The science of the perfect office space


It’s a fact that the Irish are now working longer hours than even during the height of the recession in 2009 and a trend that only seems to be increasing.

We’re tied to the office more and more, but the vast majority of employees have no control over their surroundings. If they did, research has shown time and again that it would only serve to benefit the boss. It is just one of the things an employer can do to make the space their workers spend over a third of their week day existing in a much more agreeable place to be.

At a time when much of the talk for SMEs surrounds the extreme expense of renting and the importance of location, it can be easy to forget that it’s the inside of those four walls that really counts.
Here are the factors the experts say go into creating the optimum office space. While every business is different and has to deal with the reality of financial restrictions, even adopting one or two of these small suggestions could boost morale in a big way…

You don’t need to offer chill-out rooms, ping pong tables and free snacks to keep your staff happy. Indeed, the most important thing you could bring into your office is a little life.  From one study to the next, research shows a humble plant or two around the place makes all the difference. They serve to prevent fatigue and stop people’s attention spans from dropping. Not only are their mere presence proven stress relievers, you’ll also be cutting down on pollution in the office.

As well as life, as much natural light as possible is key. People work better when they have a window with a view, and it’s all the better if you can have that view be a natural landscape rather than another office block. Seldom possible in the city, of course. Proximity to an urban park which people can visit during their lunch is a really good substitute.

KEEP IT CURVY          
Human beings aren’t built to be surrounded by harsh, angular objects all the work-long day. Making any office furniture you have as smooth and round as possible promotes an atmosphere that is calming, comfortable and inviting. That’s according to a 2011 study by Oregon State University’s Sibel Dazkir and Marilyn Read, which surveyed over 100 undergrads and found that the vast majority wanted to socialise in curvilinear rooms.

There’s not much you can do about it if you’re staying put, but if you’re a creative firm looking at new premises, remember that the further that ceiling is from the floor, the better. Higher ceilings apparently encourage a feeling of freedom and improve abstract, relational thinking.

Any attempt to steer your space away from drab greyness is to be applauded. But different colours can mean different things. Yellow brings optimism; white, a sense of space and cleanliness; blue is calming; orange is an energy booster; green is healthy and harmonious; and red inspires intensity and attention to detail. Just make sure none of them are neon. As for your levels of lighting, keeping it low is great for creativity. Analytic types might do better under bright lights.

Open-plan offices are now widespread, but the tide of opinion has turned against them. The simple fact is that, if workers have a choice, most of them will opt against open-plan. Fast Company has written of open office spaces:

“Far more workers stuck in cubicles and open office spaces are dissatisfied with their work environments than people in enclosed private offices”.

In Denmark, it was found that the number of sick days workers take is linked to the number of people in a space, meaning that open offices had to deal with 62% more sick days than those with closed offices.
Noise levels, according to Cornell, put stress on the body. Just three hours of typical open office chatter results in workers having higher levels of adrenaline. Solutions for introverts who would rather a little space – roughly half the world’s population, as it happens – include a collaboration between Steelcase furniture and Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. The collection of “Quiet Spaces” are enclosed offices in a variety of sizes for a number of functions (be they meeting rooms or private desk spaces) with frosted glass walls and sound-blocking technology.

All of the above tips have offered ways of improving your employees’ environment. But perhaps the easiest, most effective way of doing that is to give them choices over the space themselves. A 2010 study cited by found that workers who were given the chance to arrange a small office with a number of plants and pictures were almost one-third more productive than those without control. An open-plan firm can encourage people to personalise the small spaces they do have – with customised pinboards, or allowing people to leave their desk a littler messier than others (it can actually help productivity). At the very least, hot-desking, where no one has their own personal space, should be discouraged.

And that’s the perfect place to leave this discussion on the perfect office space – if it’s not a case of ‘the employee knows best’, it is most definitely a case of whatever feels best for the employee is bound to only be of benefit to the company in the long run.

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