By Kristie Santana
Kristie Santana is a life coach, coaching educator, and author who has been in the coaching field for 15 years. Her latest project, Life Coach Path, aims to help educate and empower students to find coach training and start thriving coaching practices of their own.
Workspace design can arguably date back to the Roman era, but we know that when the first office building of the British Empire was constructed in 1726 in London, the architect had to design meeting rooms and spaces that could hold massive amounts of paperwork. Workplaces were very much about functionality and practicality, with little thought given to the employee.
Fast forward nearly 300 years, and the pendulum has swung the other way. Global conglomerates like Google believe the workspace emanates an ‘energy’ and must be designed meticulously to support the mental health of their employees. At their New York headquarters, every employee is within 150 feet of an indoor restaurant, cafeteria or lounge. They firmly believe in ‘collision spaces’ where employees are encouraged to chat, dine, and drum up inspiration.
Now, you may not be able to install a full-service restaurant in your office, but making a few changes could help increase office productivity and promote mental wellness.
Light it Up
It’s no secret that we all feel better after we’ve had a bit of sun on our face. In North America during the winter months, employees can spend up to 15 to 20 hours of the day indoors. Offices with claustrophobic cubicles, dingy walls, poorly designed lighting, and a lack of colour all contribute to anxiety, depression, and overall unhappiness. A well-lit workspace is an instant mood booster, prevents eye strain, and makes the working process more enjoyable. Nothing beats natural light, but if that isn’t possible, avoid fluorescent lights and go with dimmable LED instead. Warm oranges and yellows have been proven to help with relaxation and tranquility, whereas blue and white lights are better for working on screens and promoting concentration.
Create Flexible Spaces
The days of “Taylorism”—a style of office architecture where employees were arranged in rows and rarely left their desks throughout the day—are no more. Working in an environment that is agile decreases anxiety. Depending on the type of work being conducted, flexible work spaces allow for collaboration, provide alternative spaces for employees to think and work, and promote autonomy. Flexible spaces can easily be created in an open plan by putting in a communal table, plush seating next to a window, or high-top tables and stools. Employees who have alternative spaces to work have been shown to be more creative and innovative when solving problems.
Indoor plants offer up a plethora of benefits in the workplace and there are a number of studies to support this. Plants are natural air filters, and help to improve indoor air quality almost immediately. In office workspaces that are located in city centres, indoor plants can evoke feelings of tranquility, relaxation, and a connection with nature. Plants can break up the monotony of sterile work environments and, if they’re larger, can be used as leafy barriers or separators.
Spruce Up Your Reception Area
First impressions are everything. Naturally, you want anyone breezing through the front doors of your company to be impressed by the design, layout, ambiance, and personality you incorporate into your reception area. But it’s equally important for your employees to feel a sense of pride when they come into work every day. You may not make a connection between your reception area and productivity, but it is a space that sets the stage for how you conduct business behind the scenes. Consider colour, design, lighting and, most importantly, accessibility for the public and your employees when you’re doing your revamp.
Privacy and Inclusive Spaces
As much as open, flexible spaces are essential to encouraging collaboration and togetherness, employees also need to feel they have a place of refuge to go to if they need some quiet time or privacy. Quiet rooms, yoga studios, and meditation rooms are becoming more popular in office settings. Not just because they’re ‘trendy,’ but because companies are realizing that supporting the mental and physical health of their employees is an essential component of productivity. Inclusive spaces like gender-neutral washrooms, spaces for mothers to nurse, and an overall accessible design so employees and guests with disabilities can enjoy the space are all ways you can make your team feel included and considered, as well as contribute to productivity.
Almost any space can be re-designed to be more inclusive, more flexible, and provide places that encourage collaboration. Consider bringing in a design consultant to offer you a fresh perspective on the layout of your current space. Sit your team down and get their input on what they feel their space needs (or doesn’t). The simple process of considering and incorporating some of their ideas will help them feel a sense of pride about their work space and, in the end, increase productivity.