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Office design has experienced nothing short of a revolution in the last 20 years. Cubicle farms are becoming a thing of the past, and while not every idea has worked according to plan–think open offices with workstations crammed in close proximity, or poorly executed hot desking–one thing is increasingly clear: people-centric office spaces do more to help a company’s culture, creative spirit, and bottom line than anything else.

The act of going somewhere specific to work can help workers mentally step into being the professional that gets the work done and done well.

But you might not think a coworking space, such as WeWork or Impact Hub, would be so people-focused. You’d be wrong. In fact, major corporations are taking their cues from coworking spaces to reverse engineer what it is about coworking facilities that bring to the table what traditional offices cannot. Some, such as Salesforce, Starbucks, and Bank of America, are outright joining the ranks of entrepreneurs taking the most advantage of coworking space. Why? It gives employees a sense of identity that doesn’t interfere with their sense of belonging to the organization.

More Than a Money-Saver

Yes, coworking spaces offer businesses and sole proprietors an office they may not otherwise be able to afford, networking opportunities, and a business base more professional than the coffee shop down the street. But that’s not all they offer, and as such, large corporations are taking notice.

Legitimacy, Professionalism, and Credibility

For a new business owner or a freelancer working to build a client base, parking themselves on the living room couch with a laptop and a phone may be the easiest, cheapest (read: free), and most convenient, but it may not always be the most conducive to work, creativity, or day-to-day operations. The act of going somewhere specific to work can help workers mentally step into being the professional that gets the work done and done well.

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You spend one-third of your life at work, which is enough of a reason to have your work environment be as comfortable, intuitive, and well-designed as possible. But there are more reasons for this than just the sheer number of hours you give to your job each and every day.

Here are 6 reasons your office design matters to your employees, your company, and you.

1. It changes employee work flow.

Research from Cornell suggests that most knowledge workers prefer closed offices for concentration but prefer open offices for communication and trust building. Why not have the best of both worlds?

You can create the feeling and overall look of an open office while having certain designated areas where employees can focus and detach from the bustling work environment. Having both spaces allows your workers to choose whichever work environment is best for them or is best for the task they currently need to complete.

Create a warm, inviting reception area with a lot of open space, break up your workspaces with different contemporary seating options and occasional tables, and use acoustic furniture to block out the noise in your more closed-off office sections.

2. Employees need collaboration.

Your office environment needs to facilitate collaboration among employees. More collaboration leads to more creativity, which leads to higher overall productivity.

You can’t just want your employees to come together and bounce ideas off one another—you need to use your office design to lead them in the right direction. Use a high-backed lounge with a media console to facilitate small and informal, but productive, meetings, or install break-out chairs and tables in deliberate parts of the office to give employees a place to gather away from their desks.

Collaboration furniture can take your traditional workspace, boardroom, or face-to-face meeting to a new, innovative level.

3. Your office showcases your company values.

Does your company strive to be environmentally conscious? You can build a LEED-certified office to show how committed you are to being green. Does your business support the local community? Buy and showcase local art on your office walls. Do you strongly support working mothers and fathers? Implement kid-friendly areas throughout your workspace.

How you design your office reflects what your business stands for—and stands up for.

4. Looking the part sets you apart.

There are too many companies that don’t put any effort into their office design. They use the same corporate office furniture in the same corporate office colors to portray the same stale corporate office environment. Breaking away from this mold can not only set your office apart from the rest, but your company, as well.

The bottom line is that you want your office to be loved by your employees. You want them to come back day after day and never get tired of their surroundings.

Make a name for yourself as the most unique place to work in town. Get people talking in your area about the thing your office has that no other office in town has to offer. Show off the sleek, modern design of your office so employees are not only excited to work there, but are just as excited to tell their friends that they work there.

5. It creates workplace well-being.

You can actually design your office in a way that promotes well-being and nudges your employees toward making healthier choices for themselves

By giving employees adjustable furniture—including standing desks—and allowing them to choose where they want to set up their workspace on any given day, you’re promoting movement. By installing amenities outside of your office, such as benches and tables, employees might take more frequent walks or breaths of fresh air throughout the day.

