The psychology behind good office design
17th March 2020
Workspace interior design isn’t always associated with the words ‘interesting’ or ‘engaging’. At best, it might be neutral. At worst, dull and dreary.
But in recent years, a number of organisations, including big names like Facebook and Google, have shown that offices don’t have to be generic spaces. Instead of uniformity, offices can be unique, acting as extensions of a brand’s identity.
By creating a bespoke working environment, these companies are pushing the envelope on office design and, by extension, environmental psychology.
Environmental psychology – the discipline which tries to understand the psychological impact of design and environment – helps us to understand how a work environment can affect employee mood, engagement levels at work, and how to improve productivity and efficiency across the board.
Increasingly, big organisations are using environmental psychology in their office design, creating interesting spaces which aim to foster a social and communicative atmosphere.
Certain design aspects will provoke a particular psychological response. For example, a visually vibrant workspace can encourage creativity. An open-plan layout can encourage collaboration and communication across departments, while individual and quiet work zones cater to people who work better with less background noise.
A widely accepted design principle, for example, is the psychological effect of colour. Different colours encourage different moods: shades of blue can be calming, yellows stimulate, reds can motivate, and greens can soothe.
Other aspects of office design – such as desk configuration, the amount of natural light, ambient noise levels and so on – all feed into the employee experience and can influence productivity and engagement.
Even the modern trend of including fun amenities such as table tennis and pool tables encourages employees to socialise together, improving employee relations. It also allows your employees to build some exercise into their day, which helps to improve productivity.
If you’re thinking of reshuffling your office, consult your employees to see what features they think would help them to work more productively or what would help them to feel more comfortable (giving your employees a say – or even letting them restructure the office in their own way – can help to improve employee engagement, according to both the Harvard Business Review and a number of scientific studies referenced by the design hub, 99u.)
This infographic from the World Green Building Council illustrates some of the research that has been done in the field (click to expand):
What can I do to improve my workspace?
While office design principles may seem like minute elements with little overall significance to the smooth running and success of your business, all of these little details combine to create the perfect workplace.
Below, we’ve put together some tips and advice that could help you to improve productivity in your offices.
Adding some greenery to the office can have a hugely positive effect on morale; research has consistently shown that greenery can improve productivity, memory retention, creativity and problem solving, while also reducing stress.
It’s easy (and affordable) to add these improvements to your own work environment simply by adding some foliage to the office floor. Encourage your employees to bring in their favourite plant for their desk, too – you’ll soon notice the benefits.
Natural light in the workplace is hugely important, as exposure to daylight has a direct impact on mood and sleep quality.
Research from the World Green Building Council has found that office workers with window seats sleep, on average, for 46 minutes longer each night than their colleagues who don’t sit near windows.
This translates into improved productivity and creativity, with businesses reporting anywhere from 3% to 40% increases in productivity. Natural light can also improve creativity and reduce stress.
Do everything you can to improve the amount of natural light in your workplace – it will have noticeable effects.
Psychological colour scheme
Different colours provoke different moods and reactions; using different shades or colours in different rooms and throughout the office can help to encourage focus and creativity. Check out some examples of hugely varying colour schemes in different office spaces.
A little freedom
It can be tempting to implement a clean desk policy to retain neatness in the workplace, however some benefits can be seen to giving employees the freedom to decorate their workspace – even if it’s just allowing a couple of personal items on their desk. Empowering your employees to make decisions about their direct environment can increase productivity and efficiency.