Let’s be honest, designing corporate spaces is all about the bottom line. Traditionally companies would save money by buying the cheapest furniture possible – in bulk – and arranging it in an assembly line fashion to accommodate the largest amount of workers in the tightest space.

However, corporations are quickly discovering that this type of office configuration has a profoundly negative effect on worker performance. Research has also shown them that, by banishing the traditional model, their employees will work more productively and ultimately generate a greater profit.

The article below details the psychological effects behind these changes. Take a look at their effects, as well as the big name companies who have benefited doing a little rearranging. You may even find yourself changing your own workspace up a bit.

Part 1


Open Office Spaces Foster Communication:

In the old days, office space was distributed in the same general manner, no matter what company. The newbies were given cubicles, mid-management got to enjoy the privilege of an office with a door, and CEOs had their pick of palatial spaces with stunning views. But, today, those offices are quickly becoming a thing of the past in favor of large, open spaces.

This type of environment features long workspaces where a new hire and a CFO could potentially work side-by-side. Even the conference rooms, though enclosed, usually feature glass walls. Some companies like Twitter even go the extra step and configure their buildings entrance so that employees must pass through a high-end communal break room before continuing on to their departments.

What’s the benefit of all this openness? Communication. Research has pointed to the fact that workers are more likely to communicate with each other for project details and assistance problem-solving if they have mingled socially.

The other benefit of this type of space is, obviously, accountability. With no solid walls or doors, workers experience a sort of “fish bowl effect” and are more likely to stay focused on the task at hand.


Task-Based Workstations Improve Productivity:

Of course, there are bound to be a few negatives associated with a fully open office concept. Could you imagine trying to concentrate on an important conference call with two of your coworkers chatting about weekend plans just a few feet away? Many companies have started using flexible workstations as a result.

How does this flexibility work? Instead of each employee having an assigned desk, distinct spatial configurations are setup for the workers to use as needed. There might be open desks for computer work, round tables for creative brainstorming, and secluded cubbies for quiet concentration. Typically, employees are also given mobile technology to allow them to move freely throughout the space.

This type of flexibility allows workers to place themselves in the environment in which they work best. Introverts are allowed a peaceful place to collect their thoughts while extroverts can feed off of each other’s energy. Allowing that freedom of choice has shown increases in productivity for forward-thinking companies like Google and Department of Treasury and Finance in Victoria.


Personal Touches Increase Employee Morale:

We all have that one collogue who brings his or her home life into work. Whether it’s kids’ drawings papering the walls of a cubical or a plethora of holiday decorations, he or she is always the subject of debate. While some may think these personal items too unprofessional for the corporate environment, studies have shown that the ability to decorate one’s workspace leaves employees feeling more invested in the company’s success.

Psychology students at the University of Exeter put that theory to the test when they studied a local corporation. They divided the workers into four groups: one group was not allowed to personalize their cubicles at all, one that was allowed to decorate walls without reconfiguring furniture, one allowed to reconfigure however they pleased, and a final group that was given the freedom to decorate but eventually forced to conform to rules.

Unsurprising, the group that was able to reconfigure their cubicles however they wished showed the most positive outcome. They reported improved concentration, ambiance, organization, and productivity.


Natural Light Improves Quality of Life:

Is there anything more depressing than overhead office lights? It’s almost as if the sound of that unmistakable buzzing has been burned into our brains and associated with long hours and unshakable colds that leave the entire staff taking sick days. However, corporations are quickly discovering that if they want to keep their employees healthy, they need to hit the off switch and let the sun in.

A recent study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compared the overall health of workers who had window-filled offices versus those without. They found that employees with windows received 173% more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. Those employees also reported greater physical activity than their collogues who were left in the dark.

Anyone who has gone into work on a poor night’s rest knows that an improved quality of life will translate into improved work performance. In order to bring these results into your office, research suggests that corporations choose buildings that feature floor-to-ceiling windows as their workspace. Once there, they should make sure to keep workstations within 20 to 25 feet since that is the limit to how far natural light can travel.


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