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How to Design an Active, Collaborative Office

Office design may be one of the most overlooked aspects of business, yet it’s one of the most important for increasing employee satisfaction, productivity, and brand image.

In fact, a 2017 Ipsos study found that office design influences how businesses are perceived by potential employees: 55 percent of those surveyed between the ages 35 and 54 and just over three-quarters of younger adults said that their impressions of businesses correlate to those companies’ office designs. Even beyond impressions, a 2016 article in the science journal Nature notes that the biological conditions of an office space, such as a 70-degree temperature and ample natural light, are factors proven to promote employee happiness and accuracy.

So what can businesses do to create workspaces that supercharge their employees? Thinking beyond the walls and understanding that an office space isn’t merely about the chairs it contains can help you reimagine and re-enliven your workspace this year.

1. Keep employees top of mind.

An office is all about its employees — their energy level and their quality of life. Understanding this, we’ve implemented an active workspace at our office that includes our standing desks and workstations, as well as a floor plan that facilitates movement. And we’ve seen firsthand how shifting away from the sedentary office completely changes the “office vibe.”

Quite simply, there’s an energy in the air now that helps people collaborate more, be more productive, and feel better about their workspace. When senior-level visitors walk into the building, they can sense it, and, in fact, that buzz is so infectious that many of these visitors express to us how excited they are to go back and rethink their own workspaces.

This intangible energy can be a big benefit to a business’s bottom line, but it’s far from the only reason companies should foster an active workspace that foregrounds positivity and movement. A 2016 study by the Texas A&M University Health Science Center School for Public Heath reveals that standing while working boosts productivity. Ultimately, too much sitting (a common trait of office work) is correlated with worse health outcomes, from cardiovascular issues to obesity to diabetes. It even has a documented benefit for mental health, happiness, and a person’s overall emotional well-being, making an office’s design essential to both an employee’s work and an employee’s life.

[Related: 3 Recruiting & Retention Secrets from the Best Places to Work]

2. Make the changes simple.

Obviously, that energy is an abstract concept, but simple and tangible changes to an office’s design can be surprisingly powerful. Low-volume music, scent machines, green plants, and other touches go a long way to transforming a stale environment into one that employees enjoy. And this enjoyment quickly translates to increased productivity.

While these opportunities can be exciting, though, avoid the temptation to take things too far, too fast. Start small — there is always time for larger overhauls later. Your job is to implement some basic changes and then test and learn as you go. Employees will appreciate these new changes while not being forced to adapt to massive disruptions, and you’ll keep initial costs lower while having the chance to evaluate the efficacy of the new design before committing to a more permanent or costlier alteration.

[Related: Why Happiness Is the Key to Employee Performance]

3. Stay flexible — in both goals and practice.

As you give your employees time to embrace these changes, remember to not lock into a static view of your office’s design. There are things that an employer can do to maintain a flexible workspace, and there are things an employee can do, but it’s got to be a combination of both. Leaders must understand new research or new goals within the company while also allowing for employee input to create an office that best fits everyone’s needs.

Get your employees’ feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Collecting this feedback will keep you from getting married to a particular setup. For instance, if you centralize trash bins to enhance movement but everybody hates that change, then abandon it.

The same is true for individual needs, which can likewise change within a short period of time. Imagine how different an employee’s preferences for physical activity at work would be right after her New Year’s resolutions, for instance, versus the Monday after she runs a marathon. Not everyone responds the same way all the time to an office layout, so be sure to understand individual preferences, as well as preferences for collaborative spaces and quiet work areas.

By adopting this flexible approach and investing in a dynamic, easy-to-work-in office — using furniture that accommodates both sitting and standing, for instance — you allow your employees to work the way they want and need to, when they want and need to. But this dynamic office isn’t just about furniture. Even "standard" office fixtures like drywall or fixed lighting can be substituted for malleable ones, rendering creative options for an office that foregrounds creativity and activity among its workers.

[Related: Hiring for Keeps: How to Reduce Churn and Retain Your Best Hires]

A Modern Approach for a Modern Office

Making your office a space designed with productivity in mind means cultivating stimulation, simplicity, and flexibility. It also means giving your team some aspect of control over their workspace by understanding that an employee’s needs are unique to her while committing to measurable, adaptable outcomes.

Humans aren’t meant to be boxed in at work (in every sense of the word), so rethink the office — from everything to the chairs and desks to the walls and lighting — to revitalize the way work is done. And if you want to learn more about the active workspace, check out this whitepaper.

A lifelong entrepreneur, Jason McCann has over 20 years of experience building and running successful companies. As a founder and the CEO of VARIDESK, Jason’s mission is to help companies reimagine the workspace. VARIDESK started with one innovative product and has grown to be a global leader in workspace innovation with products sold in over 100 countries.

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