With hybrid working here to stay, developing an office design that maximises employee wellbeing and engagement might be the factor that keeps the best and brightest in your workforce. Maya Feldman (pictured above), design and delivery lead at Melbourne-based BRM Projects, which provides end-to-end property solutions for small to medium-sized businesses, offers her tips for creating an office space your staff will love.

How Can You Design an Office People Want to Work In?

Open spaces help to build business culture and nurture employee wellbeing and collaboration.

Not everyone works in the same way. Some people need the buzz of the office, while other people prefer quiet spaces. As an employer, it’s more than measuring your bottom line and productivity. We now talk about being an employer of choice, and an employer of choice embraces different styles of working. 

Collaboration is not for everyone, but being around other people and having those informal conversations and interactions with colleagues is very important for nurturing and mentoring, as well as building your business’s culture.

What Are the Most Important Things to Consider in Office Design?

Good acoustic management is one of the key things. We love to create small acoustic spaces that offer privacy if you’re on a phone call or need to concentrate. They’re also great for the people who might be sitting nearby and don’t want to be distracted by chat and laughter.

You also need different zones – collaboration zones, quiet zones, places to break out – that are suitable for the type of work that takes place in them. 

When thinking about your space, it’s important to remember it’s not just for your staff. It’s also representing your brand and projecting your values to your visitors and clients. 

Do People Still Ask About Ergonomics or Is It Now Taken for Granted?

It’s a given. Sit-to-stand desks, adjustable chairs, flexible monitor arms are standard across all sectors and budgets. We now concentrate on functionality. It’s nice [for a space] to look pretty, but if it doesn’t work functionally for your staff then no-one’s going to use it. We look beyond the basic setup and see how the space can be used holistically.

SEE ALSO: The Complete Chair Buying Guide 

How Important Is It to Involve Staff in the Process?

Asking staff members to contribute office design ideas is a great way to boost employee morale.

If a designer says they can walk into your office and redesign it without having spoken to anyone about how you work, I think they’re failing. It’s not design. It’s just copying what’s been done before.

Engaging your workers and staff as to what they need, what they want and how they work is the basis of any design. The best solutions come from a collaborative process. There’s no cookie-cutter approach.

Are Office Cubicles a Thing of the Past?

There’s always a place for that in a large corporate office, but I think it’s outdated. Now, it’s about fluidity in pods, rather than individual cubicles. It’s about mixed zones. It’s about offering people a choice about how they work. They may work at home two days a week and, when they come in, it’s their social time to reconnect with colleagues, brainstorm ideas and work together. 

When it comes to privacy, a HR person, for example, might need it, and there should be areas that are more private. But we are finding that even in hierarchical management, the manager may have a slightly larger desk – perhaps with some screening – and, when needed, they use a meeting room rather than shutting themselves in an office with the door closed for the day.

Now it’s more about flexibility and choice. People work best when they’re working in a way that suits them. That impacts the bottom line because happy workers are productive workers.

Have You Seen Other Major Changes Recently?

While hot desking is popular in some workplaces, many staff enjoy working from their own dedicated desk.

Hot desking is overrated. People like to nest. They like to have a picture of their child or dog or their favourite beach and they want to have their coffee mug close to hand, so there’s a fine line between hot desking, where it’s a free-for-all, and flexible zones that create familiarity and routine. 

The person who comes in five days a week probably wants to sit in the same spot each time without having to go to a locker to pick up their little caddy. If you have your employees in [the office] two to three days a week, you don’t necessarily need a dedicated desk for every person, but there needs to be adequate space for a day when everyone is in. Teams can group together or you can provide tables that seat several people, particularly if they’re using laptops. You may have your desk for the week, then maybe next week your team shifts around. Planned flexibility is the key. 

SEE ALSO: Desk Essentials for the Home Office

What if a Company Doesn’t Want to Completely Refit Its Office Space?

Look at acoustics. Some screens or another acoustic treatment can make a world of difference to an existing space. If your office is dark, then change the furniture for something light or add extra lighting. Maybe you could turn the managers’ offices that get external views into a meeting room or breakout area so everyone can share the natural light. It’s common that businesses don’t have to move or even buy new furniture – they can just reorient what they have. 

What About ‘Rewilding’ Offices, or Bringing the Outdoors In? 

Consider bringing the outdoors in by ‘rewilding’ your office space with plants and greenery.

There is often a focus to make the most of common areas, such as terraces and public lobbies, as spaces to introduce plants. But while having greenery is fantastic, it can be overwhelming to maintain. When we propose green walls in offices, there’s the question of whether it would be just as good to have artificial plants, because it gives you the greenery without anyone having to put the effort into it. 

You can’t underestimate how important it is to have access to something natural on a workday, but that could just as easily be a nearby park you can walk to. 

SEE ALSO: Ask the Experts: How to Create Work-Life Balance in The Workplace

Is There a Way to Acknowledge Neurodivergence in Office Design?

All our designs take disability access requirements into consideration. But COVID-19 really broadened our understanding of what it means to embrace diversity, including things like neurodiversity. This goes back to zones and making sure there are spaces to embrace different types of workers. 

We’d look at lighting and having dimmers on switches with additional task or supplementary lighting that can be added to certain zones. Perhaps there’s a strong delineation between front of house and back of house, so crowds or strangers can be separated from people who don’t want to be involved with that. When we talk about the working areas, we would take into consideration different zones you can’t see from one end to the other – spaces that give people nooks and crannies to sit separately or in small groups rather than having everyone together.

What to Try

SEE ALSO: Ask an Expert: How to Lead a Team – No Matter How Small