Employing Science and Psychology In Kent and London Office Design

You may be surprised to learn that science and psychology play an important role in great office design.

Over the years office design has come a long way in no small part due to science. Previously, we discussed how:

  • The 1900’s earliest office design was a rigid, regimented office layout with desks in evenly spaced in rows.
  • The 1930’s saw brighter and lighter office space which gave staff more space and individual work areas.
  • The 1960’s layout was less rigid and styled more towards social interaction, grouping desks together and using foliage.
  • In 1964 the Action Office was born which increased the space between workstations, workstations became larger and more enclosed and there was an emphasis on having meeting rooms where staff could meet away from the main office space.
  • In the 1980’s, with the advent of cheap modular partitioning/walls along with an increased focus on productivity, there was a shift in office design towards what is known as cubicle farms.
  • Today, much has changed and continues to change and evolve based on science and psychology.

What Do We Mean By Science Based Office Design?

You may be asking how can science be involved when it comes to office design? Surely, it’s just about what feels and looks right for my business office space. Of course, what feels and looks right will play a major part in your office design however your office refurbishment should also be heavily influenced by the way your business and staff work. Without utlising this information your office won’t be the harmonious, productive environment that your business needs to succeed. It can be argued that your business needs and the way your business works, all need to be taken into account as part of an evidence based (encompassing neuroscience, social science and behavioural science) office design process, where any relevant information and knowledge of how office design impacts business and staff should be factored into the design and final product.

It’s important to bring together information from studies, surveys, current office design ideas and practices as well as experience to inform new office designs that utilise the best practices and knowledge in designing offices that work for businesses and provide the best ROI.

Studies That Give Us Insights Into Office Design

A study published by Pub Med “The work environment pilot: An experiment to determine the optimal office design for a technology company” looked at 4 office design layouts: open-plan, zoned open-plan, activity based, and team offices and compared them against well-being and productivity measurements.

Results showed that the zoned open-plan and team office layouts performed better when compared to the open-plan and activity-based office designs. Zoned open-plan and team office layouts improved “employee satisfaction, work enjoyment, flow and productivity.” The open plan office layouts scored poorly in terms of higher levels of noise and caused employees to spend more time away from their desk to seek relief from the noise levels.

The Fast Company carried out a study looking at open plan office design and its impact on employees called “Open-plan office noise is stressful: multimodal stress detection in a simulated work environment“. The study found that there was a relationship between open-plan office noise and physiological stress.

The National Library of Medicine published a study “The relative merits of lean, enriched, and empowered offices: an experimental examination of the impact of workspace management strategies on well-being and productivity” which looked at two experiments. In these experiments offices were either “(a) lean, (b) decorated by the experimenter (with plants and art), (c) self-decorated, or (d) self-decorated and then redecorated by the experimenter.” Researchers looked at the impact of the conditions above on “organisational identification” (where employees identify themselves as part of an organisation and its values etc.), the impact on well-being, and productivity which included attention to detail, processing and management of information.

The study found that office space which was decorated had a positive impact on employees. There was a further increase in well-being and productivity where staff were allowed to decorate their own space or have an input into how their office space was decorated. If the space was then redecorated without staff input, the previous positive impact was diminished or eliminated.

Natural light plays a major role in office design. A 2017 study published by the National Sleep Foundation showed that employees who have more exposure to natural light reported better sleep patterns compared to employees who weren’t exposed to as much natural light. Clearly when staff are sleeping better, they are more likely to be more productive. This is backed up by a number of studies including a study by Rand Health Quarterly “Why Sleep Matters—The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep” which suggests that insufficient sleep can result in lower productivity and lost ROI.

Another study looking at “Daylight and the Workplace” conducted by Dr. Alan Hedge, a professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University showed that by improving the light quality within a workplace there is an increase in work performance.

The Journal of Environmental Psychology research article on the “Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting” showed the office setting with four indoor plants, both flowering and foliage in comparison to the same setting without plants positively impacted employee performance.

This is backed up by a Pub Med article “The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: three field experiments” were conducted in large commercial offices in The Netherlands and the U.K also showed “enhanced outcomes were observed when offices were enriched by plants.”

Surveys That Give Us Insights Into Office Design

There have been numerous studies carried out, many of which we’ve written about, that show that office design can have a major impact on the health, well-being and productivity of employees in the workplace.

A study by Oxford Economics “When the walls come down: How smart companies are rewriting the rules of the open workplace” of more than 600 executives and 600 employees looked at the impact of open-plan office space and found that there was a disconnect between the expectation of managers and workers. Instead of encouraging collaboration the results showed that an open plan office comes with increased noise which affected productivity. 53% of employees reported that workplace noise decreased their productivity; while only 35% of executives agreed. A quieter office space is more important to staff. The survey also revealed that many business’s office space had not been designed to deal with noise issues.

