What is Purposeful Office Design - and how could it benefit your business?

An office space should never be planned or re-designed purely with aesthetics in mind, nor should business owners adopt the latest design trends simply for the sake of it. Such an office may look modern and in step with trendsetting tech firms, but appearances aren’t everything.

The key to an effective, productive and happy workplace is to design a space that functions properly. It needs to work well for the people who use it, and this is the thinking behind ‘purposeful design’.

office design

What do your employees need?

To design a space that meets the needs of your employees, you need to put in the time to understand what makes your business tick. Understanding the minutiae of day-to-day work is crucial to sensitively and thoughtfully designing your new office.

The best way to find this out is in consultation with your employees. They can tell you how they work now, and how they’d prefer to work, and the spaces and tools they’d need. Your team can highlight pain points and challenges, as well as essentials that would boost their productivity and speed up everyday tasks.

With the information your employees give you, you can start to design an office space where every element has a particular purpose. Nothing should be there just for show; it all meets a particular need.

Key considerations during the design process

Purposeful design in offices can be difficult to get right, simply because there are so many different factors to consider. You’re trying to meet a number of different needs, usually in one open plan space. Before embarking on the design process, bear the following in mind:

  • Zoning and workspace definition is crucial. Your design will need to include a number of different workspace types, which are separate enough from each other to be effective (for example, providing quiet space in a busy office) but that work together to create a cohesive working environment. Use and placement of office furniture will play a big part in this, as will lighting and other zoning techniques.

  • Your staff may need some time to adjust. This will be a new way of working, so give your employees some time to get used to it. You should aim to include employees in the consultation and design process, to ease the fear of change and to get them excited about their new workspace.

  • Keep your focus on the user needs. Every time you’re making a decision, about layout or office furniture, you should ask yourself whether it meets a functional or practical need. Will it help your workers be more efficient, or will it boost the morale of the team? If not, it probably shouldn’t be included. It’s easy to get distracted by aesthetics (and that’s not to say that purposeful office design can’t also be attractive and fashionable) - but it’s function above all that should rule.

The benefits of purposeful design for your business

office plan layout

There are countless benefits of purposeful design for organisations of all kinds. Crucially, it can help to:

  • Improve employee happiness and staff retention rates. It is an often overlooked fact that happier workers are more productive ones. Improving employee morale has benefits that radiate out to the business as a whole. Creating a comfortable, pleasant and above all functional workspace will help your team thrive. The happier your staff are, the more likely they are to stay. This means lower recruitment and training costs for the business.

  • Mark you out as an innovative employer to work for. Not many office workers can say that their workspace has been tailor-made to their requirements. This is hugely attractive to prospective employees, a benefit you should do your best to highlight when recruiting. Your employees spend a significant part of their day in the office, so having a fantastic environment to work in will be an attractive proposition.

  • Streamline everyday tasks. Purposeful office design is all about thoughtfulness and attention to detail. For example, if you’re creating a zone for informal collaborative work, perhaps in a coffee bar or breakout space, it should be equipped with charging points, have an excellent wi-fi signal and tablet devices at hand. You could even situate the space so that there is easy access to a whiteboard or interactive screen. These small touches make a big difference to the working day, ensuring no time is wasted and it’s easy to move seamlessly from one task, and from one space to another.
  • Offer flexible ways of working. Not everyone works in the same way and the productivity of each staff member may be influenced by the environment in a number of different ways. You can’t cater for absolutely every need and preference, but what you can do is create adaptable, flexible spaces. This means that the space can be adjusted easily to suit different requirements. A classic example of this is sit-stand desks, which can be adjusted by the user depending on their preference. Modular seating is also a good, versatile solution, which can be repositioned at a moment’s notice. If you can offer a broad range of different work spaces, from traditional banks of desks to cafe-style seating, standing desks to private booths for phone calls and quiet working, you give your employees the benefit of choice. They can choose the space that works for them at the time.

  • Facilitate collaboration, bonding and social interaction. Breakout spaces are a crucial part of purposeful design. Believe it or not, break times are a crucial part of the working day. If you can create the right spaces, striking the right balance between comfort and professionalism, you can give your staff somewhere to relax that can also be used for casual collaboration. With a great space that employees actually want to use, they’ll spend more time there together. This should lead to stronger bonds between teams and more natural, spontaneous collaboration. Your staff shouldn’t have to book a meeting room to discuss a project - they can do it over a coffee in your staff room.
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