Employees at the heart of office design

This article forms part of our ‘New How: Perspectives’ report: ‘Can real estate help solve the productivity puzzle?. To access this free report, please click on the download link to the right of this page.


You’d think we had it all: beautiful open plan office spaces, meeting rooms with floor to ceiling glass walls, digital collaboration platforms, virtual meetings…. Everything we need to be productive and increase our ability to collaborate.

So why is it that productivity often stalls in an office workplace?

First of all, let’s think about the architecture within which employees operate. Physical architecture can be designed to be aesthetically pleasing with lots of light, bright, wide-open space, but does this aid productivity? Not always. A few examples to ponder:

  • The new person who thinks they should know the answer but doesn’t want to ask the question because lots of people may hear, so therefore never speaks up.
  • The person whose concentration levels are distracted by the louder colleague who seems to intrude into their thoughts, meaning they take longer to do their work.
  • The social butterfly who loves to speak to everyone they meet as they walk through teams, which eats up time and means they work late.

One could argue that it is they that have the problem and it is not the “space” in which they work, but for some behavioural types, open plan can cause real challenges in producing the goods. But that’s not the end of it.

Let’s think about the digital architecture that now exists. The ability to switch voicemail on, put on a ‘do not disturb’ sign and answer emails when it suits suddenly means that technology, which should make collaboration and productivity easier, often gives the user an easy opportunity to disconnect from those around them, arguably hindering productivity. And why would anyone want to do that?

  • Pressure – the perfect life doesn’t exist and sometimes people struggle. Hiding behind technology means they don’t have to acknowledge it or talk about it.
  • Lack of confidence – we only share our vulnerabilities with people when we trust them. It is much harder to build trust digitally than face to face.
  • They behave like everyone else – if it isn’t reinforced in the culture of the organisation to collaborate face to face, people may not make the effort.

In summary, people like people, and like anything in life a happy balance must be struck. The reliance of technology and the need to build trust, empathy and confidence can only be done efficiently when humans speak to humans, so a modern workplace needs to facilitate human contact and create a working environment which puts its employees at ease. Placing employees at the heart of office design is hugely important in creating an efficient workforce, driving productivity and boosting individual performance.


To read more of our perspectives on whether real estate can help solve the productivity puzzle, download our free report using the link to the right of this page.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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