10 Workspace Design Tips That Can Help Companies Attract & Retain Employees

In years gone by, employers and employees alike may have believed that a workspace was simply the spot they sat in to complete their daily 7.5 hours of work and nothing more. Sure, an ocean view and a desk by the window would be nice, but it wasn’t a key factor for people when choosing a place of employment.

Nowadays, as most industries make the shift to more flexible working hours and environments, many employees are not simply in the office nine to five each day – their needs and consequently, the needs of a workspace are rapidly changing and becoming a huge factor when weighing up potential job opportunities. 

Employee turnover rates are one of the highest costs for businesses each year. In fact, Employee Benefit News reports that it costs employers 33 per cent of that employee’s annual salary to hire a replacement if that person leaves – and that many resignations are avoidable.

With so many employers vying to secure the best talent and hold on to them, it’s important to remember that a great workspace is a major drawcard for attracting and retaining good people.

Here are 10 ways you can design your workspace to attract and retain employees.

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1. Make sure your workspace reflects company values

Diane Hoskins, the co-CEO at Gensler, the world’s largest global design and architecture firm, says that a workspace is what allows people to connect, collaborate, share, innovate, and make a difference and should reflect the culture, the mission, and the purpose of the organisation. 

“Traditionally we have thought of workspaces as a place where people just show up to work, but it is really so much more than that now. It’s no longer just a space where we go from 9 to 5, because of the integration of work and life that is happening. This is a major shift that is taking place in workspace design,” says Hoskins.

Therefore, if your company prides itself on being casual and collaborative, ensure you prioritise creating plenty of open plan, group spaces for people to gather and work together. If your culture is centred around having fun at work and having passion for your industry, consider decorating the office with items that reflect this and reminds employees about what they love about working there.

2. Create a balance of individual space and collaborative areas

The set up of your workspace will be heavily dictated by the number of employees you have and the style and needs of your business. However, as many companies shift their focus to become more human-centric, there are a much wider variety of workspaces emerging, designed to accommodate personal preferences of employees. 

According to Morten Meisner-Jensen, the Co-Founder of ROOM, most people spend almost a third of their lives in the office, so if companies want to find and retain top talent, they must create an environment that empowers people with the right space to work, think and collaborate naturally. 

“Seventy percent of offices today are open plan, and the open plan layout can be fantastic. But it really needs to be implemented correctly with employee productivity and happiness in mind. From offering private rooms to take a call and quiet spaces for meditation to fun, comfortable areas that foster collaboration, it’s imperative to think about building office spaces with different environments to maximize employee wellbeing,” says Meisner-Jensen.

A variety of workplaces are emerging, designed to accommodate both individual and collaborative work.

3. Prioritise your employees’ health and wellbeing

It’s pretty simple. If your employees are physically uncomfortable, in pain or feeling unwell then the likelihood of them staying at a workplace is low. It’s important to set up workspaces with good quality, ergonomic office furniture and ensure employees are taught how to adjust their space to best suit their bodies.

You can even hire professional ergonomists to come in and provide consultations for your staff so they can find the right set up for them. Alan Kohll, an employee-wellbeing writer for Forbes says, “the use of correct ergonomics can lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the severity of musculoskeletal disorders,” which will mean employees are healthier and happier.

Providing the option of stand-up desks or adjustable workstation tables so people can sit or stand while they work according to their preferences is advisable, as is ensuring comfortable couches or chairs are on offer for break times.

A study by The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries showed that “employees notice when the company is putting forth their best efforts to ensure their health and safety and if an employee does not experience fatigue and discomfort during their workday, it can reduce turnover by an average of 48 per cent as well as decreasing absenteeism and improving morale and employee involvement.”

4. Fit out your office to reflect your employees’ needs

Each team should have customised spaces to suit their different needs – for example a sales team who are sitting or standing at their workstations on the phone all day, will need a very different set up to a team of graphic designers who are collaborating on creative project.

It’s important to also take into consideration how many private meeting rooms will be required by different teams and make an effort to place them in a convenient location for those employees. 

As companies transition to more flexible working hours and environments, the needs of a workspace are rapidly changing.

5. Create equality wherever possible

While a CEO may not have the exact same workspace requirements as a casual contract worker, it’s important to provide equality and as much equal access to amenities as possible. Feeling as though you’re getting less than the person next to you is highly demotivating and reduces employee satisfaction significantly.

