Articles and Trends

Human-centered Office Design Puts People First

Four coworkers sitting around table at acoustic furniture

Chances are you don’t walk into the office and immediately think about the design. You consider how you don’t want to be there at 8am on Monday, but you don’t ruminate on the flow of the desks, or the formation of the conference tables, or where your monitor is in relation to your head and shoulders. The more noticeable intrusions probably have your attention, though. It’s too noisy, there’s no privacy, the lighting is bad. Did you tell management? Did they do anything? Because ALL these things…well, they matter. The most productive work environment is created by employers who listen to employees and that’s the basis of human-centered design.

Your Current Office Space

Are you in a drab office with cookie cutter gray cubicles, sitting in a chair with zero back support that squeaks when you roll from your file drawer to your monitor (that sits below eye level), and the only time you see your coworkers is when you submit your TPS reports? It’s like living the quote from furniture designer Robert Propst, “Today’s office is a wasteland. It saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort.” These uninspired office spaces lack design, yes, but what’s more, they lack personality, functionality, and a sense of humanity.

What Do We Want?

It turns out what we want isn’t money or vacations or corporate accounts. We want to be happy at work. According to JLL’s Global Research Study, 69% of workers agree that a sense of happiness is an essential ingredient to a unique human experience within an organization and 87% of respondents want a Chief Happiness Officer. This speaks to a true desire for fulfillment within the workplace. What doesn’t make us happy? Charmless cube farms. Humans don’t like those. By nature, we want to feel like we are a part of something AND that we have a say in that something. The freedom to choose is an important part of who we are as a species.

Two employees sharing multipurpose work table.

How Do We Get Human-centered?

Naturally, people are happiest when they are at the center. We’re only human, after all. We want things designed with us in mind and sometimes we like it when we don’t know it’s for us at all. We’re sneaky like that. For instance, we positively respond when our environment focuses on our four core needs: mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional. But did you know that? Intuitively, yes you did.

These human-centered design elements and ideas add value to the office environment. If you aren’t in a position to do a complete office overhaul, you slowly start a refresh by asking employees what’s important to them and implementing concepts:

  • Community – Collaboration furniture lets us congregate together. We brainstorm, get to know one another, and feel like we’re invested in one another’s lives. A sense of community at work breeds trust in our employer and our colleagues.
  • Ergonomics – Adjustable height desks and chairs are the tools our bodies need to stay healthy on the job. Whether we are sitting down or standing up, doing it with biomechanical stability is a key to employee satisfaction.
  • Autonomy – Allow me the opportunity to work where I know I’ll do my best. Maybe today is a good day for me to work in the office, at a workstation, or from home. Set me up for success.
  • Noise – Install acoustic furniture. Not everyone works well with music or excessive talking. Some of us need the sound of silence to focus.
  • Nature – Bring plants into the workplace. Humans crave biophilia as it helps reduce stress. Greenery also livens up the workplace and makes it look more attractive.

Today’s office is built to accommodate the technology that is used, not the people who work there, and maximize profit, not job satisfaction. Human-centered design is about using people to improve the environment in which they spend 40 hours a week – a place that should be a peaceful and productive rather than tense and joyless. No one is saying that work is supposed to be an oasis where everyone has their own DJ and a personal mixologist. However, studies do show that when people are content at work, less stressed at work, and happy to be at work, more work gets done. And if some plants and new furniture will start the path to nirvana…why not buy a Ficus Tree?

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