BY ERICA BOATMAN, MARKETING COORDINATOR
Last week we had the honor of hosting the extremely knowledgeable and always charismatic Dr. Michael O'Neill, Director of Research at Haworth, for a lunch and learn on their most recent research initiative: what makes people happy at work and how can workspace design foster happiness?
To answer these questions, Haworth conducted a global study asking over 2,000 office workers in eleven cities to rate the features of their work environment and aspects of their overall happiness, controlling for things like generational affiliation, job type, and tenure.
Guess what they found? It's not ping pong tables, free food, or even pay raises that make workers happy. Employee happiness levels are affected by two aspects of their work experience:
A. THEIR ABILITY TO FOCUS
B. HOW VALUED THEY FEEL
SO, WHAT DESIGN FEATURES HELP PEOPLE FOCUS AND MAKE THEM FEEL VALUED?
1. USER CONTROL: ADJUST THE SPACE TO FIT THE TASK
No matter how laid back you may be, we all need a little control over our lives to stay sane. Giving people even the smallest amount of control over their space at work increases their comfort and reduces their stress levels, allowing them to focus on the task at hand. For individual workspaces, there are a plethora of no-brainer ways to accomplish this, such as:
Want to give your employees more significant control? Allow them to choose where they work throughout the day, whether that location is inside or outside the office. This gives them control over the level of immersion versus seclusion they experience, and makes them feel like a valued, trusted employee.
2. LEGIBLE SPACE: BRING ORDER TO THE CHAOS
Legibility is how easy it is for a user to create a "mental map" of a building, even with limited experience within the space. It is the single most important feature of workplace design that allows workers to focus and feel valued. To achieve this in your office, your floorplan must be clearly organized in a way that is simple to understand and navigate, and the spaces within must easily convey their intended uses. Here are some principles of a legible space:
- Landmarks. Use landmarks, like colorful graphic walls, to anchor people within a space.
- Plan Configuration. Highly irregular layouts or lots of intersecting paths can be confusing to users. Configure your space with a predictable rhythm that makes it easy for people to learn how to navigate from one location to another or guess where a desired space type might be found.
- Visual Access. Being able to see ahead to landmarks is important for navigation as it keeps people from feeling trapped or lost. Avoid high workstation panels or architectural elements that block people's view to the building's core.
- Architectural Differentiation. Design areas within your office to be visually distinct so they can serve as secondary landmarks.
- Signage. Use signage and graphics to provide information about the location, your culture, or the intended use of a space. Check out how Airea, our fellow Haworth dealership out of Detroit, used fun signage and graphics in their showroom to show off their culture and explain their space.
3. ACCESS TO DAYLIGHTING: LET THE SUNSHINE IN
Natural light is proven to provide energy, vitamins, and a more regular sleep cycle. Haworth's research also found that an employee's access to daylight has one of the largest impacts on how valued that employee feels. Some ways to give more access to light in your include:
- Design less enclosures and lower horizons
- Give people control over their work location so they can choose to work near daylight when they need to
- Plan for workstation and lounge area proximity to windows
- Use glass walls to let light travel farther into the space
- Encourage remote work or brief breaks to increase sunlight exposure by including patios with WiFi or an outside walking trail
4. RIGHT TECHNOLOGY: UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT ON PRODUCTIVITY
It is critical to understand the day-to-day technologies that impact your employees' productivity, for both individual and group tasks, and invest in them to show your employees you value their work and time. Once you've determined which are necessary, design your space to support the technologies by:
- Power and Data. Make sure there is ample power and data accessible in convenient locations. Nobody wants to crawl under the conference table to plug in their laptop.
- Active Ergonomics. Apply good ergonomic principles to the entire workplace, not just in individual workstations.
- Collaborative Areas. If the technology's purpose is to facilitate collaboration, like a screen-sharing software or bluescape, make sure the space it's in gives users the visual and audio privacy they'll need to conduct their session without distractions.
Providing the technology your employees need even overlaps with the idea of user control, as technology advances such as laptops, mobile hotspots, and VPNs all make working remotely possible, giving people a choice of their work setting and level of interaction.
5. ADEQUATE STORAGE: IT'S MORE THAN CLEARING CLUTTER
This was the biggest surprise for me, personally. Having storage makes people happy? Really? How boring.
But the proof is in the data: providing customizable organization and storage options can contribute to a feeling of control over the workspace. This can be as simple as:
- Places to display personal photos and decorations
- The right sizes of storage for belongings such as tennis shoes, coats, backpacks, purses, and snacks
- A variety of work tools, like trays, pencil holders, and paper sorters
- Mobile pedestals that can roll to wherever a person is working that day
- Lockers for free-address or travelling workers
Now, we're not saying you should fold up your ping pong tables and hide your kegs of beer - those are fun elements of your office that allow people to blow off steam, provide team-building experiences, and might even be an integral part of your culture.
But they're not going to retain employees.
And with the cost of replacing the average mid-level manager soaring to over $250,000 (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) having happy, valued, and focused employees is imperative to your bottom line.
What will contribute to happy, valued, and focused employees, according to science? Incorporating these five design elements into your workspace. Pin the handy-dandy infographic below for a reminder!
Want to learn more about designing for happiness in the workplace? Download the Workspace Design and the Pursuit of Happiness whitepaper below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.