Can office design affect our mood?

Gina Jones

Tuesday 16 January 2018

It’s been estimated that we spend about 60,000 hours at work over a lifetime – that’s about 30 per cent of your entire life spent at the office – so it stands to reason that a well-designed workplace can have a big impact on your mood.*

Almost half of employees (48 per cent) believe that the office positively impacts on their mental health, according to the What Workers Want 2016, and yet very few have any say in what it looks like. With this in mind, we look at how employers can maximise employee satisfaction and create a positive work environment.

Provide open and closed spaces

Despite being the dominant choice for most companies, open-plan office spaces are falling out of favour with workers. Only 45 per cent of employees said they were satisfied with the noise levels in their office, and 71 per cent said they valued having a quiet space to concentrate at work.

The intention behind open-plan office spaces is to drive collaborative working, but new research has shown that access to a private space is also critical to encouraging innovation. Gensler’s UK Workplace Survey 2016 found that team members seen as innovators within companies are five times more likely to have access to a private space, while workers at the other end of the spectrum spend 86 per cent of their time at their desks.

Furnish thoughtfully

Employee wellness programmes are commonplace nowadays, but smart workplaces that integrate wellbeing into their core design are the next frontier. In particular, the popularity of sit-stand desks has grown in recent years, and while many employers have yet to embrace the trend, it’s something that workers are keen to adopt. 20% of male respondents in the What Workers Want survey said they would always or often use a standing desk if offered one.

Avoid all-white spaces

A lot of research has been conducted into the psychology of colour, most notably on their possible effects on our moods. A study by the University of Texas that examined the impact of colour schemes in the office environment found that those working in an all-white office environment reported more negative moods than those in blue/green spaces. Despite this, the study found no link between mood and the productivity of employees, so choosing a colour that puts them in a better mood won’t necessarily make them work harder, but you can at least affect the sentiment with which they approach their working environment.

“Creating a one-size-fits-all ideal interior environment for individuals with differing characteristics may be impossible. Alternatively, interiors could be designed with maximum flexibility to allow for variations within the same general space according to each individual’s characteristics,” wrote Dr Nancy Kwallek, author of the report.

Bring the outside in

A recent focus on wellbeing in the workplace has led to the rise of biophilic design – spaces that integrate natural elements. Research has shown that offices with greenery and sunlight increased productivity by up to 6 per cent and creativity by 15 per cent. With so much of our time spent in enclosed spaces, bringing nature back into the workplace is one way employers can help improve the mood of their workforce.

While there are limits to how much control employees can be given when it comes to designing a workspace, it’s worth remembering that office design can have an impact on attracting and retaining top talent. Indeed, 25 per cent of workers said they would be willing to commute an extra 30 minutes to work in their perfect office.

By implementing office changes that workers want, employers can boost morale as well as expand their recruitment talent pool.

*Based on US figures of 40 hours a week spent at the office over 30 years of work, minus two weeks a year for holidays.

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