Gensler’s “What we’ve learned about focus in the workplace” survey sought to understand “the connection between workplace design and the effectiveness of work”. Gensler looked at the responses of more than 90,000 people from 155 companies across 10 industries and found that the most significant factor in workplace effectiveness is not collaboration, it’s individual focus work.

Gensler explains “Concentration requires a more individualized set of options than today’s standard playbook. To enhance both collaboration and concentration, we are seeking to invent a workplace that provides a spectrum of individual choices of primary workspaces, supported by places to collaborate, socialize and learn. This new hybrid could unlock untapped value through a more equitable balance of concentration and collaboration in the workplace: a new approach that could create a fresh level of success for organizations.”

It’s therefore important to design and incorporate different types of “work spaces” within your workplace which allow staff to work alone in private, work as part of a team, collaborate with others in small or large groups and to take a break away from work when they need some downtime.

Health and well-being are also a factor that comes up many times in employee surveys. The “How Your Office Space Impacts Employee Well-Being” Workplace Wellness Trend Report by Fellowes found that 87% of workers wanted their workplace to be a healthy work environment which included company fitness benefits, wellness rooms, ergonomic seating and sit-stand desks. 93% of IT workers said they were more likely to stay at a company who offered healthier workplace options.

What Does Science Suggest Makes the Best Office Design?

Based on the above studies and surveys we can come to some conclusions as to what works and doesn’t work. Below we list some of the office design best practices.

Office Layout and Workspaces

As part of your office design process, you should consider all of the processes your business carries out. If your staff need to work privately, then private office space should be factored into your office design. If you have teams that constantly work together, consider having separate meeting spaces or team areas where they can come together.

If you think an open plan office would work best for your staff think about putting in place technology that will dampen or mask noise levels e.g., acoustic wall panels or desk dividers/wall partitions and floor and ceiling tiles. You could also introduce plants or living walls which will also help to absorb noise and reduce noise levels within the workspace.

Staff Input

It’s important to allow staff to be part of the office design process and enable them to input their ideas. Your staff will know what office layout, furniture, lighting, colours and other aspects of office design will work best for them. If they’re part of the design process staff will also be more likely to buy into the final product.  

Break Out Areas

Through science we know that it’s important to take breaks throughout the working day.

A BBC article The tiny breaks that ease your body and reboot your brain discusses “microbreaks” which can last a few seconds to a few minutes. They go onto say “though the breaks are tiny, they can have a disproportionately powerful impact – studies have shown that they can improve workers’ ability to concentrate, change the way they see their jobs, and even help them avoid the typical injuries that people get when they’re tied to their desks all day.”

Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, backs up the BBC report by suggesting that people need to take a break every 75 and 90 minutes. He goes onto say “That’s the period of time where you can concentrate and get a lot of work done. We know that because we have studied professional musicians, who are most productive when they practice for this amount of time. It’s also the amount of time of most college classes. Working for 75 to 90 minutes takes advantage of the brain’s two modes: learning or focusing and consolidation. When people do a task and then take a break for 15 minutes, they help their brain consolidate information and retain it better. That’s what’s happening physiology during breaks.”

Based on the science it makes sense to think about designing a kitchen, tea-point or break out area (or even a dedicated wellness room if you have the space) into your office design, where staff can go to take a break away from their normal workspace.   

The Right Furniture

Making sure your staff have the right furniture can play a part in health and well-being. Given that staff can be in front of a computer for many hours, it’s important to make sure they have ergonomic seating and sit-stand desks to encourage them to keep moving rather than sitting at a desk 8 hours a day.

Incorporating Natural Light

We know natural light plays an important role in health and well-being so wherever possible natural lighting should be utilised when designing an office space. Where natural lighting isn’t available, artificial lighting should be used to ensure good lighting throughout the workspace. Good lighting will avoid poor visibility issues which can lead to eyestrain and headaches, which in turn can impact performance and productivity.

Adding Plants

Numerous studies have shown that incorporating plants within an office space can bring many benefits including reducing noise, stress, sickness and absence rates and increasing health and well-being and productivity. As humans we have an innate desire to be near or connected to nature, known as biophilia or love of nature. By bringing plants indoors we help employees reconnect with nature, reduce stress and improve health and well-being.

Using Colour

Colour psychology, the study of colour as a determinant of human behaviour, has been around for a long time and its clear colour plays a vital role in how it affects us on a day-to-day basis. How it is used within the workplace can affect our mood, our productivity and our well-being. Something as simple as a strategically placed splash of colour can lift your mood. What colours you use will depend on your brand, layout and what statement you want to make. It’s also worth considering using artwork including graffiti and wall murals within your workplace as it too can have a positive effect on health and well-being.

Every Business Is Different

Although we have stated many of the design features that science and psychology suggest work best in terms of health, well-being and productivity, it’s fair to say that every business is unique, and you should ideally work with your office design company to determine what office design would work best for you.

How Can JBH Refurbishments Help?

JBH Refurbishments have many years experience in office design and can advise on all aspects of your Kent or London office refurbishment. Contact us via our contact form or by calling us on 0333 207 0339.


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