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The Psychology Behind Modern Office Design & Workforce Well-Being

Companies are using modern office design
to improve overall workforce well-being

Ian Morely

By Ian Morley

People seek out environments (including work situations) that satisfy their basic human needs. That’s a principle behind research conducted by the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at the University of California, Berkeley. So if your organization is committed to attracting and retaining talent, increasing collaboration and growing productivity, it pays to address employees’ psychological needs (as well as physical ones) in the workplace. That’s why companies are implementing modern office design and workplace strategy to improve overall workforce well-being and employee experience.

In this article, we’ll explain 7 psychological drivers (identified by the Healthy Workplaces Model) that influence workplace behavior, and provide examples of ways these needs can be addressed by modern office design and other workplace strategies.

7 Well-being needs to address with modern office design & workplace strategy

The following are 7 psychological needs that drive employee behavior and well-being in the workplace, with examples of how modern office design can meet those needs.

1. PRIVACY

One reason employees are unhappy with the open office plan is lack of privacy. That’s because everyone wants privacy at some point during their workday, whether it’s to make a private phone call or to eliminate distraction and improve concentration. A modern office design that includes activity based work (ABW) spaces can address that need by providing quiet and private spaces for focus work, phone booths for private phone conversations, and small meeting rooms for small-group private talks.

2. FLEXIBILITY

According to recent research by CBRE, one of the things employees want most when it comes to their work environment is choice. That means more than flexible hours and the ability to work from home. It also means choice in their work environment. Surprisingly, it’s not only millennials that want and expect this flexibility: older generations are jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to expectations for modern office design. Activity-based work environments provide the flexibility workers want in choosing the type of space to work in based on what they need to accomplish.

Companies moving to these new strategies should be aware that they must also address the cultural shifts that are needed to support flexibility in the workplace. For example, managers need to clearly give employees permission to move around during the day, as well as model the desired behaviors themselves.

 

3. PREDICTABILITY

In an economic climate where rapidly accelerating change is a given, people need the comfort of being in control of their environment. When you’re implementing a modern office design with agile working for the first time, employees are probably worried about losing the predictability of their familiar desk and cubicle. That’s why it’s important to provide tools like wayfinding systems that give control and predictability back to the workforce. A kiosk or mobile app that helps them easily find the perfect space to work, locate a coworker, or find their way around an unfamiliar campus eases those concerns.

Watch this video to learn more about modern wayfinding tools: How Wayfinding Technology Can Shape Employee Experience.

To provide predictability for employees in an agile environment, you must be sure you create the right people-to-seat ratios and the right mix of spaces. There’s a science to that process as well, and it starts by implementing technology that helps you track how people are using space. Here’s a useful resource to help you sort through the utilization tracking technology options and figure out which ones you need to drive your modern office design: Managing Workplace Utilization.

4. EQUITY

All employees, regardless of their place within the organization, want to be treated equitably. That’s especially true of millennials who may feel stifled by a corporate hierarchy. Traditional workplaces emphasize the differences between workers, with the allocation of square footage and window offices indicating power and status. In a modern office design without assigned seating, status is no longer attached to workspace, which encourages more interaction between people at different levels.

5. COMFORT

Certainly workers expect physical comfort solutions in the modern office design, such as ergonomic furniture, good lighting and a properly functioning HVAC system. But features that improve emotional comfort and wellbeing are the strategies that are really attracting employees and enabling them to be productive and creative. Including green spaces, letting in natural light, and providing inspiring views are office design strategies that are making a big impact.

6. CONNECTION

Connecting with others is a basic human need that is better met with modern office design than with traditional office settings. That’s because modern agile work spaces encourage not only interaction within small teams, but between people who otherwise might never have a chance to connect. When people sit in a different spot each day, or even move around several times a day when working on different types of tasks, they have opportunities to interact, learn from and share with more people.

7. SAFETY

Of course, everyone needs to be physically safe to be productive, but employees need to feel emotionally safe in their work environment as well. Modern office design features that promote strong teams also help employees to develop those feelings of safety. Agile working “neighborhoods” as well as spaces that encourage team interaction help to build strong and cohesive team relationships where workers feel comfortable sharing ideas, expressing opinions and offering feedback.

Why modern office design must address employee well-being

It’s important to understand exactly what companies and their employees stand to gain when workplaces are designed to meet the basic human needs of employees. It turns out, implementing modern office design strategies along with wellbeing initiatives are in everyone’s best interest.

What employees gain:

  • Better health due to modern office design that encourages movement and even promotes better sleep.

  • Lower stress with addition of green spaces, outdoor views, and more flexibility to use space to help accomplish tasks.

  • Increased job satisfaction when they have the ability to choose how, when and where and with whom they work.

What’s in it for corporations:

  • Winning the war for talent. According to CBRE, 71% of workers are willing to give up other benefits to get a well-designed workplace.

  • Increasing collaboration and innovation. Modern office design encourages interaction among and between teams with fewer walls and comfortable collaboration spaces. That interaction helps drive the innovation companies need to remain competitive in the knowledge economy.

  • Encouraging intergenerational mentoring. Cool, modern office design can attract mobile workers back into the office and get them working together. That means talented millennials gain the opportunity to learn from more experienced mentors.

  • Increasing productivity. When workers are physically and mentally healthy, absenteeism is reduced. And, modern office design better supports workers in accomplishing daily tasks, which also improves productivity.

  • Cutting property costs. Modern workplaces using an agile working strategy can accommodate more people with much less space, which can allow companies to reduce portfolio size and reduce CRE expenditure by millions year over year.

Learn more: Can Office Design Drive Workplace Productivity & Innovation?

Best Practices For The Modern Workplace

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