Five Examples of How Bad Office Design Stresses Workers
By Dana Sher
Head of Product
It’s easy to hop on office design trends without thinking too hard about them. You might read an engaging article about open-space concepts and decide to give it a try. Or, you might see the success a competitor is having with hot desks and try to mimic it in your own workplace. Be warned: Without careful planning, you might fall victim to bad office design.
Your concept may be innovative, but execution might be poor. That’s often the case with failed desk arrangements and their contribution to bad office design. Before you make any changes to your current workplace, make sure you’re factoring in all the variables. A little foresight goes a long way in preventing issues like these five common problems:
1. Crowded spaces create friction
It’s no secret that bad office design stresses workers. Nothing will drive up tensions and tempers like a crowded workplace. This is often the result of changes made too quickly or without proper foresight. Here’s a great example:
Your company moves into a new office space and decides to try an open-office concept. You arrange desks in groups, all together in the main office area. You’ve got 40 desks for 40 workers and, with everyone grouped together, things are a little cramped. It’s hard to walk around without bumping into people. Desks are so close together that personal space is beginning to overlap.
You might not have a lot of space to work with, but there are more creative solutions to consider than an open-office layout in this situation. Hot desking with 20 desks, for example, would immediately free up square footage. Creating desk neighborhoods might also ease some tension.
The moral of the story here is to make sure everyone has enough space to work comfortably. Space utilization is great, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of employee comfort.
2. Concentration demands quiet
An office is a busy place. Phones are ringing, people are chatting, and everyone is moving around. There’s a lot of stimuli, which means plenty of distractions:
Jane has an important client call at 3 p.m., but keeps getting questions from coworkers about another project. She doesn’t have enough time to review the client notes before the call because of the distractions. Even worse, when her call does come in, she can barely hear her client and it’s hard to concentrate.
Not every business can afford individual office space for employees. Luckily, there’s a better way to create quiet work areas. Create one or two designated quiet rooms. Or, explore the potential of a space that’s away from the usual workplace buzz that can be booked as-needed.
An open office might be great for collaboration, but quiet spaces are still important. Even if it’s not for work, having a place where employees can get a little peace will do wonders for morale.
3. Poor scheduling derails productivity
In larger workplaces with agile spaces, good office design can quickly go bad if there’s no oversight. Without scheduling protocols, disagreements detract from everyone’s productivity:
Team 1 is headed to the conference room for a brainstorming session on a big project. When they arrive, they find Team 2 already using it. After arguing for 20 minutes about who gets it, Team 1 decides to try the multipurpose room. However, Team 3 is already there. Team 1’s project is more important, which forces Team 3 to relocate, starting yet another search for an accommodating space.
This scenario manages to kill the productivity of three different groups and wastes valuable work time. Disruptions and distractions like this can throw off the sync of a team and lead to unnecessary friction.
The solution here is simple. Using CAFM (more information on what is CAFM) or IWMS software (more information on what is IWMS software) to book rooms and reserve space eliminates double-ups. They’ll also give you insight when designing new spaces—you might need more collaborative space than you think based on past bookings.
4. Neighborhoods need planning
Nothing shows how bad office design hurts productivity like a poorly designed desk neighborhood. Clustering people who don’t work well together detracts from everyone’s productivity (here's the best office layout for productivity):
Jim and Sandy are always at odds, clashing about how to approach projects. They sit right next to each other, with two other people in their desk group. Despite being on different projects, they’re constantly arguing and distracting their desk mates. Additionally, Jim is located far away from the rest of his team, while Sandy’s team is part of the desk cluster. When either of them ask for opinions, it creates tension among the entire group because no one wants to disagree with Sandy, their group leader.
Situations like this worsen quickly when there’s no planning for desk neighborhoods. Clumping people together based on proximity or department is rarely the best way to do it. Instead, design neighborhoods to complement everyone within them. Put Marketing and Sales personnel together or Accounting and HR. If your departments have teams, keep them together.
5. Have space for visitors
This is the age of remote workers and contract employees. Not everyone needs a desk all the time. Designing your workplace without a place for them to sit is a path to bad office design:
Larry usually works remotely, but has to come into the office for a major project. He’ll be there for two weeks. Without a regular desk, Larry is relegated to a conference room. But, he’s constantly asked to leave so larger groups can use the space.
In this scenario, Larry’s not able to get his work done and constant seat shuffling disrupts everyone else’s productivity. It’s a problem easily solved by having a few hot desks. Remember, the goal of space utilization isn’t to occupy 100%—it’s to occupy for maximum efficiency and productivity.
Focus on productivity
Designing with productivity in mind means looking ahead at the ramifications of changes before they’re made. If adding 20 hot desks will do more harm than good or changing to an open-office layout might be disruptive, these design trends may not be for your office. Take a look at quantifiable data first and get to know the needs of your employees, as well as how office workplace design provides a foundation for success. The best office design is an informed one.