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How to use design to lift productivity

This article was originally featured on the front cover of the Sunday Times Careers pages.

Employees spend a large proportion of their time at work, so office design can have a significant effect on their morale. Companies may believe that design is a “nice-to-have” feature, but in fact it can have a material effect on productivity.

Grant Johnson, the founder and head designer of commercial interior design agency Conduit Interior, says an inspiring workspace can make workers feel valued and a part of a team.

He says a lot of interior architecture, ergonomics and design is still based on thinking from the late 20th and early 21st century. “Not only was technology’s role less influential then, 20 years ago employees had different needs and were happy with a cubicle, pension fund and life-long security. Today’s 23-50-year-old’s needs have changed and they are more likely to job-hop in search of their ‘ideal’ environment,” he says.

Johnson has the following advice:

  • A dedicated space for staff to relax can reduce absenteeism, because people take some time to rejuvenate after a high-stress period;
  • Places for collaborative downtime will improve teamwork and encourage creativity, because staff will feel relaxed enough to share their ideas;
  • Open-plan offices have become popular, but do lead to high noise levels and can be unbearable for some. A mix of private and public spaces can ensure the best of both worlds; and
  • Any design project must be in line with the company’s goals. “Merely slapping lipstick on a pig may make a space look more attractive, but without intimately understanding the impact that the spatial layout and the facilities provided will have on staff interaction, satisfaction and performance, the design will not adequately impact the bottom line and may in fact even have the opposite effect,” says Johnson.