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Five things you can do to make your office more inviting, attractive and productive

“It’s one of the easiest things to spend money on and have great impact, because it’s there every day and people are using it anyway.”

Jul 22, 2014

by Alix Kemp

There’s more to an office than having enough desks and chairs for your employees, but it can be hard to put a dollar value on the benefits of investing in a professional designer. While there can be an economic benefit to a great office – more efficient, sustainable office will save money in the long run – most of the benefits are harder to measure. Sean Crawford, a principal with Shearer Design, says that despite the intangible nature of the benefits, investing in a great office pays off. “What your space is and how it interacts with staff and with people coming into it is an expression of your company,” he says. “It’s one of the easiest things to spend money on and have great impact, because it’s there every day and people are using it anyway.”

Patricia Evans, one of the founders of design firm Sizeland Evans, agrees. “The office space is becoming a key part of a whole strategy that companies are doing to attract and retain staff,” she says, which makes good design even more important in competitive markets like Alberta.

But if you’re not an interior designer, or don’t have the budget for a total renovation or new office space, where do you start?

1. Involve Your Team
The first step to any office redesign is to find out what would have the greatest positive impact on your employees. The best way to do that? Ask. Establish a steering committee or focus group with representatives from every level and major area of your business and ask them what it is about their workplace that they love – and, even more importantly – what they hate. This process will help you determine inefficiencies and possible improvements. If you’re not sure what questions to ask, you can consider bringing in a representative from a design firm to assist with this process and turn your employees’ concerns into actionable ideas. The benefits of this kind of a committee-based approach is that employees will be more excited about any potentially disruptive changes to the work environment and in a better position to explain the changes to colleagues who weren’t involved in the planning process.

2. Let There Be Light
One of the major complaints for many employees is the lack of access to natural light in their offices. A study by the American Society of Interior Design found that 68 per cent of employees in the U.S. complain about the lighting in their office. It’s even more of a problem here in Alberta, where short winter days mean employees without access to windows can easily go all day without seeing the sun. One of the major benefits of open concept offices is that natural light can penetrate the entire space, but bringing in more light doesn’t necessarily mean banishing closed offices. Instead, consider replacing office drywall with panes of glass and reducing the height of any cubicles. A coat of bright, lightly coloured paint will also help reflect light into the office interior. If the cost of that kind of renovation makes you wince, consider that more natural light will also save you on electricity bills and boost employee productivity.

3. Green Space
Open concept offices and co-worker arrangements have the unfortunate side effect of allowing illness to spread among employees, but there are ways to combat the spread of sickness besides asking all your employees to wear gloves and surgical masks. A 2009 study from the University of Georgia found that a variety of indoor plants not only make your office look greener, but also remove indoor pollutants from the air. The best plants for increasing workplace health? Purple waffle plants, English ivy, wax plants and asparagus ferns.

You can also go green in the figurative sense by consolidating the office waste disposal for trash, recycling and even composting into one central area so that staff will have an excuse to get up from their desks on a regular basis and walk around the office.

4. Posture Perfect
Bad posture and poorly configured desks can lead to a variety of aches, pains and injuries for workers who spend most of their days staring at a computer screen, reducing productivity and making for an unhappy and uncomfortable workforce. Letting employees decide what kind of ergonomically friendly set-up they’d prefer, whether that’s a properly designed chair or a standing desk, can help reduce these kinds of injuries. However, just buying the right desk or keyboard isn’t enough. Alan Hedge, a researcher from Cornell University, discovered that employees who don’t receive training in using their ergonomic workplaces properly are actually more uncomfortable than they were at a standard desk. If forking out for new furniture isn’t an option, consider bringing in a consultant for a day to do ergonomic assessments for your staff, helping them to adjust their chair, desk and work surface for maximum comfort.

5. Be Flexible
Give your employees the freedom to move around the office by providing a variety of flexible spaces where they can work away from their desks. There are a variety of creative spaces you can introduce that can help employees complete their tasks. Consider creating smaller, more informal meeting areas where two or three employees can discuss a project without taking up a whole board room or crowding around a single desk. Open concept environments can benefit from a “quiet area,” where speaking and cellphones are prohibited so employees can concentrate on a complex task, or a reading nook with comfortable seating for digging into long reports or articles.

Allowing employees to personalize their workspaces with art and knick-knacks is also a good way to make them appreciate being at work more. Consider providing your staff members with a small stipend for decorating, or provide them with a variety of desk accessories to choose from.


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