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office design hong kong
March 30, 2023

The Science Behind Workspace Design

A team of outstanding talent, a catchy website, and a crafty business plan – the tools of the trade when it comes to growing a company. (Okay, you need some capital, too.) But there is one aspect that is often put by the wayside - the workplace. A company’s work environment can reflect onto their employees and values. The workplace should, ideally, support our health and well-being since we spend about a third of our entire lives there.

The Fellowes Workplace Wellness Trend Report discovered that an astounding 87% of workers would like healthier workspace benefits such as wellness rooms and ergonomic seating. 93% of employees from the tech industry said they would even stay longer at a company that provided these benefits. So, how do you transform an ineffective workplace into something that is attractive and productive? Here is the science behind certain workplace designs that can quickly improve your working environment.

The data (unless otherwise specified) we use in this article are  from this study by Building Research & Information, and this study from Fellowes.

Go All-Out on Layout

The death of cubicle spaces in the early 2000s led to a new revolution of open plan offices. The coined term, Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), describes the acute health effects linked to prolonged stay in a building. With cubicle spaces, it is hard not to feel claustrophobic.

Open spaces are a solution in promoting movement, even if your job requires you to stay indoors. Spatial elements are vital in reducing the long-term health effects of a sedentary office life. A research paper in BMJ found that workers in open plan spaces, with no partitions, had a 20-32% increase in physical movement at work. They are reported to have lower stress levels, too. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can boost productivity, so try including open spaces in offices to encourage movement. Mens sana in corpore sano (Latin for ‘a healthy mind in a heathy body’)!

Collaboration is Key

We've all heard this before - teamwork makes the dream work. Author of The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson, said some of the most innovative ideas come from collaborating with different industries and cultures. Teamwork also boosts people's emotional well-being. Happier employees are up to 20% more productive.  

A shared space of encouragement, respect, and recognition is sometimes what pushes people to go the extra mile at work. Various perspectives can also mingle without segregation from partitions inside an open office.

Try adding a cluster of tables for group work to your office. Other than the meeting room table, collaboration desks shouldn't accomodate more than "what two pizzas can feed" (according to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos). Research from Wharton Business School also found that smaller teams took less time to complete the same task compared to larger teams. That could be because larger teams may argue more, hence, an obstacle to getting anything done. So, it's best to have spaces to facilitate both large and small group work.

Bear in mind that everyone has a different working style. Some prefer to collaborate more often, some prefer quiet working. Open offices can sometimes create high levels of disruptive background noise due to having a shared space. Hence, the best office layouts are flexible in accommodating both public and private spaces.

An office should accomodate all needs. (Source: Room Sketcher)

Space and Acoustics

Noise travel by sound waves, and sound energy is created when those waves are either reflected or absorbed onto/into a surface.  To minimise background noises, consider patterned room dividers that can absorb sound. Softer floor solutions such as a carpet helps reduces sound as well. Read more on how to control office acoustics here.

Make Ordinary Furniture Useful

There are two types of furniture to consider:

     1. Activating furniture to stimulate physical activity and reduce sitting time

     2. Ergonomic furniture designed for the user’s health and convenience

Activating furniture such as sit-stand workstations, adjustable desks and bike desks can benefit blood pressure levels and help employees stay fit and healthy. On that note, ergonomic chairs can minimise the discomfort and health issues that comes with long hours of sitting.

When choosing other furniture, choose ones with rounded edges over ones with sharp edges. Hundreds of undergraduate students participated in a study where they rate pictures of room designs. People tend to prefer rounded spaces because it stimulates the brain regions on reward and aesthetic appreciation. Not only will rounded items improve creativity, but also saves you from pain when you eventually run into the corners of furniture as you rush out the door.

We're not all this coordinated.

Knights Of The Round Table

Sitting in circular formation promotes thinking in a collective mindset. To encourage collaboration and team cohesion, consider adopting round, long tables to foster discussions.

Learn more about the correct work form here. (Source: PT&Me)

Lights, Color, Action!

Natural light enhances our metabolisms and promotes cell replenishment. Artificial lighting can disrupt our internal clock, causing sleepiness in the day and restlessness at night. One study from The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that employees in artificially lit offices sleep 46 minutes less per night than those with windows and natural lighting. Although it may seem little, an accumulation of those restless minutes can lead to a drop in work performance over the years.

Adequate lighting fuels into both our physical and psychological well-beings. Different lighting colors and ceiling heights have different effects on our performance too.

Different colored/intensity of lights can enhance certain cognitive functions.

Color Psychology

Color theory suggests different colors have different attributes. Psychologists links this phenomenon to our evolutionary timeline. Our connections with certain colors are developed over time, for example, the colour red is of danger because it is associated with blood.

Colors elicit emotional responses. They can positively (or negatively) impact mood and behavior. Colors featured in the workplace indirectly affect your work performance. Here are some common traits of frequently used colors:

Office colors are more important than you may think.

Consider how the colours reflect on your brand: is your brand modern or classic, playful or serious, luxurious or affordable? To add colors to the office, choose a main color but also an accent color. More emotive colors work better as accent colors to balance out their stronger effects (eg. Red).

Plant the Seeds of Productivity

The air-purifying quality of real plants enhances the overall feeling of the office. Real plants have a positive influence on health as they increase the level of oxygen in the office. Surprisingly, even things like posters featuring nature can positively impact health.

We interact with a device screen of some kind at nearly all hours of the day. So, it wouldn't hurt to alleviate the stress of blue light exposure to the eyes. Studies conducted by doctors from Texas A&M University and Surrey University concluded that visual exposure to plants eases stress and eye strains in just 5 minutes.

The colour green also boosts creativity and productivity. Tech giant, Apple, for example, planted 10,000 trees in their headquarters, providing a natural space to satisfy people's biophilic needs. Therefore, workspaces should go heavy on the plants for their many benefits.

Want a desk plant? Choose one of the above to jazz up your workspace! (Source: Ambius)

Empowerment Through Workspace

Being able to personalise and adjust their own workspaces can influence an employee's psychological well-being. Though it may seem strange, even a perceived control over their working environment can reduce stress.

A study conducted by Craig Knight found that workers who freely  decorated their offices with plants and pictures were 32% more productive than those who didn’t. Employees' trust and commitment to their employers increases when given the autonomy to own their workspaces.

Give your team the ability to create the workspace that helps them feel inspired and motivated. The real science behind workspaces is that everyone’s preferences are different.

At the End of the Day...

“The function of design is letting design function.” - Micha Commeren, designer

There is a science to what makes a great workplace tick. Start putting some thought into improving your office design. With that, you’re already a quarter of the way to creating a workplace that both looks great, and helps everyone there feel great.

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