You should be making an investment in your employees’ well-being and health if you want your company to succeed, and these simple additions to your office design can do just that.

6. You want your employees to want to come to work.

A stuffy, dimly lit, uncolorful workspace does not equal happy workers. You want to keep employee turnover to a minimum, and office design is a huge factor in fulfilling that task.

The bottom line is that you want your office to be loved by your employees. You want them to come back day after day and never get tired of their surroundings. The only way to do that is to put a huge focus on the design of your workspace, keep your employees top of mind when doing so, and always showcase what your company does best.

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Let’s talk about the iPhone for a minute. What does that have to do with office design and the modern workplace? Bear with me a moment, and it’ll become clear.

Before the iPhone totally pivoted the cell phone market, people would have said their most desirable feature phone requirements were extended battery life and better cell reception for a crystal clear connection that didn’t drop. People didn’t even know they could have what’s essentially become a pocket computer. But Apple considered the people behind the phones rather than what people did with their existing phones.

The concept behind this is called Design Thinking, which seeks to put a human-centric spin on what products, services, and environments people utilize to enable the most productive and innovative use of our abilities.

The result answered needs consumers didn’t even know to ask for: a calendar that would keep appointments and remind us of upcoming events, a music library to distract us on long trips or commutes, a texting app that would keep us more connected than ever before (with a QWERTY keyboard so we didn’t have to press buttons multiple times to hit all the right letters). And then came the app store, and the rest is history.

The concept behind this is called Design Thinking, which seeks to put a human-centric spin on what products, services, and environments people utilize to enable the most productive and innovative use of our abilities.

For the modern workplace, this way of thinking breaks employees out of their “talent silo” by recognizing that workers can form greater connections to their teams, their environments, and by extension boost their creativity to bring innovative solutions of incredible value to a competitive marketplace.

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Most of us can agree traditional office spaces were not designed with human beings or the planet in mind. They were about maximizing space and minimizing budget. This often meant unsightly cubicle farms with desks nowhere near windows–those were reserved for the coveted executive offices–stuffy air with little circulation, and artificial lighting. If employees wanted better, they had to strive for scarce opportunities that put them in the C-Suite (when those jobs were often recruited for outside the company), bring their own small plants to liven up their cube, and mainly deal with it.

It’s not a sustainable way to work, and this sardine-packing approach exploded into the open office craze, which in many cases, kept the sardines and threw out the box. Privacy and distractions got worse. People got sicker. Absenteeism skyrocketed. Job satisfaction plummeted.

The open office “solution” also ignored a major downfall of traditional office buildings: their environmental impact.

The Environment

According to the US Green Building Council, office buildings are responsible for 41% of the world’s average energy use, by far the biggest consumer. Electricity consumption is the worst marker, with office buildings in the US accountable for a whopping 73% of the country’s usage.

Some more USGBC stats:

  • American building construction contributes a huge 38% of all CO2 emissions

  • 13.6% of all potable water, roughly 15 trillion gallons per year, runs through America’s office buildings.

  • 61% of the 170 million tons of construction and demolition debris generated in America is produced by commercial buildings.

We as a nation, as a species, need sustainably built offices, and we need them now.

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Think about the last time you sat in a reception area. Were you comfortable? Was it attractive? Was the wait long?

The reception area is where everyone must sit. It’s one of the great equalizers in life. But, it doesn’t have to be akin to riding on a plane waiting to get where you are going. If your company knows what it’s doing, you can make reception a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Businesses that rely heavily on a reception area for guests, potential hires, VIPS, and clients, should go the extra mile to ensure waiting is as painless as possible.

The Desk

The reception desk, not the receptionist, is the first impression in an office. Convey your commitment to customer experience and design by installing something sleek, cool, and glass or warm up the room with something rich, woody, and curved. Your guests will feel soothed by the elegance, thoughtfulness, and intention behind the modern reception desk and your first conversation has started without a single word.

