The benefits of a harmonious office space are numerous: whether it’s natural light giving an 84% drop in eyestrains, headaches and blurred vision, or 65% of UK workers believing a better designed office would improve their productivity. PLATF9RM build our spaces to inspire connections, community and a healthy working culture. (We also like pretty design, natch.) But how can other offices do the same? We called two local specialists to find out current office and workspace trends, and get some simple tips for making yours look wonderful.
“The biggest change in the marketplace is awareness,” says Dave Blood, of Love Your Workspace and Posture People. “Wellbeing is very much the recent buzzword – whether it’s physical or mental health.” This is due to increased societal discourse around these issues, but also down to working practices evolving and updating quicker than your Mac’s operating system.
“A lot of people aren’t stationary at their desk anymore – they’ll be floating around in different places and working how they want. It’s called activity-based working,” says Chris Sparham of Rap Interiors. This is helping to blur the lines between work and play, with breakout areas, sofas, televisions and beer fridges often part of the mise-en-scene in the modern office. “It’s about making the space a little more homely,” says Chris.
Work This Space
Higher demands for space mixed with a difficult financial climate have created a unique set of challenges for those in the business of making offices wonderful. “Clients want their spaces to work harder,’ says Dave Blood. “One thing we’re often seeing is companies reducing desk sizes to avoid a move. So a company might fit 30 people into an area previously for 20, but they also want to free up space for soft-seating breakout areas or high table with stalls for people to eat lunch.
What about building a mini pool table – will this classic tech company trope erect a mighty spike in employee wellbeing? “2009 to 2010 was when we saw the start of a shift in what people wanted from their workspace,” says Dave Blood. “Employers were chucking in table tennis tables and suddenly they were apparently a forward-thinking employee with this funky office. Now it’s about allocating space that’s going to be used for the different ways people want to work.
According to 2016 research by the Work Foundation, musculoskeletal problems accounted for 9.5millon UK sick days in 2015/14 – approximately 40% of all work-related ill health. Increased knowledge is leading us to a new trend of investment in ergonomic furniture.
“Employers have developed an understanding of the benefits of people being set up correctly and comfortable in the workplace,” says Dave Blood. “It’s now seen as an investment in staff rather than pure expense. You get a return because the employee takes less time off due to back problems, or they stay for longer so there’s less recruitment costs. Or maybe they’re just more productive because they’re not experiencing discomfort at their workstation.”
Plants, Wonderful Plants
Plants can dial-up the atmosphere of a dreary office and, according to this 2014 study, can increase productivity by 15%. They’ll also purify the air and make sure we’re all sucking in more oxygen, thus helping our alertness.
“It’s bringing the outside in,” says Chris Sparham. The idea has its roots in the biophilia which, broadly, is a hypothesis that humans have an innate connection with nature. So an office with some blooming aglaonemas or philodendrons will make us all feel content and more motivated to make that cold call at 4pm on Friday afternoon. “In general, plants will help clear the air and make employees feel happier,” says Chris.
Play It Soft
When it comes to the colour and furnishings, the chrome and black leather of offices past seems as dated as the gender pay gap. “We’re very much seeing a softening of colours,” says Dave Blood. “There’s a much stronger blurring between the lines of the furniture you have in your home or your office. “
Dave says wood is coming back – for sustainability reasons but also to enhance the biophilic and homely appeal of spaces. “It’s partly bringing the outside in, but those old classic chrome sofa legs create a harsh, corporate look. It’s something that’s just designed to sit in an office, rather than somewhere you’d choose to spend your time.”
A 2011 study in the British Journal of Psychology said that “speech and office noise can disrupt performance on memory for prose and mental arithmetic tasks”.
“Acoustics is our biggest growth area in the last 12 months,” says Dave Blood. “It’s a by-product of the recent workplace trends.” Dave says that he’s going into a lot of spaces to literally “suck out” the sound of that nice-but-noisey recruitment guy at the end of your table.
He uses noise cancelling software that gets tuned to the office’s unique sonics, and emits a sound compared to the barely audible hum of air-conditioning. “You might have a relatively quiet office and perhaps one or two loud people – you need to bring the background noise up so you can’t hear them, otherwise you will bring your own volume up as compensation,” Dave says.
Check out these other useful PLATF9RM Press blogs