Five steps for a happy workplace

31/10/16< Back to news index

A report by England's Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, revealed more than 440,000 cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2015 costing the UK economy £70bn to £100bn. As a workspace designer, I believe the answer lies around us. These are my five steps for a happier work environment.

1. Provide welfare facilities

We have been working with game developers Sony Computer Entertainment, Media Molecule and Natural Motion. Their work patterns aren't a typical nine to five and it's not unusual for them to be pulling an all-nighter. Because of this, they want home comforts in the workplace. Popular facilities to consider include showers, full kitchens where staff can cook a proper meal and breakout areas. Media Molecule sometimes hire a chef to cook for everyone and have a studio that they use for life drawing classes to help staff unwind.

2. Disguise your office so it doesn't look like one

Sony's office was reminiscent of an insurance centre and they realised that the environment needed to be better for productivity, wellbeing and staff retention. An overly corporate looking office screams anxiety the moment you walk through the door. We transformed the space into something with an 'artist's studio meets lounge' theme to make staff feel more at ease.

For Natural Motion, we stripped back to the structure to reveal air conditioning ductwork and cables overhead as well as adding surface finishes including micro concrete and wood floors with a reclaimed look to give it an industrial, raw feel.

3. Create a home away from home

You can make staff feel more at home by incorporating domestic soft furnishings and bedside table lamps. With Media Molecule, we filled the space with toys and hung vintage lamp shades from the ceiling. This is a relatively affordable way to make a corporate environment look and feel more homely. As with Sony, the brief was to make people less anxious about the workplace so they can be more productive.

4. Turn open plan into broken plan

Offices with inward facing cubicle-type workstations are not conducive to a happy workplace. Evolutionary psychologists argue that people look for settings that offer security and a view of our surroundings. Broken-plan, where the space is divided into zones, is a great way to make staff feel more comfortable. We have landscaped offices with cocoon shaped chairs, high backed sofas and even geometric meeting pods to provide staff with more privacy and a view of the office, whilst creating a co-working space or coffee shop type environment that makes people feel more relaxed.

5. Add a touch of the green stuff

Evolutionary psychologists also argue that we're happiest when we are close to the outdoors. A 2011 study by Norway's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences found that the presence of indoor plants led to significantly improved attention and concentration. For HTA Architects, we put plants on top of filing cabinets to make a typically depressing item of furniture more uplifting.

Final word

A happy workplace will help you to retain and attract the best talent as well as create a more productive workforce that will suffer from fewer sick days. There is no 'one size fits all' - the way people work varies from sector to sector. Try to understand how your staff work and what will make their lives easier and less stressful.