Proper Furniture

The furniture in your reception area sets the tone and expectation for what people want to find when they hear their name called. Tattered couches and chairs made of inferior fabrics won’t have anyone sitting pretty while they wait. Seats that people sink into won’t be a hit with anyone so remember that quality truly matters. Instead, look to sleek modern sofas that are comfortable and functional. A solidly made contemporary chair and occasional table will hint at the sophisticated office that awaits them.

Businesses that rely heavily on a reception area for guests, potential hires, VIPS, and clients, should go the extra mile to ensure waiting is as painless as possible.

Choice Colors

In a study titled “Impact of color on marketing,” researchers found that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products can be based on color alone, depending on the product. If you consider your reception area as a byproduct of your business, you’ll understand that a bright orange room isn’t going to result in a calm zen-like space. Instead, look for muted hues and add appropriate pops of color with accent pieces. This way, if the wait goes a little longer than expected, everyone will feel a little calmer.

Sundries

Make sure your reception area is built for the times. Busy people don’t have time to wait, so when they have to, they want to recharge – their phones, laptops, earbuds, iPads, and themselves. Install extra USB/power outlet options wherever you can. Clients will appreciate good Wifi on a secure network with a password they are given at the reception desk – without having to ask for it. Your guests won’t notice a long wait if they have a coffee, water, or tea while they get some work done, so have a drink station at the ready.

Businesses don’t need to sacrifice style to make an accommodating reception space.

Signature Statements

Good design makes a statement. Bring one thing to your reception area that makes it truly yours. Consider fresh bouquets of flowers, rotating sculptures from local galleries, a bold company message graphic, or a hand-blown glass chandelier. Remember that guests respond to local goods and appreciate a company who does, too.

Businesses don’t need to sacrifice style to make an accommodating reception space. Spend the money to make this room as user-friendly as possible. After all, this is the place that makes the first impression on anyone meeting your business for the first time, or those who are coming back again, and again.

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There’s only one thing everyone in an open office design can agree on: the noise is annoying. Distractions are the number one complaint by employees, followed closely by lack of privacy. And we all know that the use of headphones as a sound block is really the universal sign for, “Don’t bother me.”

With 80% of offices in the US following open design plans, how do companies battle these issues? One answer is with smartly designed furniture and décor. Acoustic panels on the ceilings—particularly in warehouse-to-office type locations where loft-style ceilings carry sound in unexpected ways—can be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Movable walls are another versatile choice that brings more benefit than simple sound dampening.

Sound: The Pulse of Your Company

But what if you change your perspective on sound as a negative within the walls of your business? There is a very definite vibe that can be produced with the careful curation of sound in different settings, which can be used to your advantage.

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A flexible office design is key to facilitating a company’s ability to pivot in a new direction. Businesses that change with the economy—not just the market economy, but the economy of employee satisfaction and retention—will prioritize flexibility and come out on top.

Workplace Flexibility—the Office Is Where the Laptop Connects

First, what is workplace flexibility in terms of office design? It’s the ability to reconfigure your physical office space to meet the needs of your employees, enabling better productivity, functionality, and comfort.

Cubicles are great for everyone to have their own fiefdom and knickknacks, but if your workers leave their desk frequently to meet with their team, consult with clients, or conduct other business, it’s a waste of space.

Connectivity breeds mobility, with laptops, tablets, and smartphones bringing unprecedented levels of flexibility to your workforce. As long as they have a network connection and a device on which to work, it doesn’t really matter where employees sit.

Think about it. Not every company has a massive headquarters or the budget for top-of-the-line architectural and design firms to renovate their space. In this case, a flexible workspace is ideal. Cubicles are great for everyone to have their own fiefdom and knickknacks, but if your workers leave their desk frequently to meet with their team, consult with clients, or conduct other business, it’s a waste of space. Even the smallest spaces can be flexible. In fact, the architectural firm Unispace showcased a flexible workplace in just 2,700 square feet in Los Angeles.

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By now, we’ve all read that office happiness directly correlates to productivity. But, does everyone understand that if employees are physically uncomfortable, work will suffer while they shiver in their dark and drafty offices or seek the sweet spot in their clunky 20th-century desk chairs? Perhaps the issue is that management doesn’t understand the modern office design conundrum. Rest-assured, there are simple office design and decor solutions that will open the office for brisk and comfortable business.

