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  • Writer's pictureBrian Trimble

Workspaces That Work: Designing for Maximum Productivity

Workspace design impacts productivity. We respond to our physical environments with our minds and emotions as well as our bodies. When our workspace is designed to support the mental and physical processes that our work requires, we perform better and become more productive.

So how can a company employ workspace design to boost employee productivity?

At the minimum, it can provide workspaces with all the collaboration tools its teams need to facilitate their work. If the company has shifted to a hybrid or work-from-home setup, it can provide guidance and both material and technological support for remote work.

But there is so much more a company can do to improve productivity. Creating new, more flexible, and adaptable workspaces, or redesigning existing ones, is an important step. A company that invests in its workspaces will reap benefits in increased employee productivity and talent retention.

Well-designed workspaces have positive effects on people on many levels. Good workspace design facilitates interaction and collaboration, as well as private or remote work. Along with this, it also promotes psychological well being.

Good workspace design can help people manage some of the physical or mental stressors that hinder productivity. It is also a real sign of a company's support for its employees and thus instills a sense of belonging and being valued. This support is a great incentive for productive work.

If your company is interested in designing or redesigning its workspaces for maximum productivity, here are some pointers:

First steps: consultations and resource gathering

Keep open lines of communication with all who can affect or be affected by the planned workspace design or redesign. Investors, employees, and suppliers have varying stakes in the project and must be consulted.

Involve employees in brainstorming and decision making on matters related to the design or redesign of their workspaces. Their inputs are valuable because they will be the primary users of the spaces.

Ensure that all resources required by the project are available. Hire the best design team the company can afford.

Collaborate with the design team to ensure that their workspace concepts meet company requirements and employee needs. There should be dedicated spaces for collaborative work, solo work, and rest breaks.

An alternative concept is a flexible workspace, which is a large common area furnished with various workstations for multiple purposes.

Parts of these flexible workspaces can be set up for collaborations and meetings, other parts for private work, still other parts for other work-related purposes. Employees can sign up to use any of these areas or amenities as needed.

Companies in the creative professions may also benefit from providing breakout spaces for their employees. These are spaces with a different "look" from other offices or areas in the workplace. Their purpose is to provide individuals or teams with a change of environment to refocus, recharge, or break mental blocks.

Whatever the workspace concept, an important feature that should be built into the layout is an opportunity for movement.

The layout and furnishings should enable their users to shift from sitting to standing positions throughout their day. They should make employees walk around from time to time to access what they need within the space. This is a health and alertness booster that translates as well to better performance at work.

Workspace design should also consider the amount of physical separation required between individuals doing specific types of work. People work more efficiently when the spaces between them and others facilitate the type of work they do. Smaller distances support collaboration; greater distances support solo work.

Other features that deserve attention in workspace design are ventilation and lighting. Workspaces should be designed to allow clean air to circulate and as much natural light as possible.

Not to be forgotten in workspace design are the aspects of décor and color. For these purposes, a company and its design team can draw on insights from the fields of neuroarchitecture and color psychology.

Neuroarchitecture uses knowledge about how the human brain responds to stimuli to guide the design of constructed environments. Applied to workspace design, this means creating environments that directly stimulate thinking and behavior for which the workspaces are built. This is designing that deliberately aids productivity.

The psychology of color deals with how colors stimulate moods or emotional responses that, in turn, affect people's activities. Well chosen colors in a workspace can help stimulate the types of activities for which the space is designed.

Generally, warm colors like red, yellow, and orange energize and excite. But because they are so vibrant, they can also overwhelm. Use them as accent colors in workspaces intended for creative thinking and interactive work.

Cool colors blues and greens are calming and conducive to deep thinking. Use these in private workspaces where quiet work is done and in rest areas as well. Scatter shades of green in the form of plants around the workplace. Plants help filter the air and provide relief for eyes strained by looking at screens all day.

Neutral colors beige, gray, white, and black are flexible colors, neither warm nor cool. They can be used as base colors for various workspaces to be accented with warm or cool colors, depending on how the workspace will be used.

Bear in mind, too, that light colors make a space appear larger and dark colors smaller.

These color "rules," though, are not cast in stone, and the company may break color rules, if necessary, in favor of branding. Aligning workspace décor and color choices with the company's brand and culture builds in employees a sense of affinity and being part of the company's identity.

If the company colors are not exactly right for a workspace, they can be used as accent colors instead. Or, other colors can be introduced into the space to balance the company colors. There are no hard and fast rules to décor and color choices.

Final steps: personalizing workspaces

Workspace design is not an exact science. Human beings are complex creatures with tastes and preferences shaped by personal exposure and experience.

The best designed workspaces will still not please everyone. Therefore, a company should permit its people to personalize their workspaces as much as reason and efficiency will allow. The general rule should be: Bring what inspires you into your workspace, as long as it doesn't clutter the area or distract you or others.

Design your workspaces with these pointers in mind and watch your employees’ productivity rise.

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