Beige walls. Furniture that was new sometime prior to the advent of personal computers. Dented file cabinets and messy cork boards. Does this sound like an inspirational place to work? Or like an office you know—or an office you work in?
If so, this may be a great time to make some changes and, as a result, pump up performance and profits.
Instinct tells us a comfortable environment is a more desirable place to be, and it has been proven that thoughtful, functional, well-designed work spaces lead to happier, more productive, loyal employees and, ultimately, greater success for your company. At the very least, a little rearranging in a space feels good and energizes the team.
Gensler, a global architecture and design firm, published a 2008 Workplace Survey that “definitively connects profit and revenue growth, employee engagement and strong corporate brand to a well-designed workplace that supports the ways people really work in a knowledge economy.” Top-performing companies—those with higher profits, greater employee engagement and stronger market and brand position—have significantly higher-performing work environments than average companies, Gensler found.
But what is a “higher-performing work environment?” It begins with basic functionality and support of human needs. Are spaces used effectively? Is it bright and clean? Are furniture placement and room layouts contributing to an ergonomically sound workplace? How does your space function for all the work modes: focus, creativity, collaboration, learning and socialization?
A Provocative Office
Crowell Advertising in downtown Salt Lake City is a prime example of one of these extraordinary environments, where good design—implemented with clear goals in mind—has fostered an environment for success. Crowell has been winning awards for its work since its inception in 1987, and the firm is now getting recognized for its office space design.
On AintNoDisco.com, an online portfolio that features unique, creative office spaces from around the globe, Crowell received the most votes for “best looking.” On the design blog Splashnology, it was included in the 150 best designed office spaces; and DesignYourWay.net included Crowell in the company of Facebook, Google and Skype on its list of “Best 38 I’d-Like-To-Work-In-That-Place Offices.”
“The space isn’t a typical office and we are not a typical advertising agency,” says Tracy Crowell, president of the firm. “We use the space to communicate the agency’s values to employees and customers through an open floor plan, a mix of historic and modern, warm colors and playful elements. Research shows that a comfortable, attractive workspace draws talented employees. This office is a tool to draw the best and brightest to work for Crowell. It’s a provocative home for weirdness and individuality, qualities we prize in our employees.”
Housed in the historic Union Pacific Building, the Crowell offices have 17-foot high ceilings, giant cement columns, colored-concrete floors and exposed brick walls.
Employees enjoy use of a ping pong table, full-sized basketball hoop, vintage soda machine and dart board—all in place to stimulate creativity, elevate morale and improve productivity.
“Experts say that a comfortable, homey work environment allows workers to focus more on the client and less on the office,” says Crowell. And speaking of clients, the office alone is often a factor in sealing the deal. “Prospects like it. It surprises them. We aren’t dreary, overbearing or pretentious.”
Crowell emphasizes they were on a budget when designing the office, and they challenged Carpenter Stringham Architects to design a space with limited resources that reflected the company’s vibrancy and culture. “We wanted them to use as few right angles as possible,” Crowell says. “When you’re on a budget, just tear down some walls!”
On a Shoestring
Budget, especially now, is a major consideration when planning a redesign. In older buildings, tearing down walls, opening up spaces, and enhancing exposed brick walls and ductwork all create wonderful design elements. But there are other ways, in new and historic spaces, to gently ease into a fabulous redesign that won’t break the bank.
Liz Owens, a Salt Lake City-based designer who works in both residential and commercial spaces, says the most critical place to begin is with the lighting. “Really great light fixtures can make all the difference,” she says. “A lot of offices are dark; simply adding new table lamps can make a statement. Use lots of white shades that ‘lift the space.’” Also capitalize on any natural light the space provides.
Next, look to the walls. “Art can make a huge difference,” Owens says. Choose good art that is framed well, she recommends, but also be aware of affordable gicleé prints—digital prints of original art on either canvas or paper. Most galleries can steer you toward gicleé options if original pieces are off the table.
When you are on a budget, you need to create impact where you can, Owens says. “Essentially, you want to create a ‘moment,’ where people’s eyes are going to go,” and this can be accomplished with art, paint—even fresh flowers. “Use paint to highlight an accent wall or a column,” she adds. “If you bring in weekly fresh flowers, make sure the containers are simple and that they are positioned where they will be seen.”
One issue that shouldn’t be overlooked—and one where the biggest cost lies—is furniture. Professional office furniture lines can be pricey, and yet, no matter how much paint you throw on a wall, it’s hard to overlook a shabby desk or side chair.
Consider mixing used pieces in with new, finding a funky chair or antique desk to make a space unique. Search out used office furniture stores—like the Green Ant in downtown Salt Lake City—particularly those that specialize in mid-century modern designs, a style that has the clean lines complementary to modern office furniture.
The design term for this is blending, says Tami Shulsen, design director at Midwest Commercial Interiors of Salt Lake City. “Blending is mixing the old with the new, especially when it comes to one of the most expensive elements: cubicles. Today we can add fresh work surfaces, new wall panels or just new chairs.”
Since she began her career at Midwest 13 years ago, the company’s main business has evolved from simply selling office furniture to helping assess a client’s needs from the ground up.
“We started taking 10 steps back to get to know the firm and its culture,” she says, mentioning that she and her colleagues use information gleaned from extensive studies conducted by Steelcase, Midwest’s main line, about how we work today. “We use a lot of research and tools to achieve our client’s goals, whether the goal is to retain and attract employees, offer a fun environment or looking to downsize.”
Shulsen says today’s office is more about collaboration spaces, spaces with multiple functions and mobile pieces of furniture, such as The Campfire, a lightweight movable “cubby” or the media:space, meant to replace the boardroom—a waste of square footage for many companies.
“Life is work for the younger generation” she says. “You are what you do.” And since the office is where we average Americans will spend 100,000 hours of our lifetimes, why not make it the best environment it can be?
Office Heaven in Seven
1. Light: Use clean, modern table and floor lamps with white shades to lift a space. Let in as much natural light as possible.
2. Color: Paint walls a color that reflects the spirit of your business. Choose quality paint that will last for a long time. Paint one wall, a column or duct work to create accent pieces.
3. Clutter Control. A chaotic environment will soon give way to a chaotic energy in the workplace, which is antithetic for productivity or progress. Use drawers, storage bins and containers to creatively organize loose items. Display photos and mementos in an interesting way.
4. Remove a Wall. Opening up a space can be like opening a window, bringing in fresh air, fresh viewpoints, more communication and more ideas.
5. Add an Accent Piece: Art, fresh flowers or living plants. Keep living plants healthy, watered, dusted and trimmed. There is nothing more depressing than a grimy plant in the corner holding onto its last leaf.
6. Texture. Play with texture to create interest for the eye. Mix brick, plaster, fabrics, woods, metals or art.
7. Cleanliness: Remove anything offensive—odors, dirty furniture, stacks of paperwork, old inventory. Anything that saps energy and creativity needs to go!