When you update for improved productivity, be sure to include a generous line item for ergonomic chairs and sit-and-stand desks.

Hold, please.

Before you do anything, make a plan. Don’t jump head first into rearranging and redecorating only to find that your office building can’t accommodate the large acoustic panels you’ve purchased or the collaboration furniture you’ve ordered is PERFECT, but won’t deliver until six months from now. Be sure you do your homework, plot, and strategize. If your office can afford it, hire an interior decorator. Leave the job to an expert who does this for a living.

What Needs Redesigning? Lighten Up

There are beautiful modern and efficient lighting options available, but several studies have shown that productivity increases when there is a proximity to windows, especially when there is a view of nature. In other words, put your people where you would put your plants. But also, don’t get rid of the plants. If natural light isn’t an option, consider ceiling lamps that mimic daylight.

More and more employers are taking note that an afternoon power nap is just what the manager ordered.

No Pain, No Pain

The uncomfortable (and most likely unattractive) furniture needs to go. You can retrofit it or recycle it, but if you wouldn’t use it, don’t make your employees. Outdated desks and chairs lead to poor posture, which leads to serious health consequences. When you update for improved productivity, be sure to include a generous line item for ergonomic chairs and sit-and-stand desks.

Siesta Time

More and more employers are taking note that an afternoon power nap is just what the manager ordered. Employees without enough rest under their belts are more reactive, less creative, less logical, and less empathetic. Don’t have space for naptime nap pods? Invest in some chic chaise lounges and include a small quiet area where employees can chill out for a quick 30 minutes.

Perhaps the most significant oversight in your “modern” office design would be forgetting you need to be plugged in.

Don’t Forget IT

Perhaps the most significant oversight in your “modern” office design would be forgetting you need to be plugged in. If you’re ordering collaborative, ergonomic, and executive office furniture, you better be as sophisticated as you’ll look.

Talk to the department who can make or break your business. IT will know how close you need to be to printers, WIFI, electrical outlets, etc. Do this BEFORE you purchase anything.

Second Thought, Don’t Forget Anyone

Don’t assume you know what suits everyone in your office. Talk to the employees about their wants and desires. There are those who want open spaces and those who prefer library-style nooks. Jane might like to listen to acid jazz and John might not know what this is or want to find out.

Form a planning committee and begin fostering goodwill before the first community table has delivered. Definitely involve John.

Redesigning anything can seem like a massive undertaking because it is. It’s an even bigger task when you’re doing it to ensure people’s well-being. Allow increased productivity to be your motivation, find inspiration in the opinions of your employees, and remember to water those plants.

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The idea of place-making began in the ’60s as a concept for urban planning and an initiative to bring a sense of identity and atmosphere to a pedestrian area.

It enhances all the aspects of a location–the aesthetic beauty of a park, the ease of walking via wide sidewalks, improving pedestrian movement patterns with sculptures and planters or strategic lighting, added seating, interrelated vendors and retail–to make it more desirable. The area becomes “The Place to Be,” greater than the sum of all its individual elements, and more valuable to the community as a whole because of it.

Smart developers are beginning to apply this concept to offices around the globe to greater effect than anything individual companies can do.

Think of a high rise with retail stores, cafés, restaurants, dry cleaners, and more on the first floor (or first few), then the floors above are tailored to corporate tenants, and perhaps above that, residential floors. It’s an all-in-one building where people can work, play, and even live to maintain the cohesive work-life balance that has seemed to elude the corporate worker in the last 30 years.

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Let’s be honest, there’s a lot riding on your office design. Study after study in recent years show how employee productivity, satisfaction, and health are affected by their work environment. Then there are all the articles on design trends, what the cool kids are doing with their office spaces, and how they’re retaining top talent by having the latest innovation in interior design.

Real estate is expensive. Many companies, particularly startups, don’t have enormous budgets to build, renovate, or demolish everything and start over.

So how does a startup get the maximum in design for a minimum in spend?

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