In fact, the Gensler Research Institute has shown that “workplaces that give equal access to important amenities and working areas are higher performing”. At a minimum, guarantee everyone has clear access to necessities like bathrooms and kitchens. And beyond the basics, ensuring that people have equally good technology, office furniture and access to perks like recreational areas and complimentary snacks is also a great way to gain favour among employees.

6. Provide amenities your competitors don’t

A rickety, old table tennis table and free instant coffee might have once cut it when trying to impress employees, but nowadays you’ll need to offer a little bit more if you want to compete with other companies.

Depending on the size of your business, what you can offer will vary but could range from anything to free fruit in the kitchen or complimentary beers on a Friday night, through to gym access and a fully stocked café.

Think about what is consistent with your company values and even if budgets and resources are limited, choose to focus on one or two amenities that you think will resonate with and incentivise your employees the most. If you’re struggling to pinpoint which amenities might make employees most satisfied, why not ask them?

If you’re a smaller business have a chat to some of your staff about what they would most like to see in their workspace and if you’re a larger company, consider sending out a company-wide survey to get a better understanding of what your employees would appreciate. 

Employee moods and productivity can be hugely impacted by quality of lighting and acoustics.

7. Lighting and acoustics play a big part

It might not seem like it would make a huge amount of difference, but appropriate lighting and acoustics will have a big impact on employee satisfaction. Both people’s moods and productivity levels can be impacted by the quality of lighting and acoustics in an office space.

A study conducted by the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell showed that employees seated within 10 feet (just under three and a half metres) of a window reported an 84 per cent decrease in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms.

HMC Architects recommend that when you’re designing a workspace, you should prioritise getting as much daylight in the office as possible, to promote a healthier and energy-efficient space. If this isn’t possible, try to make the lighting cool and white, as this is the closest tone to natural lighting and use different sorts of lights (for example, downlights or lamps) to suit the space and ensure every area is well lit.

When it comes to acoustics, a room that is too loud or too quiet is equally problematic – think like the fairytale character Goldilocks, and aim to achieve acoustics that are ‘just right’.

Depending on your space this may mean you’ll need soundproofing on the walls and ceilings, or you may need to balance a deathly silent office with ambient sound or quiet music to help stimulate and relax people.

8. Consider plants and air quality

You know that feeling of rejuvenation you experience when you step outside for some fresh air, perhaps when going for a stroll in a nearby park or garden? Human beings have an innate desire to connect with nature, so if you can fill your workspace with indoor plants and ensure the air quality is good, your employees will automatically feel more connected to the space.

Where possible, design an office space where the desks face a window, so that people have a view of outside. If this isn’t possible, decorating the office with paintings or photos of natural landscapes will help.

Research carried out by the World Green Building Council recorded an 11 per cent increase in productivity after fresh air in the office was increased and pollution was reduced. If you cannot open windows in your office (for example in a skyscraper), it is well worth spending money on a quality air filtration system and ensuring there is no smoking or use of heavy chemicals that could pollute the air space. 

9. Upgrade your technology to create flexibility

Upgrading technology doesn’t have to mean buying the most expensive new gadgets every other month – but there are a few things you can do to ensure your employees can make the most of their workspace.

If someone is required to talk on the phone a lot as part of their role, giving them access to a mobile phone or headset can allow them to type or even walk around the office while they take calls, meaning they aren’t glued to the same spot all day.

Providing laptops for staff also has the same effect; they are able to change the setting from which they work – whether that be moving to a meeting room, collaborative working space or even providing the flexibility for staff to work from home when they would like a complete change of pace. 

10. Integrate social spaces 

Employees that play together stay together. Or something like that. In all seriousness, there is a proven correlation between employees who are given the opportunity to socialise and have fun together and improved collaboration in a workplace, so setting an office up to include social spaces is a must.

Take a company like Google, who are known for innovation when it comes to workspace design and culture; they commonly refer to promoting collaboration through employee socialising, which is directly tied to employees’ satisfaction with their space and amenities.

According to Workplace Design and Build, at Google, each workspace is designed to stimulate creativity and ultimately encourage social interaction with members from other teams that they ordinarily may not come into contact with.

In Google’s case, it is often a highly unusual space (like a putting green in their Dublin office or a climbing wall in their California office), but the same effect can be achieved on a smaller scale by creating a comfortable, warm and inviting lunch room, where staff enjoy spending time. 

So, if you can find a way to ensure your workspace meets the needs and prioritises the comfort of your individual employees, showcases your values as a company and promotes collaboration among your teams, you’ll likely find that you attract the types of employees who will be engaged with your business and committed to staying for the long haul.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.