding of how our interior environments affect our lives, and we expect our employers to use this information when creating an office environment. For many employees in the modern workplace, dimly lit cubicles simply won’t cut it any more.
Among the many duties of the employer, a new challenge has arisen: designing an environment that doesn’t just facilitate effective and efficient work, but actively appeals to and inspires employees. Understanding how you can use these principles in your own office can help with everything from boosting morale and productivity to retaining the best staff – but what can you do to create an inspiring modern workspace?
While images of inspirational quotes set in front a photo of a waterfall or ocean vista have long been considered cliché, the inclusion of artwork in an office space remains an effective way to inspire and motivate staff. The difference, as with so many things, is subtlety.
The mistake that many employers have made is to take the idea of ‘motivational’ artwork too literally. Art can contribute to a motivating environment, but in its own right, shouldn’t be used specifically as a tool to try and inspire employees. Doing so can actually have the adverse effect, with the aforementioned inspirational quote images more likely to cause rolled eyes than a surge in passion and motivation.
Art should be chosen mainly to galvanise the overall aesthetic of your workspace, rather than as a cover-up for poor design. Pick paintings, posters, or other art installations that enhance how your workspace looks and feels, bearing in mind your colour schemes, materials, and context. A piece of artwork that relates in theme to the work you do (or to your business more generally) can be a good way to tie a space together.
You could even consider featuring work by local artists, or of your own or your colleagues network of friends. Doing this can strengthen a sense of community and family, and subtly remind your staff that you’re interested in more than just profits.
The layout of the modern workplace has been a hotly discussed topic in recent years. Trends in office design have both created pressure on employers to do more with their workspaces, and generated controversy over how beneficial such trends actually are.
While discussion has centred on how different office trends do or do not benefit businesses and staff, when it comes to creating a space that actively inspires your team, layout is a crucial factor. Arguably the most important way to approach this is to focus on practicality, before adding a dash of innovation, originality, and uniqueness.
Think about what your staff actually need to do their jobs effectively, and use this as a starting point. Open plan spaces, for instance, while hugely popular and ‘in’, might not be useful for those working in a role that requires focused individual work. Similarly, if you’re trying to develop an atmosphere of collaboration and creativity, then segmented cubicles would be counteractive.
Your overall design choices will relate to your specific requirements, but there are a few tenets that can be applied more generally to keep employees inspired. One of the best things to include is a variety of workstation options. Standing as well as sitting desks, quiet or silent areas, and collaborative working spaces can all contribute to an overall sense of autonomy – which is possibly the most important outcome when it comes to inspiring spaces.
This is the crux of effective and inspiring office design. You should aim for a layout that demonstrates you understand exactly what your employees need — but also shows you have a flair for taking things one step further.
Spaces/things to do to relax
Notions of the traditional ‘break room’ might conjure thoughts of a dingy, dark room with little but a microwave, fridge, and a set of table and chairs to take your mind off the grind during your lunch break. Research has shown that we’re more productive when we take regular breaks, and stimulate our minds in a variety of ways regularly. An inspiring office space gives employees the opportunity to do just that.
Abandon the dull and characterless break room in favour of spaces where employees can go to unwind, socialise, relax, and find stimulation during their downtime. It might seem like a ‘hipster’ trend, but there’s good reason why the most innovative companies started to include things like table tennis tables and arcade machines in their workspaces.
It’s important to keep these things separate from the spaces which are specifically for working (no one wants to have to try and write a report or spreadsheet as the familiar pings and pongs of a table tennis game beckon them to the world of procrastination), but giving your staff other things to do during their downtime is a great way to keep them inspired.
It’s important to have a place where your team can go to simply to enjoy their lunch in peace and quiet, but these areas shouldn’t be lifeless. Invest just as much effort in keeping your break rooms and relaxation spaces inviting, and you’ll demonstrate to your employees that you’re invested in their free time, as well as their time at their desks.
A personal touch
The greatest interior spaces, whether they’re domestic or commercial, evoke a sense of the personal. That flair for a sense of individualism is what sets the very best workspaces apart, and even being able to personalise your desk can make a big difference. In the journey to creating an inspiring office space, one of the best things you can do is add a personal touch to your design.
This can be either tailored towards the individuals who work in your office, or your brand more specifically. Things like group photos of team members, or even things like records of the achievements of your colleagues (from things like fundraising events) can all contribute to the overall sense of personality in your space.
As mentioned above, hanging some artwork made by an employee or someone close to them can demonstrate you care enough about them to allow them to ‘make their mark’ on your workspace. Similarly, allowing staff to personalise their workspaces (to a reasonable extent) can help inspire them to do their best work consistently, as they’ll have a personal investment in the space in which they do their job.
Design overhauls are a potentially tricky area for smaller businesses. But if you’re a large enough corporation to be able to afford changes to your building – or a small or medium sized business in the process of moving – then there are a few ways to ensure your office ends up an inspiring haven, as opposed to a corporate dungeon.
The most important thing that many of us take for granted is natural light. If you’re in the process of choosing or design an office space, then your biggest structural consideration should be windows. Natural light helps us focus, makes us more productive, and improves our mood, and it’s an essential ingredient to an invigorating work environment.
It’s little surprise that most modern office buildings are now designed in conjunction with structural glazing firms. Glazing has become an integral part of modern construction, with structural glazing firms finding a place as pioneers of office spaces that actively contribute to performance. If you’re choosing or creating an office building, this should naturally be a top priority.
In a broader sense, an office building itself can contribute to how inspired a workforce feel. A modern, well-maintained building will probably appeal far more to the senses than an ugly or dated construction. Location, too, is something to consider, as setting can play a big part in how members of staff feel about their workplace. Whether it’s in the beating heart of a vibrant city, or a charming and quaint countryside setting, a pleasant environment will go a long way to making your staff feel enthused and inspired.
Above all, make it unique
Any of the points above are a great place to start, but above all, your aim should be to create a workspace that isn’t just inspiring and modern, but truly unique. Your business is a unique entity, your team is a unique team, and your office space should be unique too. Ensuring this is the case can go a long way to fostering a sense of kinship and community, and can help rally your team behind your brand and business.
It might seem counterintuitive (and ironic for an advice piece), but try not to ‘cut and paste’ concepts from other businesses. In the same way the previously mentioned images of waterfalls now cause exasperated sighs, so too can other cliché office design elements. It’s all about finding a way to create a space that isn’t just another ‘hip’ environment, but actually offers something valuable.
Whatever you decide as your priorities, and no matter the aesthetic choices you make, it’s worth taking the time to create a space that says something about you, your team, and your company. Choose a colour scheme and design style that fits the image you want your business to convey; seek out artwork and other visual installations that avoid cliché; and put together a space that isn’t just functional, but is memorable. Striking this balance is undeniably difficult, but done well, your staff will be proud to call the office their own.
We spend a huge amount of time in our workspaces – for many of us, more time than we spend at home with our loved ones. The best employers understand that a lot of factors contribute to retaining great staff, and creating a sense of family and community within a team – and that office design is a big part of this.
It might be fair to say that some companies take this one step too far, with the workplace designs of some of the biggest tech giants now figures of ridicule and satire. Even so, the general concept of creating a working environment that’s intended to actively stimulate and inspire employees isn’t something to be laughed at.
What it all comes down to is balance. You need to understand what your staff truly require in their workspace to perform at their best. The very finest and most inspiring office environments find ways to achieve this, while also creating a space that’s unique, visually pleasing, and offers more than just the bare essentials.
Ultimately the specific choices you make will be down to you, your team, and your business. In the fiercely competitive modern workplace, you need to find ways to stand out – and your office space should be high on the list.