Why is it that cutting edge companies seem so eager to create such cool offices? Is it just window dressing? A false indicator of success? Perhaps there are legitimate reasons for companies to strategically design their work environment.
The environment we work in goes a long way to contributing to overall productivity, happiness, and satisfaction. That's why startups work so hard to make their offices so cool. Studies show we work harder when we're happy. It's also true that the more effective we feel, the better we like our jobs.
Cool Office Design: More Than Just a Pretty Place
While these factors are great for the bottom line, they're just plain good for people, too. That's why some of the most successful companies on the planet, like Google, invest heavily to ensure their employees enjoy a work environment unlike any other. It's a vital component in attracting and keeping the best and brightest talent.
"If you haven't thought about your space, you're a lot farther behind the curve than you realize."
--Lisa Konieczka, CBRE
How to Make Meaningful Office Design Choices
A well-designed office space can have a real impact on how employees feel about working there. That's why growing startups—always on the hunt for top-tier talent—so often employ cutting edge office design features.
Certainly, communicating a company's status as an industry leader is an important part of it. (Don't we all want to work at places like that?) But even if you can't afford to break the bank designing your office space, you can make a few deliberate choices that will go a long way to helping you and your team take on the world.
To help you out, we've compiled 11 Top Features of Modern Company Offices, and broken them out into four main categories: collaboration, communication, focus, and fitness.
We probably hit peak "open office" design a few years ago when the anti-cubicle movement went a little too far. I mean, we do need to get stuff done; the day isn't all about brainstorming. That said, offices will likely continue to be open and collaborative, even if we are now a bit more intentional about it. In fact, depending on the work your specific team does, the space you use to collaborate really matters.
1. Standing Room Only Meeting Space
Research shows that standing meetings keep project members more engaged and less territorial. Standing meetings also convey a sense of urgency and respect for everyone's time, because you can't sit back and camp out around a cocktail table. Standing spaces require very little room, and less furniture (by definition), making them an awesome option for a fast-paced startup on a tight budget.
2. Crash Space/ Gathering Space
The polar opposite of the down-to-business standing room, crash spaces provide an opportunity to relax without having to leave the office. Having one tells your employees that it's OK to chill out, kick back, and be social or have a meandering discussion that isn't part of a project sprint.
Crash spaces have the added value of segregating types of work by putting casual (and sometimes) loud talk literally in its place.
Fast and seamless exchange of information makes everyone's jobs easier. We see it with the growth of online tools like Slack over email, making it possible for teams to function well, even with no office at all. When most of your team is in one place most of the time, communication breakdowns can and do still happen. These solutions help keep them to a minimum.
3. App-Enabled Office Management
From requesting supplies to tracking expenses to reserving conference rooms, there's an app for that. While apps may not seem directly related to office design, most of us now live and work in a digital medium. Employees have come to expect their office "user experience" should afford the same conveniences their smartphones afford them everywhere else—functional design.
4. Advanced Video Conferencing
Conference calls stink. There, I said it. Listening to that terrible UFO unit in the center of the conference table is only slightly worse than trying to hear everyone talking into it when you're on the phone. Thanks to better data speeds and fast processing, video is replacing conference calls, and companies like Oblong are turning conference calls into an asset, rather than a roadblock. A killer video conferencing setup also makes for a beautiful conference room.
5. Whiteboard Wall - Idea Paint
A hi-tech surface for a prehistoric communication medium: Idea Paint. Capture ideas from an impromptu brainstorm, post a vital company reminder (Beers at 6:00!), or have some fun, right there on the wall. Encouraging your team to do what they never were allowed to do as kids has a way of sparking creativity and camaraderie while being incredibly useful at the same time. Maybe because it feels like rule-breaking or "coloring outside the lines," but Idea Paint is way cooler than a whiteboard. Because you can paint such large areas, new use cases abound.
As I mentioned above, teams need to gather—it's important for many reasons—but solitary focus is important, too. According to a study by Gensler, most employees consider focused work the most important part of their day. Unfortunately, many recent office designs have made focus difficult to achieve. While we aren't going to see a return to closed doors and cube farms, we can improve how an open office facilitates alone time at work.
6. Phone Booths
I will never forget taking business calls with a client who was based in Manhattan. Her 50-person office was so open, she had to sit in the stairwell of her building to take my calls, otherwise, her phone picked up her desk mates' conversations and I couldn't hear her, or she couldn't hear me. Common in co-working spaces, phone booths keep private conversations private and loud-talkers away from quite thinkers, or vice versa.
Allow enough space, and your phone booth can double as a "collaboration pod" or standing meeting room. Just make sure you have more than one.
7. Sound Masking System
Some people love using white noise machines to block out sound in the bedroom. Turns out, they also make a noisy office see much quieter. Taking white noise a step further, sound masking systems actually react to the noise in the room and broadcast subtle sounds that counteract and effectively cancel a wide range of annoying background commotion. It's when you can't hear it, that you know it's working.
8. Moveable Walls and Visual Breaks
Flexible space options, like walls that move or interesting curtains, allow employees to reduce visual stimulation as well as sound when a focused work mode requires it. We've come to expect that to be able to focus in the office, earphones should do it, but the fact is, focus isn't just about noise—limiting visual distractions is very useful, too.
Drawing on the "user experience" that apps provide, policy, too, can greatly improve team focus time. For example, some teams benefit by scheduling focus blocks that no one is permitted to interrupt. That way, instead of being the jerk who insists on quiet time, the onus is on the interrupter to know when it's OK to chat.
9. Standing Desks
Nary a new office can be found without a standing desk or two... or two dozen. Office workers simply are no longer content to sit their lives away. From burning calories to feeling more productive and energized, the benefits of standing are winning out. Even if you'd like to stand for a mere hour longer each day, that's a big health win, and adjustable sit-to-stand desks make it a snap.
10. Active Seating
Of course, not everyone can or should stand all day, and you can still do a lot for your health from a sitting position. Balance balls have been popular for several years now to help improve posture and core strength. Few would argue, however, that they are truly fun to use or stylish.
Enter: the Buoy Chair. Minimalist, cool-looking and functional, buoy chairs offer portability, comfort, and a built-in wobble that lets you gently keep your body moving, even as you focus.
11. Natural Light, Color, and Texture
Visual stimulation plays an important role in productivity, creativity, and a general sense of well-being, even if we do need to turn it off for focus time. Most of us would love big windows, but there are many ways to improve our visual surroundings without wholesale architectural redesigns.
Glass walls and mirrors help make the most of whatever light you have. Pops of color throughout the office, as well as textural accents like wood and shag rugs can do wonders against an otherwise cold industrial aesthetic. Remember, the office is really a second home to many employees; concrete, steel, and white might be the cheap and easy palette, but that's not how the best companies outfit their spaces.
Optimize Your Office
Any or all of these new staples of stylish and functional design can dramatically improve a space. But you don't need a massive budget to make a big impact. Something as basic as the right desk setup for your work habits can go a long way. With just a little planning and careful consideration, you can transform a drab office environment into a wellspring of creative action.