leadership

Six top tips for the ultimate workplace design

Melinda Oliver /

The design of your workspace can impact your employees’ feelings of wellbeing and productivity, so it makes good business sense to pay it attention.

Where people sit, meet, eat and what they can see around them all play a role, however many businesses persist with poorly set out offices, where staff sit uncomfortably and in dimly lit areas.

HASSELL principal Matt Blain says changing the work environment doesn’t have to be expensive, but requires creative thinking. He says to ask, what spaces can you provide for your staff? And how can you open up the space to embrace natural light and views?

HASSELL recently won a prize for small office interior design at the INSIDE Festival, part of the World Architecture Awards held in Singapore. The prize was for work on advertising firm Clemenger BBDO’s 750sqm Sydney workplace.

Blain offers his key advice for small to medium businesses on creating a better work space for your employees, without breaking the budget.

1. First impressions count

The reception area is the first impression staff and guests get of your business. Rather than a traditional desk for the receptionist, and walls that hide working spaces, Blain says in the Clemenger space, they opened it up.

In the open-plan entry area, guests can see the staff at work, the busy kitchen area, and see pin-up boards displaying creative work in progress.

Blain says this projects an image of a welcoming, buzzing workplace where the staff are a key advertisement for the approach of the company.

2. The square desk

Many offices are like rabbit warrens, with desks tucked away in corners behind barriers, or with three employees isolated from the rest of the team in an office.

“It was all about opening the space up,” Blain says of the Clemenger project.

The new set up sees employees seated around large, square desks, with around six to eight on each hub.

He explains this enables collaboration via face-to-face discussions, which leads to continual generation of ideas. If staff want to do concentrated work, they can go to other areas of the office, or wear headphones, which is now common practice.

3. Activity spaces

An open-plan design needs spaces for meetings and informal activity, Blain explains.

“The key is having a flexible environment, with brainstorming places,” he says.

In the Clemenger offices, Blain’s team implemented alcoves where small teams can sit and meet with a curtain drawn around them. There are pin-up boards for creative ideas to be put on display, for everyone to comment on.

4. Embrace the kitchen

An open-plan kitchen is the heart of the Clemenger space. It is home to a barista for coffee-making, and lunch orders are delivered there.

While not all business can have a barista, a welcoming, open kitchen is a worthwhile investment. Blain explains that this area is usually buzzing with staff, and they meet to have lunch throughout the day.

5. Let there be light

In the Clemenger office, the brief was to create a sense of a New York loft, that was light and airy. The designers embraced Scandinavian style furniture, neutral colours, raw industrial features and some timber surfaces for warmth.

The trick, Blain says, is to harness available views, make the best use of natural light sources and not to block windows. He says to keep view-lines through the office as clear as possible, rather than enclosing too many areas.

A simple colour palette that is easy on the eye is also a good idea.

6. Don’t blow the budget

Blain says that the cost of re-doing an office space doesn’t need to blow out. He advises working with existing furniture where possible, scouring eBay and other second-hand sources for inexpensive items and simplifying finishes.

Depending on the extent of change, expert advice could be worth the investment.

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