Can a better workplace start with a good office space design?

Can a better workplace start with a good office space design?

How you design your office space can shape your employee's work habits and complement your company culture.

Working from the office might not sound so cool any more. With trendy co-working spaces offering flexibility or remote working allowing you to chase the sun and working by the pool, one could object traditional offices are a thing of the past.

And yet, companies of all sizes are on the hunt for hot locations and impressive design when it comes to choosing the perfect place of work.

Giving employees a place to go to every day, surrounded by every comfort, is one of the perks people tend to take for granted – especially in tech hubs. Offices are still where the majority of the people get together to do work, interact, learn and grow. Here is where they likely spend a large portion of their day, and a nice space can make you feel relaxed, comfortable and even motivate you to do quality work.

So how can a company find the most productive and appealing, but cost effective solution, without having to bring in 30 monks for help? Nowadays there are an avalanche of options available and it can be daunting to start looking for “a space”, in “a location” at “an affordable price”. Let's have a look together at what the market has to offer and what you should consider when thinking about your next company move.

The options at your disposal

Like with anything else, you start with some research to get you going, sense the market and identify possible solutions. During your research in the world of real estate, you will most likely come across three main types of office: leasehold, managed and serviced. They all offer various degrees of independence, customisation and perks, but your decision will eventually be influenced mostly by cost or space (or a combination of the two). Unless you’re Google!

  • Leasehold
    The most traditional of the options, involves leasing your office from a landlord. This is generally what more established businesses would go for, as it offers the highest level of independence at the lowest cost per sq. ft. Here you will want to consider allowing for a higher sq. ft per employee ratio. While there is no set figure on how much space per person one should offer, with the offer varying massively depending on your company size and location, rule of thumb should be to offer at least between 100/150 of usable sq. ft per person. Unfortunately, all that glitters isn’t gold – as commercial contracts tend to be longer and less favourable for the tenant as you will be tied to a lengthy contract and taking up full liability for the property (including maintenance, fit out, dilapidations, etc).
  • Managed
    This option is a hybrid. Similarly to serviced offices it offers shared amenities, but similarly to leaseholds it allows for more customisation and privacy. Leases are generally shorter, so ideal for startups that are outgrowing high costs of the fully managed spaces but do not want to commit for 5+ years. The downside here is you will be taking up a bare canvas and will need to set it up from scratch, with all the costs that come with it.
  • Serviced
    This format was initially devised for individual workers, but evolved from a “co-working” only facility to the solution adopted by smaller startups, remote workers and, recently, even bigger companies buying into this grab and go model. For a “per desk” fee the operator will offer, well, everything! The short term agreements are definitely appealing, although here you will receive less space (in the range of 50/70 sq. ft per person) for a higher price, which will be "justified" because of the free drinks, community events, communal areas and so on. If you are a small business, the community aspect can facilitate collaboration. If you are a larger business, on the other hand, the lack of independence and those very same shared spaces could become a burden.

All three options are viable, and more or less suitable depending on the company’s current headcount and expected growth.

Design matters

Once you’ve decided which solution works best, it’s time to arrange the office environment. The layout can impact team productivity, focus and culture. Too much noise, not enough light, lack of communal areas have a real impact on creativity, efficiency and morale.

If one could work from anywhere (at least if the business model and role allow), why do people come to the office? Free coffee, work equipment and a good internet connection, sure; but there is definitely more than meets the eye. You get dressed and commute to work to interact with others, to create a routine and for that sense of community and belonging that this brings.

To achieve this, an office needs to firstly be functional. Building the space around the working style of a team/department and keeping it somehow flexible will allow you to cater for the ever changing requirements of individuals. To make this possible, look for spaces that can offer a good layout, rectangles or squares are easier to maximise compared to angled offices or structures full of pillars.

I won't venture into the long lasting debate between the apparent dichotomy open plan vs individual office, which is still alive and well. As for most things in life, both have pros and cons. Whilst the open plan can reduce office costs, favour impromptu lines of communication and give a lesser sense of segregation and hierarchy, the lack of barriers will be an obstacle when it comes to privacy and deep work, which are essential for certain roles and are the main advantages of offering cubicles and private offices.

If, like most of the startups nowadays, you are opting for an open plan, giving people a choice by offering a good number of meeting rooms, common areas and private booths will be a good use of space. Keeping it simple but stylish, Basecamp created a functional but collaborative office in Chicago - hey, remote and distributed teams can have an office too!

With the layout in place, the fun begins. Colours, furniture, greenery can all be selected to add character and align with the company brand, but also to add comfort and facilitate productivity. For example, if you want to encourage your engineers to do more pair programming, you may want to have spaces with longer desks or tables that can accommodate more people.

Culture and relationships building

The office space plays an important role in the network of relationships that gets formed within the workplace. It doesn’t create your company culture, but can facilitate some aspects of it by bringing people together.

Facebook’s music room can be seen as an unnecessary extravaganza, but if this can make people taking a break gather together, bond over a common interest and fully disconnect, isn't it worth it?
Similarly to the heavily criticised, but more affordable, ping pong and foosball tables; the purpose here is not the object itself, which can even become annoying if not placed strategically far from work station, but to create opportunities for people to recharge and disconnect, together.

As Jacob Morgan pointed out:

"Adrenaline shot don’t create your culture”

and he goes:

“A perk is introduced to boost scores, but over time the effect wears off and scores go back down. Another perk is introduced, and scores go back up — and then they fall again.”

If you don't already have a good employee experience and company culture in place, finding space for a ping pong table won't make your employees magically engage more or improve their outcomes. On the other hand, a space designed around productivity only, with no areas to disconnect, can say a lot about a company's culture.

In conclusion, the goal of a modern office space shouldn't be replacing one's home to keep you there until night by providing crazy perks. It should simply help people do good work in a calm harmonious environment and create a sense of belonging.

If you can, make the office space awesome, add swinging chairs, a mini golf courses, and on tap prosecco bars – I'm sure your employees will love it, but that won't be their main driver to join your mission.

As usual, I hope you enjoyed this write up, and if you have thoughts or opinions to share, drop me a note on Twitter @Lauren31v.

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