For some business leaders, the thought of re-modelling an office to improve staff morale seems arbitrary, when conventional methods like pay rises can incentivise workers effectively. But in a relatively tight labour market and a society that’s increasingly shifting to balance and de-stress their work life, it’s important to remember how employees value their employment outside of salary. In the year February 2017 – February 2018, ABS estimated that of nearly 1.9 million job leavers in total, 446,800 Australians left their jobs to find one that offered better conditions. In a prosperous economy where there are jobs aplenty, employers have to do more than just offer a higher pay packet.

While office design might be a lingering consideration at best for a minority of prospective employees, staff morale and team environment play a huge factor in the overall happiness of each worker. Architects and interior designers have long realised that what they sketch on paper can have huge implications on passive interaction and staff morale.

Intuitive and welcoming design

If you truly want to make workers feel excited about (or at least not resent) the prospect of work each morning, office space has to feel inviting. This can be achieved a number of ways, but inner-city working hubs and share spaces have increasingly started to manipulate their surroundings to make workspaces look more like home office spaces. Whether it’s the natural light, scattered artwork, abundance of greenery, or just the controversially bold choice to not bore the eyes with white walls, there’s something about modern share spaces that just makes you feel uplifted and ready to tackle the world.

The success of co-working spaces like The Cluster in Melbourne (pictured) has made companies re-evaluate how their environment can be more inviting to employees.

With that said, scattering gimmicks like pinball machines and old-time decorations around the office aimlessly can be ineffective if there’s no end game in mind. Even crammed office spaces can still be a lot of fun if the right blend of uniqueness, functionality and social cohesion can be achieved. This requires an analysis of how your workers operate, their lifestyle, your industry and how they all correlate to your brand image. Even simple things like unique furniture or relaxed colour schemes can make a huge difference in comforting your workers.

With the advent of modern technology, interior re-designs are a lot less risqué than they used to be. The Design Team at IC Corporate Interiors, a Melbourne interior design firm, has been using 3D modelling to showcase what their designs and custom furniture will look like before the client goes ahead.

Are open plan designs all they’re cracked up to be?

An office design trend of the last two decades is the shift to ‘open-plan’ floorspaces, where there are few or zero individually-assigned office spaces. Although no studies have been commissioned in Australia, it is estimated that 80% of offices in the United States run an open-plan style floorplan.  It’s been said in many studies that open-plan designs improve morale and workplace efficiency, and importantly for a lot of businesses, maximise floor space usage.

This is looking at only one side of the coin, however. Recent studies have concluded that open-plan offices have actually increased the use of email and instant messaging, in some cases up to 73%.

Although open-plan offices might work fantastically for tech companies like Google, where group collaboration on projects is a fact of life, they can be frustrating for other industries. It’s true that most work done in a medium or large corporate office goes through multiple sets of hands, but if individuals are merely just allocating tasks between them, the ‘collaboration’ aspect is foregone.
Another factor to consider is energy usage. If your office regularly has vacant spaces from unfilled positions or casual workers, having to keep a large central space cooled can drive up expenses.

Irene Chaudhary (Commercial Interior Designer) says that a number of factors need to be balanced when deciding the layout of an office. “An example of balance is in design for one of my clients, Hudson Bond Real Estate. Although I dedicated a small area to open-plan office space, their floorspace was heavily reliant on individual offices, owing to the nature of that type of business.” Irene continues, “instead, to facilitate a friendly working atmosphere, I focussed on making areas, like the kitchen, look much homelier.

It’s clear that interior designs make a difference in the way employees passively behave amongst each other, as well as how comfortable and uplifted they feel in coming to work. What isn’t always clear is the best way to improve productivity and morale without sacrificing functionality. Interior designers like Irene and her team aren’t just focusing on a floor space’s capabilities, they’re performing evaluations of their client’s work environment to balance utility and worker happiness.