One of the most exciting parts of creating a startup from scratch is choosing and designing your office location. It’s true that virtual offices are becoming more popular, thanks to their convenience and cost efficiency, but if you want to harness the power of collaboration and have a physical space that represents your brand, you’ll want to find an attractive location and deck it out with the features most likely to improve your team’s productivity and morale.
How is the team being affected?
The catch is, your workspace design could affect your employees positively or negatively—it all depends on the decisions you make. Subtle differences in your office layout, structure, and aesthetics have the potential to make your employees work harder and stay longer—or drive them away from your business entirely.
Top Workspace Factors to Consider
So which workspace factors are most important to consider? These features range from major structural components to subtle ambient differences, and you won’t need to perfect all of them to create a suitable workspace, but they’re all worth your consideration if you want someplace your employees can feel comfortable:
The degree of openness your office presents could affect how people work individually and collaboratively. Open office designs–with limited walls and bigger, wider spaces for teams–have grown popular over the last several years because they seem like better spaces for collaboration.
If your team needs to be in constant communication with each other, or if your brand is one that prioritizes transparency and warmth, this may be advantageous for you. However, there’s also evidence to suggest that open office designs may hurt productivity in some ways, making your employees easier to distract.
Your workspace should also adequately convey the branding of your company. Showing off the brand not only makes a great first impression for new clients and new employees, but also has the power to keep your employees aligned under your singular brand vision. For example, you might emphasize the playfulness of your brand by having more colorful, unusual furniture in your work areas.
You may choose to have posters that embody or remind your workers about the core values of your brand. Promoting ideas like teamwork, ambition, focus, and wellness can influence your team to stay true to those values.
You’ll also need to decide what kind of lighting to include in your office. The ideal environment would be one that lets in as much natural light as possible; natural sunlight stimulates natural cycles in our body that keep us alert and focused on our tasks.
However, in a pinch, you can use strong, “blue” light to keep your employees working hard. You may also use lighting creatively, dimming it in areas meant to help your employees relax or decompress, or using spotlights to highlight important features of your office, such as an award display.
Every workspace should have at least some art on display—but the type and placement of art depends on the nature of your brand. Art has the potential to stimulate creativity in your employees, and adds more character to your work environment.
If your brand is a creative and energetic one, abstract and controversial art are key installations. If your brand is more formal and professional, more conventional pieces of art will do fine.
- The breakroom.
Your breakroom is where employees will go when they need a moment away from work, and where they’ll mingle and get to know each other better. That’s why you’ll need to make it an aesthetically inviting place, from the recreational installations you provide to the style of kitchen cabinets you offer.
Make sure there’s enough room for employees to enjoy themselves, and try to distinguish the room from its surroundings.
- Plant life.
If you happen to like plants, you won’t be surprised to learn that offices featuring plant life tend to increase both morale and productivity. The question is, what type of plants do you offer, and where do you put them?
Ideally, you’ll have a few plants to welcome employees as they walk in, and a few plants in plain view of the majority of your workspaces. The type of plant will likely depend on the character of your brand and what type of atmosphere you want to create.
Ergonomic furniture is a must for your employees. Comfortable furniture designed to support worker activities will keep your employees in good posture and focused more intently. They can also reduce the chance of employee injuries and chronic pain, especially over the course of years or decades. Spend the extra money here.
- Clutter and cleanliness.
A tidy office is one that supports productivity, but unfortunately, there aren’t many initial design choices that can help you here. Instead, you’ll need to institute office rules and expectations that demand employees to clean up after themselves and keep their individual desks and work stations in order. Include plenty of filing and storage systems to help guide your employees toward maintaining cleaner, more organized workspaces.
Chances are, your employees are going to fight over the thermostat. Some of your workers will be chronically cold, while others will always feel like they’re hot. Research suggests the average “ideal” temperature for productivity is 71 degrees F, but you may find that your employees have very different needs. Experiment and work with your employees to find the right balance here.
- Humidity and air quality.
You may also need to tinker with the humidity or control the quality of the air in your workspace to elicit the best results from your employees. A humidifier or dehumidifier can make your workspace much more bearable, and an inexpensive upgrade to your air filter could result in a much fresher, less allergy-inducing work environment.
- Scents. Nobody likes a foul-smelling office, but you might be surprised to learn that some scents have the potential to boost employees’ moods and productivity. Using an essential oil diffuser or a similar device, you can fill the office with something like lemon, lavender, cinnamon, or peppermint—and watch as your employees experience less stress and stay more focused on their work.
- Noise and music.
Noise and music have an enormous potential impact on your employees’ productivity. Music, at a reasonable volume, or ambient noise can make your employees more productive, filtering out unwanted and inconsistent noises and providing a peaceful backdrop for their ongoing tasks.
However, significant spikes in noise, or distracting noises can interfere with their productivity. A bad or uncharacteristic choice in music (such as loud or disagreeable genres) could also drive down productivity.
- Rooms and offices.
Even if you’ve gone with an open office layout, you’ll still need at least some rooms and offices for private meetings. Those rooms should still feel like they’re a part of the same workspace, but should have enough differences in design and positioning that it’s clear to newcomers when they’ve entered a distinct area.
In your meeting rooms, make sure you’ve optimized the acoustics, and always have a door you can close to filter out unwanted noise. Next, most important is to make sure you have strong internet in all locations in your office. It's been shown that three percent of employees leave companies that have consistent internet problems.
- Consistency and novelty.
Your workspace should strike a balance between consistency and novelty. There’s evidence to suggest that routines can make us more productive; being in a consistent environment, with few (if any changes) can help us get more done and stay focused on the tasks at hand.
However, some companies research indicates that introducing novelty (through changes in your workspace) may make your employees more excited to come to work each day, and might break up some of the monotony associated with repetitive office visits.
Where you fall on this continuum may depend on your brand, your values or how your employees react to each circumstance.
- Devices and appliances.
You’ll also need to consider what types of devices and appliances you offer your employees. For example, the speed and efficiency of the computers available to your staff could severely restrict or boost their performance; you don’t need a top-of-the-line model to make the difference here.
Any device with enough memory and an intuitive operating system will do fine. While you’re at it, make sure you invest in a high-quality printer/copier (if you’re using paper in your office), and other tech equipment that will make your employees’ lives easier.
The Importance of Remaining Adaptable
Reading about these important workspace qualities and suggested ways of how to make the most of them may give you a false sense of confidence. Understanding the science, as well as the unique characteristics of your brand, you probably have an intuitive guess at which combination of features would make the most productive workspace. However, your employees are a diverse group of individuals, and may respond in unexpected ways.
The real key to maximizing the productivity of a workspace is remaining adaptable. You need to closely monitor how your employees perform under different conditions, and collect employee feedback regularly so you can proactively identify pain points and work to address them. You probably won’t create the “perfect” office on your first go, but as long as you’re flexible, and willing to experiment with other options, you’ll always have a possible path forward.