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What do we need to consider in workplace design to optimise user comfort?

Multi Comfort Office space - meeting in progress

Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that office design can impact the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants. But designing a great place to work is not all about having a space with quirky design features, flexible working areas or places to relax. Of course, these are all important, but in isolation and without careful consideration, these kinds of features will only provide short term benefits for both the employees and the business.

What do we need to consider in workplace design to optimise user comfort?

An intelligent workplace is one that connects four key factors; people, processes, IT platform and property. When these all work together, they create a space that not only provides comfort and improves wellbeing for its users but is also fit-for-purpose and helps a business improve its bottom line.

From selecting a suitable site, to stripping-out and preparing the property, to designing and fitting-out the new space, including the specification of all M&E and technology, through to furniture selection, colour palettes, and fixtures and fittings, all factors must be aligned to provide true comfort.

Putting people first in workplace design

It goes without saying that people are a business’ most valuable asset, so when it comes to a new office design, it’s crucial that organisations invest time in engaging with their entire team from the very beginning of the process. With much research showing that human-centred workplace design positively influences health, wellbeing, employee satisfaction, and performance, it still comes as a surprise when businesses are willing to invest so much time and money in creating a new office space but without consulting the people who will be using it first.

My advice would be to spend as much time as you can afford to invest in making sure you create a workplace design which has your people at its core. From strategic management meetings to team workshops, the greater the investment of time the stronger the solution will be.

Ask your team, what’s important to them? How can you help them be more productive and happier at work? What would help them do their job better? Where is their preferred location for the new office? The questions are endless.

By creating a comfortable environment which has been designed around their needs, you will not only help them be more productive and improve their wellbeing, but also attract and retain the best staff too, supporting your business growth, as well as reducing HR costs in the long term.

Designing better business processes

A new workplace is an opportunity to not only review current processes and ways of working but to also capture any change happening within a business and consider any new processes needed. By thinking in detail about how your team works, or will need to work in the future, and any operational needs, you can organise the layout of the space and plan work settings accordingly, ensuring the new office is fit-for-purpose.

For example, open plan work environments are the norm in many modern offices and have become the ‘go-to’ in workplace design over recent years, but research from the World Green Building Council (WGBC) has shown that employee performance can drop by as much as 66% when exposed to distracting noise1. So when planning your space, make sure you take time to think strategically about what the best solution for your business is – are some individual sound-proofed pods needed for quiet work? Could the business benefit from specific collaboration zones? Creative spaces? Private phone or meeting booths?

Furniture selection is equally as important, and providing employees with quality furniture can go a long way in boosting employee morale and improving comfort, particularly if the team spends most of their working time completing desk-based tasks. As well as thinking about aesthetics, durability and cost, consider ergonomics and the capabilities and/or limitations of your team. Clever and careful furniture consideration can not only remove the risk factors that lead to musculoskeletal injuries but also support improved performance and productivity.

Getting your technology platform right

It’s not all about the how the workplace looks. Understanding your I.T and audio-visual strategy is also central to office design, no matter what sector you operate in. A well-planned office design will integrate your technology needs to align with your people and processes, helping the team to do their job easily and effectively, as well as future-proofing the business.

Maximising the property’s qualities

Whether moving into a new property or refurbishing an existing site, access to natural light, good air quality and local temperature control should be high on the list of design considerations, in order to provide users with a comfortable environment that enhances their wellbeing and maximises productivity.

A study has shown that employees seated within 10 feet of a window reported an 84% decrease in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms2, with the WGBC stating that improvements in productivity of 8-11% are not uncommon as a result of better air quality in the workplace.

In truth, all M&E systems and services should be high on the list of priorities and be integral to the design from the offset. This can sometimes be overlooked and is often the first area to be cut or re-specified if budgets get tight, but yet are vital in ensuring the comfort of occupants. Ultimately, for many businesses, investing in a new office design will be the biggest single investment you will ever make, so creating a space with the wow factor which attracts the best talent will prove to be a pointless exercise if you are unable to provide a comfortable environment which staff are happy working in.

Making sure your workplace strategy delivers

The right workplace strategy has the capability to transform your business. Whether you are striving for improved health and wellbeing, enhanced productivity and collaboration, attracting and retaining the best talent, or all of the above, you should consider and connect the four key elements discussed here. By aligning these with your company’s current needs and future aspirations, you can create an intelligent workspace environment, which will allow your people and your business to be the very best they can be.

  1. https://www.worldgbc.org/sites/default/files/compressed_WorldGBC_Health_Wellbeing__Productivity_Full_Report_Dbl_Med_Res_Feb_2015.pdf
  2. A study by the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/study-natural-light-is-the-best-medicine-for-the-office-300590905.html)

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any views expressed lies with the author(s). Any opinions shared do not necessarily represent the views of Saint-Gobain.

David Clemetson
David Clemetson Managing director, ADT Workplace
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