‘A place to be yourself’: Six key elements of modern workplace design

workplace design

Techne Architecture + Interior Design director Nick Travers.

Over the years, we’ve seen major shifts in how employees and employers view work, the workplace, and the workforce. As such, the workplace is now expected to fulfil more functions than ever — which is no surprise given most of us spend a significant portion of our week at work.

The design of our workplaces, through both single company offices and co-working spaces, has changed dramatically over the years. An office should, of course, meet the needs of the business in question and its respective industry — but there are also six key elements of modern workplace design that apply across the board and can lead to greater productivity and happier staff. 

1. Brand embodiment 

Brand embodiment is more than just a colour palette that matches a brand or company logo. It’s about reflecting the brand’s culture, values and mission in a meaningful way throughout the entire workplace. 

Objective design and functionality can not only reflect a company and its employees, but promote employees to act as brand advocates. Designing a space to represent a company’s values can create an immersive brand experience.

Examples include creating unique spaces for activities that drive business performance, such as a workshop equipped with tools to physically make things, and having a premium look and feel if it matches the company’s brand. In a more overt way, sustainable initiatives that align with company values around corporate social responsibility (CSR) should be included through product, material and supplier choice. 

2. Strategic design process

Strategic ambience is a term we use that describes an approach to design that involves using in-depth knowledge to influence a project. While it’s not overt, the methodology encourages design decisions to be objective and align with the agreed project principles. It involves innovation and a response to the blurring of sector boundaries in hospitality design, domesticity and user-centric workplaces. 

It emphasises that design is not a focus on aesthetics alone, as the workplace is a powerful business tool. Successful workplace design encourages top-level performance and, despite not being obvious, allows for different functional spaces to be cohesive and aligned. 

3. Maximising staff retention 

Staff retention is an issue across a variety of industries — and while the design of a workplace alone may not be enough to make someone stay in a job, it should contribute to reasons why they should stay.

Most definitely, workplace design should not be causing staff to dread their job. Spaces must be, at the very least, safe, comfortable and healthy.

At a time when many employees have the ability to work from home, the workplace should entice them to come in for productivity, wellbeing and collaborative reasons by having a good flow of air, lots of natural light, access to nature and the ability to interact with colleagues. 

Similarly, workplace design can be used as a tool in recruitment by creating an enticing setting that people will want as their work environment.

4. Staff socialisation 

Working as a designer of hospitality spaces, I have seen the need for workplaces to become, to a certain extent, a bit more like a cafe (and vice versa). 

Allowing staff to socialise should be a core part of workplace design. While socialising shouldn’t detract from completing tasks, the design should encourage staff to organically interact. Many workplace tools are available for team members to connect via technology, but we mustn’t forget the benefits of face-to-face conversation and workshops. This can extend beyond a common lunchroom to designing staircases that allow you to stop as you cross paths with a colleague. 

The way desks are arranged is important too — where their shape, orientation in relationship to another desk and use of dividers (whether through screens or utilising the more natural divider in the form of computers) determine how effortless it is to interact. We must also keep in mind that computer screen sizes in the workplace are often becoming larger as technology develops.

The workplace itself is a tool for face-to-face interaction and design plays a key role in its success.

A workplace, however, is no longer just a place to work, it is a place ‘to be’ — to be yourself, to be at your exceptional best and to be proud of what you do as ambassadors for your organisation.

5. Flexible workspaces

A change of scenery can go a long way to refresh the body and mind and workspaces should provide the flexibility to move to another location at times. A flexible environment with a variety of unique spaces allows for a dynamic workday that does not result in an overly sedentary lifestyle.

The choice between private or communal workspaces can also be beneficial, empowering employees to take care of their work in a way that feels comfortable to them. Allowing for the combination of both solitary and collaborative work can be achieved by including compact soundproof rooms as well as large communal tables.

6. Amenity

Good workplace design exceeds the internal desk environment we have come to traditionally associate with the term ‘workplace’. 

While you might not be able to fit everything within your own four walls, employees are likely to appreciate precincts with integrated food and beverage options, wellness facilities and even rooftop terraces or courtyards. Well-designed communal amenity enhances the tenant’s work environment by providing the feeling of workplace exclusivity with facilities and convenience, while also acting as a platform for cross-pollination between businesses.

If neighbouring amenity isn’t within reach, maximise the functionality of in-office kitchens or break rooms or ensure there are flexible spaces that can be utilised for team-bonding activities.

NOW READ: How open-plan offices kill collaboration and creativity

NOW READ: Why good design alone won’t attract millennials to your company


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