We are in the midst of an exciting transformation of the workplace. It’s founded on the principle that workers who are comfortable both physically and emotionally are more willing to be open and authentic with their peers, which leads to trust, collaboration and better performance.

Since the “right” environment is different for each organization, workplaces should embody a company’s mission keeping basic human behavior in mind. Moreover, addressing how different types of people and groups function is essential. If the day-to-day activities of a salesperson and an accountant are very different, why should their workspace, floorplan and acoustic layout be the same?

Rather than applying a one-size-fits-all methodology, the goal is now to create tailored solutions for specific groups of workers. It’s a new way of looking at the workplace and how that environment is rapidly evolving to enhance employee wellbeing.

Research has also shown that “long views” with high ceilings and minimal visual impediments can stimulate new ways of thinking. We’re also now seeing the true integration of furniture and technology to optimize user experience as well as create a beautiful environment.

LIGHT, FLOW AND TECHNOLOGY

Access to natural light or views of nature can cause the brain to release endorphins, thereby improving mood and boosting productivity. Research has also shown that “long views” with high ceilings and minimal visual impediments can stimulate new ways of thinking.

We’re also now seeing the true integration of furniture and technology to optimize user experience as well as create a beautiful environment. Two industry giants, Steelcase and Microsoft, announced a partnership earlier this year around workplace integrations and the introduction of the Microsoft Surface Hub. This partnership is testimony to the potential impact of effectively integrating technology into the physical space. Moreover, with advances in building management systems and the Internet of Things, we’ll be able to track and measure the optimization of our spaces.

EFFECTIVE WORKPLACE DESIGN

When creating a workspace environment, we try to resist gravitating toward any type of extreme. It’s all about balance, like blending an open floor plan with quiet spaces or providing both collaborative areas and spaces that offer privacy. Another major faux pas employers often make is not grasping the critical importance of integrating today’s technology into the workplace. As we discussed, technology integration not only creates a more cohesive aesthetic, but also improves workflow and performance. And ineffective integration of technology can create all kinds of issues from simple inconvenience to poor posture leading to muscle and eye strain. Other factors in the work environment to consider are poor HVAC systems and bad acoustics that can lead to negative workplace conditions and employee dissatisfaction.

PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH: A CASE STUDY

Prior to recently remodeling our headquarters, our employees were spread across two floors, which inhibited collaboration. Plus, the workspaces were designed 10 years prior, when most workers used desktop computers and phones while dealing with an abundance of paperwork. In those days, efficient utilization of real estate was not a primary concern; workstations were not near meeting areas and employees in related, or even the same, departments were separated.

We reduced the size of workstations and placed like departments next to each other. We also implemented Choice and Control, which means allowing employees to choose the position and posture in which they work through height-adjustable desks. Additionally, we encouraged people to work in different places around the office and move around throughout the day based on the tasks at hand.

These changes were made to better suit the cognitive well-being of our employees. A Steelcase study on differences between introverts and extroverts led to the decision to add several small meeting spaces around the office for impromptu collaboration, a personal call or some heads-down work. Lastly, we converted our materials library into a centralized work café to serve as a social hub for employees to come together, eat, laugh and build relationships.

Did it work? Yes. There has been a significant cultural shift within the company, including better collaboration and employees who are more engaged in their work and with each other.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As stated in the Gensler 2017 Design Forecast, “In a values-based world, brands must live their mission every day. Office buildings function as dynamic ecosystems that support purpose and innovation.” We are in a very exciting time, a true office renaissance, where the cost of manufacturing has been driven down and the ability to shop for both aesthetic and function is at an all-time high. Employers have the capability today to craft environments that reflect their brand and culture and engage and empower their workforces.

Joe Lozowski is CEO and President of Tangram.

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