I spent five long years staring at a grey cubicle wall. I could hear my co-workers talking but couldn’t see them. I listened to one end of phone conversations but not the other. It was maddening.
I liked my job. I liked my co-workers. We even went to happy hours together and started a softball team. But those cubicle walls. Oh, those cubicle walls. Combined with the drop ceilings, fluorescent lighting, windowless conference rooms and massive corner offices for higher-ups, the environment was anything but stimulating. It weighed on my mental well-being and when I eventually moved on, I was happy to never see that place again (even if I did miss my work buddies).
I’m certainly not alone. In fact, 92 percent of working Americans say there’s at least one aspect of their physical workspace that makes them unhappy, according to a recent study by National Business Furniture, conducted by Kelton Global. The overall design of your personal workspace is critical, as 48 percent say it impacts their happiness at work, 47 percent say it impacts productivity and 42 percent say it affects stress and anxiety levels.
“We are creatures of environments and the environment we’re in greatly affects our mood and productivity,” said Dean Stier, chief marketing officer at National Business Furniture.
Design also impacts people’s ability to focus for long stretches of time (41 percent), their overall motivation to work hard (36 percent) and their willingness to work longer hours (30 percent), according to the study.
In turn, solid workplace design is a major employee retention tool—which is crucial in today’s war for talent. Millennials (a generation known for job-hopping) are especially concerned with workspace design. More than half (56 percent) said design impacts happiness, compared to 42 percent of Gen X and Boomers.
“This is a generation that is very in tune with their environment and they have strong feelings about what kind of environment they’d like to work in,” said Stier. “They’ve seen older siblings, or even parents who were loyal to companies being let go in the Great Recession of 2008, and they realized they want to work for companies that invest in their employees as well as customers.”
The physical environment accounts for a large portion of an employee’s overall experience, according to Jacob Morgan, an author, speaker and futurist who conducted research at 252 companies around the world.
“A lot of people used to say the physical space was dying. Offices would disappear and we would all work from coworking spaces or coffee shops,” said Morgan. “But we’ve seen the exact opposite prove true. The physical space is actually reemerging and becoming what I like to call an employee experience center—this cool place that makes you want to show up to work.”
Want to transform your workspace into an uplifting place that’s attractive to talented employees? Don’t just design an open office environment and call it a day (unless you want to see people wearing headphones so they’re not constantly interrupted). Instead, focus on these seven simple solutions.
Ask your employees. What do they like about the current set up? What do they hate? Getting a baseline is as easy as having an honest discussion with your team. Remember that every company is different and every group of employees is different—treat them as such and use their feedback to find the solution that’s right for you.
Go green. Adding plants can brighten up people’s moods, reduce stress and increase productivity. Adding some life to your space will make it less stale and stoic. What plant should you pick? Check out our guide.
Offer a mix of workspaces. Workers don’t just need open offices or closed doors. They need a mix spaces that’ll allow for collaboration when it’s needed and heads-down focus work when it’s time to buckle down.
Declutter. When National Business Furniture asked what makes people unhappy in their physical workspace, the top answer was clutter. Take some time to declutter your space. Do you really need those business books or old computer monitors that have been collecting dust for years?
Reinvigorate the lunch room. The lunchroom shouldn’t just be a place where people quietly eat their sandwiches and shuffle back to their desks. Or worse, a place where nobody hangs out. Create a warm atmosphere where people can take a break, connect with co-workers and feel rejuvenated when they’re finished.
Focus on informal spaces. Replace some hard desks and tables with soft seating, like sofas or loveseats. Making a conference room feel like a living room can create an informal feel that may not only help people’s mental well-being but also promote collaboration (and a sense of comfort).
Remember, you’re not Google—and that’s okay. Offices with ping-pong tables, arcades and snow-cone machines might get news coverage but it’s important to focus on the basics. Make your office space clean, bright, inviting and offer flexibility in work environments. Don’t worry about the gimmicks and stop trying to copy every trend coming out of Silicon Valley.