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3 Things to Consider When Designing an Office Space to Support Innovation

Craig Storey
Craig Storey

Learn how to create an office space that supports employees and inspires innovation.

  • Multipurpose spaces foster a sense of inclusion, which increases worker happiness, which is shown by research to boost productivity.
  • Offices without doors and with clear walls can improve the feelings among workers that their leaders are transparent and accessible.
  • Demand is rising for greater workspace flexibility, especially among younger workers such as millennials.
  • Planning flexible, multipurpose office spaces can save money and help a business's space evolve along with its needs.

Through many decades of office design concepts, plenty of trends have come and gone, but one thing is certain: The space itself is critical to the workforce's happiness and ultimately to the company's success. A workspace serves as a foundation to inspire creativity, spur productivity, foster innovation and support well-being – which all set the stage for a strong, vibrant culture.

At Varidesk, for example, we took great care in our office design, customizing the space to create a variety of zones where people can focus privately or collaborate. It's our belief that these open, multipurpose spaces foster a sense of inclusion and transparency. Everyone feels much more accessible and connected, from reception to C-suite. Those feelings of safety and cohesion lead to increased happiness, which studies have shown to improve the productivity of a workforce by up to 12%.

The power of transparency

This isn't to say we got everything right from the start. Our executive conference room sits in the middle of the office, surrounded in frosted glass – that is, until someone mentioned the perception that exclusive conversations were happening "behind closed doors." Now that the frosted glass has been replaced with clear panes, our staff can see the senior leadership team, read our body language and discern our facial expressions, which reduces the stress and watercooler chatter that can happen when that approachability is lost.

Approachability is a crucial element to consider. Transitioning to a more open workspace doesn't mean directors, managers and supervisors need to give up any semblance of privacy. Everyone can use the occasional half-hour to recharge and regroup in private.

Introverts, in particular, need access to isolated spaces in order to rejuvenate. But those spaces don't need to be exclusionary. Our leaders have their own offices, but they are doorless and the walls are clear. We can break away for some personal time and still maintain that accessibility and approachability. 


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The little things

Like swapping the frosted glass of our conference room to clear glass, it's often the little things that have the biggest impact on office dynamics. Take flexible workspaces, where you offer employees a mixture of soft seating, movable walls, and adjustable desks or tables. Incorporating even a few adaptable stations into the workplace allows people to modify the office to best suit their needs.

In fact, demand is rising for flexibility in office design, especially when it comes to younger workers. According to Capital One's Work Environment Survey, 89% of millennials reported that flexibility was an important element of office design. With roughly 56 million of millennials in the U.S. job market right now, you should look into a more flexible office if you hope to recruit and retain young talent.

Staying ahead of trends and taking a long view of your office design will help keep your company viable and give you advantages over competitors. As such, I would strongly encourage leadership teams to consider the lifetime cost of ownership in their approach to any investment in the office space as opposed to the "how much is it going to cost us this year?" perspective.

If you were to look at the traditional office setting, you invest in drywall. You invest in cubicle farms. You invest in a conference table or two. All are logical choices, but you need to ask yourself, "Will these investments suit our business needs in three years, five years, 10 years?"

It isn't cheap to move that static setup. Standard office renovations cost about $200 per square foot when drywall, flooring, and other factors are considered. It takes a lot of time too. Between 800 and 1,000 hours of employee time is typically necessary to plan and carry out a move for a small or midsize business. 

Steps to devise a better strategy

Rarely will a business evolve linearly, so the design should reflect this fact. If you're a fast-growing company, you're especially at risk of spending a lot of money demoing and reinstalling walls and expensive furniture systems each time a new team comes on board. A much better option, at least from a budgetary standpoint, is to create open, multipurpose spaces supported by flexible furniture solutions that can change as your business changes.

The conception of such a workplace will vary from business to business, but the following tips will always be the best places to start.

1. Plan around people.

Companies can get so wrapped up in the aesthetics of the space that they overlook an essential design element during the planning phase: people. Employees need their workspace to help them thrive, so pay attention to office dynamics and ask for feedback. Don't be afraid to use both surveys and one-on-one conversations to gauge how the space is working for everyone. Then, put those valuable insights into action. It has worked tremendously for our company.

Gensler Research Institute's 2019 U.S. Workplace Survey found that a large majority of workers (79%) consider their work experiences "great" when they have access to a variety of work settings. Only one-third of respondents echoed those sentiments when they were stuck in static settings.

2. Design for flexibility.

While workers are interested in more private space at work, flexibility is still understood and accepted as a vital office characteristic. In fact, when it comes to voting on what elements make up an ideal workplace, employees tend to rank collaborative values above individual ones. Team-building and collaboration (43%) was the top answer given by Gensler survey respondents, followed by "supporting health and well-being" (34%).

There's a certain amount of rigidity to designing an office and subdividing a space into areas for work, collaboration or brainstorming. While multifunctional, a standard office may not optimize a workforce to its full potential. Plan the space so that it's adaptable to changing needs. Maybe a project will bring together marketing, operations and sales for six months or so; your space should accommodate this team so it can execute strategy. Work to create fluidity where possible.

3. Consider the future.

Creating an office that works for all employees can be challenging. But as long as you plan for tomorrow and offer spaces to suit a variety of needs, you'll move in the right direction. It all comes down to being thoughtful with each choice you make.

Oftentimes, planning for the future means leasing the office space next door, should the business demand more space. Sure, that's an option sometimes. But if you were to look at our company's office, you'd never know that we've tripled in size yet still work in the same space. Everything from layout and multipurpose spaces to adaptable fixtures and furnishings can allow a workspace to evolve as the business does. 

In the end, it all comes down to flexibility. When you work to create great spaces that give people room to breathe and meet without feeling like sardines in a can, you elevate people to be their best innovative selves.

Image Credit: monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images
Craig Storey
Craig Storey Member
Craig Storey is chief financial officer at VARIDESK. He has nearly two decades of financial and operational experience in international wholesale manufacturing and distribution.