Designing Your Office

Office design today focuses on giving employees an optimal space for productivity and well-being. Whether you’re setting up a new office or re-configuring an old one, paying attention to employee needs can help your employees thrive.

Surveys show that an employee's work environment directly affects individual and team performance and has a major impact on overall job satisfaction. In addition, a well-designed office space can help you attract and keep the best new hires.

Prime targets for good office design include safety, comfort, efficiency and overall well-being.

Design Trends for Well-Being

A few years ago, standard office cubicles began to give way to open floor plans meant to encourage collaboration and creativity. While open offices are brighter and airier, employees complain about noise, distractions and a lack of privacy.

When designing your office, think about the kinds of work-related tasks your employees perform. Many companies are now creating flexible workspaces that include open areas for meeting and collaboration, but also quiet spaces for more focused individual work.

Employers are also recognizing that employees need a welcoming space to take breaks. Breakout rooms with coffee, snacks and games are taking the place of the standard, bare-bones office break room. Relaxation areas give employees a place to de-stress.

And the office houseplant has gotten a makeover in the form of biophilic design that incorporates walls full of plants into an office design. Research has shown that this connection to nature has a positive effect on employees.


As a business owner, you must keep your employees safe. Safety hazards put your employees at risk and send a message that you're indifferent to their health. Before you do anything else, identify and eliminate dangerous conditions and make sure you comply with all OSHA ( safety requirements. Injuries not only harm your employees; they affect your bottom line.

Work-related injuries aren't confined to manufacturing jobs and physical labor. Office employees are particularly susceptible to back stress and strain, as well as repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. To minimize the chance of injury, make sure office furniture, chairs and workstations are designed with ergonomic features, such as adjustable seats, chair backs and shelving. Sit/stand desks may help employees avoid some of the negative health effects that come from sitting all day.

If you need help, many large office supply companies have ergonomic experts on staff. If you can't find one in your area, ask for guidance from an office furniture manufacturer.


Comfortable employees are happy employees, and happy employees tend to be productive. Work areas that are clean, well-lit and appealing can be far more important than expensive furniture and carpeting.

Focus on these basic areas:

  • Temperature. Ergonomic experts suggest setting the thermostat between 68-74 degrees Fahrenheit in warmer months, and from 73-78 degrees Fahrenheit during colder periods. Relative humidity should run between 30 percent and 60 percent year-round. However, the optimal temperature for your office will depend on the type of work being done.
    • If your employees are engaged in physical tasks, cooler temperatures make their jobs easier. If personnel work in an office environment, the temperature can be higher. Just make sure the air temperature is relatively consistent across the work area.
    • Too often, employees near a heat source may be comfortable while those at the other end of the room are shivering. If you can, let employees control the temperature themselves; that way you know they'll be comfortable.
  • Light. Putting work stations near windows provides feel-good natural light and eliminates the boxed-in feeling many office workers complain about. If you can’t give everyone a window, use indirect lighting and focus on providing appropriate lighting for the tasks your employees perform. For example, harsh lighting that creates a glare on computer monitors can be irritating and may impact employee morale and performance. Inexpensive anti-glare computer screens will eliminate the problem, as will glare-reducing task lights.
  • Noise. The trend toward open workstations with more occupants, larger computer monitors with bigger speakers and greater use of videoconferencing has exacerbated workplace noise. Though work-generated clamor may be unavoidable, encourage employees to use headsets on conference calls or when listening to music. Carpeting, acoustic tiles and movable walls can help muffle sound.

Efficient Organization

Once you've taken care of ambient conditions, create a work area that's conducive to productivity and efficiency. Here are a few simple changes you can make right away:

  • Relocate equipment and storage. Walking from place to place is inefficient, so move equipment and supplies to locations employees can "travel" to quickly and easily. Create "mini-warehouses" of office supplies near employee clusters, periodically re-stocking those areas from central storage.
  • Go paperless. If you still rely on a paper filing system, you’re using extra space and creating clutter. And your employees may spend hours each week just retrieving, maintaining and looking for paper files. Investing in a digital system will improve workflow and eliminate many manual tasks.
  • Eliminate clutter. Items employees could need "someday" tend to get in the way today. Store the things you must keep, and ditch items you'll probably never use again. When space is particularly tight, consider stowing occasional-use equipment and inventory in a rented storage unit.
  • Improve process flow. Do products, supplies or paperwork travel through your facility in a predictable fashion? If so, reorganize the workspace to enhance that flow. Shift customer-liaison employees closer to production workers to improve communication flow. In short, think about how your ideal process should unfold and organize the workspace to mirror that vision.
  • Give your employees the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs effectively. You may think you're saving money by continuing to use outdated or broken tools or equipment, or by purchasing second-rate supplies, but you'll pay a price in efficiency and productivity. Ask your employees what they need to do their jobs well.
  • Use mentoring and job shadowing to help your new employees learn the ropes. Watching and working with an experienced employee is often a much better education than sitting through training seminars.

Finally, remember that a workspace should not reflect an employee's job title; it should reflect his or her role in the organization. A well-organized work environment will take staff productivity to new heights.