How to Design an Office for Employees

I was recently touring a number of new fantastic offices and I couldn’t help wonder how the office design impacted employees.  I kept asking myself simple questions:

– Why are teams located where they are?

– Why do different areas of the office look and feel different?

– How did the real estate team know to include certain amenities?

– Why was this or that technology selected?

– How did the design team decide on that number of conference rooms?

When asking the tour guide these questions, the response was simple – our employees told us what they needed.

Often, we look at a wonderful workspace and think it would be great to have an office like this at my company.  But, if a workspace is designed correctly, the office you’re wishing you had at your company, was designed and constructed to fit the needs of the employees at one specific company in one specific location.   The office design you admire will factor in the functions and tasks employees at that office perform each day. It will also fit the local and corporate culture of that company.

What you see may not work at your company.  An example of this is Google’s slide.

People often ask why Google included a slide in their office.  It takes up so much room, it’s never used, and it’s not for the workplace.  However, Google’s response is simple, it’s what our employees asked for.

Designing an office for office employees isn’t easy.  And it’s important to understand from the outset that no two companies are alike, therefore, no design should be alike.

How do you know what design elements are important for your company?

Design elements should fit the purpose of an office.  Most CEO’s when asked what’s the purpose of office space will tell you the purpose is to:

– Reflect the proper, as well as a positive image to the; company, clients, investors, partners, and employees.

– Enhance our ability to attract and retain key talent

– Demonstrate to our employees we are concerned about their health and wellbeing

– Be impressive, yet not overly lavish

– Provide an environment for employees to come together to be their most productive

– It’s where customers, partners, and employees come to together

Understanding that the purpose of the office is to be productive

How do you design for employee productivity?  The easy answer is to ask employees. But if I had to describe, in a few words, what makes me productive, I would struggle.  So, how do we capture this information from employees?  We have to ask employees in a variety of ways.

We are going to discuss a few ways to obtain employee information.  Don’t underestimate how long, and how much work this approach takes and needs.  Also, this strategy needs to be a continual process with constant iteration.  Remember – the way employees work is constantly changing and we want to put a process in place that lets us capture information as time passes.

All-employee surveys

An efficient way to reach and give every employee an opportunity to provide input on office design is to create an all-employee survey. Surveys can be created and sent to all employees with the appropriate time to complete.

However, designing a survey isn’t easy, especially when you’re going to ask everyone in the company to take time from their day to answer your questions. The questions you ask have to be on-point and provide a response that impacts design. The important thing to keep in mind, when designing survey questions, is to think of the results you’ll get from the question. Always consider what you’d do if you had the answer to this question from everyone in the company.

As the survey will go to everyone in the company, you have to consider how you will analyze responses.  It’s good practice to request basic information about the employee.  This enables data to be segmented to provide deeper insights:

1. Office location

2. Department

3. Gender

4. Age grouping

As the purpose of the office is to be productive, ask questions around productivity.  You can do this in a variety of ways –

– How do employees spend their time?

– What type of work do they do – focus, casual, individual, team, group

– How much time do they spend doing those tasks?

– Where do they carry out their tasks?

: Desks, conference room, lounge, breakout area, quiet area etc.

– What technology do they use to perform tasks?

: Phone, computer, software, video conferencing

: Tea, coffee, desk, air, water, furniture, technology, conference rooms, temperature etc.

: Rate tea, coffee, desk, air, water, furniture, technology, conference rooms, temperature, etc.

– What attributes of the office make them productive?

– How would they rate their space against each productivity attribute?

One important opportunity you don’t want to miss out on – allow a voluntary comment section for each question. While a survey provides an overview, some of the tactical opportunities are provided through employee comments and feedback.  For example, if a specific office is scoring good or bad, one employee’s feedback can help identify the reason and provide an opportunity to address the issues raised. (Just ensure the survey is set up so comments are voluntary)

There are many great options when choosing questionnaire software these days, one of my favorites is Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey analytics are okay and most employees have heard of Survey Monkey which takes away one potential roadblock to employees responding.

To maximize employee response rates – market the survey. You need to tell employees that the survey is coming, send follow up email reminders and, where possible, have a local champion reminding employees to complete the questionnaire. Another trick to increase response rates, is to add an incentive. Perhaps provide pizza for the office with the most respondents as a percentage of that office’s total employees.

When you have the results of a survey conducted with this approach, you will be able to determine by department, location, gender and age group:

– How employees spend their time

– What type of work employees do

– What makes employees productive

– How the company is performing against each productivity attribute

The results will provide improvement opportunities, identify quick wins and set the foundation for an employee-focused office design. Quick wins can be addressed immediately with minimal costs and provide a great feedback loop to employees – we asked you, you answered, we listened and we took action.

Focus groups

Surveys provide great macro-level insights into a workplace. But, to really get to know the functions and tasks performed by employees, smaller focus groups are required.  This takes time and effort to organize but the feedback and employee engagement will surprise you.

The purpose of the Focus Groups is to extract as much information as possible from employees on to how and what they and their team do when working in the office.  The strategy in these sessions is to ask questions and listen, ask and listen, ask and listen.

During the meeting, ask employees to provide more detailed information about what they do and what they would improve/change to enhance their productivity. Provide visual cues for employees to think through their day.- For example; you walk into the office, where do you go? Who do you talk to? How do you take this type of meeting? What barriers do you have in performing that task today? What makes you more productive today, in your environment, to carry out that task? Do you need prayer or reflection space?  Capture this on paper from each individual and then on a whiteboard for the entire team.

It’s important to capture as much information during each session, digest the information and in a follow-up meeting, provide feedback to each focus group.  For example, this is what I heard you tell me. Is that right?

One-on-One interviews

During the focus groups, ask if there are any volunteers for one-on-one interviews.  One-on-one interviews can get really specific and tactical. Again, the strategy is to ask and listen, ask and listen.  Keep the eyes on employee productivity and not “shiny objects”. Include one-on-one interview notes in the focus groups feedback.  While we get specific information, we want to ensure it applies to the entire team.

Communicate feedback to senior management

Once you have captured the survey, focus group, and one-on-one interview information, you will have a tremendous amount of data to report back to senior management. Keep the message on point and focused on productivity factors and the attributes that maximize employees productivity. You will likely have information that surprises management- an important note – if you have very surprising information, give the manager a heads up before presenting.

Do you want to go a step further?

Correlate the data from surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews to occupancy analytics and employee engagement surveys. Correlating his data will help answer the following questions:

– Is there a correlation between employee engagement and occupancy utilization?

– Is there a correlation between employee engagement and office ratings?

– Do offices with better workplaces have higher utilization and employee engagement scores?

– Do offices with the lowest scores also have lower occupancy utilization and employee engagement?

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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