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5 Workplace Design Tips For Performance and Wellbeing

Workplace design has always revolved around productivity, but in far too many cases, productivity has been prioritized over humanity. When people work in spaces that lack a human touch, they often go into work every day feeling unmotivated, disengaged, and drained, both physically and emotionally.

Taking steps to bring comfort to the workplace doesn’t necessarily mean it has to come at the expense of productivity. In fact, research has shown just the opposite can happen. No one single factor shapes workplace performance just as no one single factor shapes a person’s wellness. But with as much time as people spend in the workplace, workplace design needs to play a vital role in supporting both performance and wellness.

Three orange ergonomic chairs set around a conference table

1. Ergonomic Support

For a workplace that truly supports both performance and wellbeing, improving ergonomics is one of the most effective places to start. Just because working in an office might not be as physically demanding as working in some other types of environments, that doesn’t necessarily mean health risks aren’t involved. Poor ergonomics can easily lead to problems like back pain and musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome. In terms of lost wages, lost productivity, and compensation costs, the Institute of Medicine estimates that work-related musculoskeletal disorders cost between $45 and $54 billion each year.

Tips to improve office ergonomics:

  • Avoid purchasing furniture designed for residential environments.
  • Look for ergonomic desk chairs that intuitively respond to user movements and changes in posture with little need for manual adjustments.
  • Sit-to-stand desks help encourage healthy changes in position throughout the day.

woman sits in front of privacy screen in lounge seating

2. Environmental Control

In all types of environments, people feel empowered by choice. In the Steelcase Global Report on Engagement and the Global Workplace, our research found that highly engaged employees are much more likely to report having control over where and how they work.

One of the most common mistakes people make with open plan offices is thinking they’re a one-size-fits-all solution to improving productivity in the workplace. It’s very important to remember that different types of tasks have different needs to support. An open space may be perfect for some kinds of work, but less-than-ideal for others. Over the course of a day, a person might go from working as part of a group in a lounge to needing a more private setting where they can quietly focus on something by themselves. Creating different zones in an office to offer a variety of different work environments empowers people to work where they know they will be their most productive.

Ways to create environmental control in the office:

  • Mobile screens give you a way to create defined spaces in an open office without losing flexibility.
  • Mesh screens can be used to create semi-private zones that provide just enough privacy to signify someone doesn’t want to be interrupted without completely cutting them off from the rest of the office. 
  • Fully opaque screens are ideal for spaces that allow for a greater degree of privacy.

Man stands while another man sits in a stool at a standing height office desk

3. Eliminating Distractions

Distractions are a major obstacle to productivity. Research has found that the average office worker is interrupted or distracted every three minutes and it takes an average of 23 minutes to return to a task after an interruption. Distractions can take many different forms and not all of them have to do with external factors, but taking steps to control things like audio and visual distractions goes a long way in supporting productivity.

Tips to eliminate workplace distractions:

  • Desk screens can help filter out distractions caused by activity around the office.
  • Sound masking systems can help block out noise from co-worker conversations and improve focus in quiet environments.

Living office wall with lounge furniture

4. Natural Connections

Humans have an innate need to feel connected to the natural world around them, but in far too many cases, people work in offices that make them feel disconnected; lacking things like natural light and greenery. Biophilic design has become one of the biggest workplace design trends in recent years, fueled by research demonstrating the positive impact environments that remind people of being in nature have on productivity and general wellbeing. John Hamilton, design director of Coalesse, says of biophilic design, “It’s about tricking our brains to feel like we’re in a natural environment by triggering underlying patterns that we’re programmed to recognize and feel good in.”

Ideas for bringing biophilic design to an office:

  • Maximize natural lighting.
  • Add plants. Creating a living plant wall is one popular option.
  • Include furniture made of natural elements like wood and stone.
  • Create outdoor work areas.

Mustard colored sofa with blue lounge chair in an office setting

5. Color Schemes

In office environments, color schemes are anything but superficial. Research into color psychology has shown that different colors affect people in different ways, so your color scheme can be planned around the type of atmosphere you want your office to have.

Examples of workplace color psychology:

  • Because of their connections to nature, blue and green are popular choices for offices because of the calming and restorative effects they have on people.
  • Yellow and red have energizing effects on people.

Making it Work

When workplaces are designed to support both wellness and productivity, everybody wins. But as you think about the design of your office, it’s important to make sure that your overall plan to improve wellness and productivity involves more than one strategy. For example, bringing in ergonomic desk chairs will only do so much to help when distractions are still an issue. By combining multiple strategies, the more likely it is that your efforts will be successful.

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