Study shows that trendy office spaces keep employees happier

A nationwide survey of office workers conducted by research agency Perceptive shows that 81 percent of Kiwi office workers believe the physical environment at their workplace has an impact on their happiness and job satisfaction, while nine out of ten workers agree that if they are happy at work, they are more productive. 

The study was commissioned by the Spaceworks Design Group in an effort to determine whether work space has an impact on worker performance and whether spatial design can facilitate creativity, collaboration and innovation.    

For the most part, workers have relatively simple requirements, with the results finding that the most important aspects in improving respondents’ productivity and ability to do their job are having a good company culture (94 percent), having their own personal desk or space (89 percent) and having good, even air temperature (90 percent).

These basic needs were also reflected when the respondents were asked what the key drivers are in improving job satisfaction, with 91 percent saying that having their personal desk or space was integral (80 percent said that hot-desking was not conducive to productivity), 90 percent selecting a good, even air temperature, 85 percent placing importance on having natural daylight and 73 percent saying that they wanted a dedicated in-house lunch area.

But only providing these core needs might not be enough to keep employees happy or attract new recruits, in that over three quarters of respondents said that they are more likely to stay at their current company if it has an inspiring office space and sixty percent said that the office interior layout has a substantial impact on their decision to work for the company.

And the study also showed that there’s a disparity between what workers want and what they have, with only four in ten saying that they believe their office is adopting new trends in the workplace design space.

The ad industry has always been known to innovate in terms of office design, producing trendy spaces that sometimes seem more akin to social hangouts than places of business. 

This was seen when Y&R relocated from its (admittedly quite daggy) Parnell headquarters to its new spot at Wellesley Street’s City Works Depot. Artist Jason Dempsey was called in to help overhaul the 780 metres of space, and he transformed what once served as a shipping warehouse into a trendy office that could easily double as a New York hipster bar.  

Photos: Tony Nyberg

Another agency example would be DDB, which at the end of 2012 instructed its then in-house interior designer Campbell Johnson (now owner of Campbell Johnson Design) to renovate the Auckland offices and make the space more inviting to visitors.

Speaking to StopPress at the time, Johnson said that one of most divisive design decisions he made was to shift all the coffee machines to the seventh level to establish a common floor. And given that the Spaceworks study showed that 49 percent of all respondents surveyed said that a good coffee machine was important for their productivity levels, this move was certainly risky one to make. But Johnson felt it was worthwhile, because it would make the agency more collaborative.  

Another way in which Kiwi companies are incorporating a more collaborative environment is by introducing open-plan design elements—and this is the exact approach that .99/JustOne took when renovating its space in 2009.      

“As a manager, being able to see people helps me to be more engaged in the day-to-day and it enables me to contribute more easily,” Justone/.99 managing director Ben Goodale told StopPress in an earlier article. “I have glass doors they’re open most of the time in any case. This is very different to what I experienced earlier in my career.”

The Spaceworks study showed that this is being reflected across the board, with 60 percent of respondents saying that they work in an open-plan office, 31 percent working in a combination (open plan and cellular) and only nine percent working in a cellular (only) office.

And while the open-plan design comes with advantages such as easier collaboration with colleagues (selected by 72 percent of respondents) and sharing of information (62 percent), it also comes with risks in that noise levels (77 percent), interrupitons and distractions (73 percent), and a lack of privacy (63 percent) were all listed as disadvantages of this type of design.

Spaceworks managing director Lizzi Hines says that this makes spatial design of offices quite tricky.  

“As designers it is our challenge to ensure an open plan office doesn’t result in lost productivity,” she says. “The research clearly shows that employees believe collaboration has a direct link to productivity and therein lies our conundrum. How does the design of an office promote teamwork and at the same time offer privacy? Workplaces which are designed to encourage collaboration without sacrificing focus, will always be more successful. The new age open plan which factors in informal meeting/breakout spaces and areas away from the working zones where employees can focus and make phone calls is the solution.” 

In the .99/JustOne example, the design team took this into account and introduced a varied range of breakout areas, including standard boardroom-style meeting rooms, colourful pods and round meeting areas that employees can use for meetings with clients or among themselves.   

And this move is important, given that the study shows that 79 percent of employees want quiet areas to break away from the open-plan space and 76 percent want bookable meeting rooms. 

One of the most concerning stats pulled from the study was that only 50 percent of New Zealand office workers think that their work space stimulates innovation and creativity. 

“We are a nation of innovative workers and entrepreneurs and there is so much untapped potential in many of our employees,” says Hines. “By designing more offices, which unleash greatness in all of us, we’d be producing far better work … Companies that encourage employees’ creativity and innovation by having an inspiring workspace will be ahead of the game both nationally and internationally.”

ASB’s recent office upgrade is a prime example of this and shows that even industries traditionally considered rigid and conservative are starting to embrace more free-flowing, open-plan office spaces conducive to collaboration not only between the business and clients but also between employees.

For a company that specialises in designing commercial spaces, Spaceworks will pull helpful insights from this research in terms of what Kiwi workers expect from their places of employment. And while Hines and her team didn’t work on any of the previous examples mentioned, she has done impressive works for the likes of Google (in Auckland), online marketing company Tailor, Universal Pictures and My Food Bag. And no doubt she will be using the findings of the study to convince other business owners to follow suit in the future.


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