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Guest Commentary: Office Design That Supports Productivity

In a misguided drive to respond to employee engagement issues, organizations are experimenting with increasingly lavish perks. However, the approach favoring things like food and ice cream over meaningfulness are missing the mark.


Herman Trend Alerts are written by Joyce Gioia, a strategic business futurist, Certified Management Consultant, author, and professional speaker. Archived editions are posted at

Photo credit: Arnau

Though average U.S. workers will spend about 35 percent of their waking lives in an office, according to The Conference Board, close to half are not satisfied with their workplace environment. Inefficiencies in the office setting result in lost productivity, lackluster engagement and an absence of innovation.

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Companies trying perks

In a misguided drive to respond to this challenge, organizations are experimenting with increasingly lavish perks. However, the approach favoring things like food and ice cream over meaningfulness are missing the mark. According to a recent study by PwC, what really drives employee fulfillment is an adaptable space that prioritizes communication and cooperation.

Advice from PwC’s research

In this spirit, PwC offers advice they believe will work to truly make a difference to employees:

Create spaces that morph

The right office design can be adapted to company or market needs quickly. Like PwC’s own Experience Centers, they recommend tailoring spaces to the needs of the business. They use real-time simulations and advanced technology to help employees know how to handle challenges before they reach the customer. Their spaces are easily changed and technologically flexible. Thoughtfully combining technology and design, these spaces facilitate the movement of teams’ ideas from vision to reality.


Cubicle forests are counterproductive

People learn in dynamic environments, as opposed to cubicles, which inhibit people’s ability to evolve and improve. In these dynamic environments, people learn from each other and can co-create. Giving people the flexibility to customize their space facilitates the speedy transfer of information and encourages dynamic thinking.

Balance open workspaces

PwC employees also can choose different seating plans and social spaces to foster collaboration on different days, depending on their needs at the times. Productive spaces are paired with “quiet zones” that support concentration. Thus, PwC employees are encouraged to be as productive as possible.


The value of values

People make decisions based on their values and millennials – the largest demographic in the workplace – are no exception. In fact, they are most likely to rate “values and culture” highly, when considering job satisfaction. The most effective office planning for this group embraces the balance of emotional and functional needs, and includes design elements that express corporate culture. Many aspects must be considered in design, especially ergonomic needs, layouts that encourage movement, and wall art and plants. These add up to making office environments feel personalized. At the same time, healthy food offerings demonstrate a commitment to well-being.


What’s next?

Ideal office spaces optimally serve workers. As we learn more and more about what works best for individual workers, expect to see office genomes emerge. We will be able to tailor spaces to enjoy maximum productivity from each worker.



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