Designing a comfortable office environment is about more than aesthetics; careful attention to design can give a boost to employee happiness. In the current economy, the focus is often on leasing office space based on price, with less attention paid to design, layout and amenities.

Smart business leaders, however, think beyond the existing layout and furniture options when moving into a new office or refurbishing a space. That fresh coat of paint and new carpet your landlord gave you when you signed the lease is great, but there are other small investments of time and money that can transform your office into a more productive workspace.

How to Create a Productive Office Environment: Heating and Lighting

Temperature is the most common office complaint among workers, but there are a number of ways to get ahead of such issues.

When considering office space, a key question should be how the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system works and how the management company responds to complaints. 

  • Is the temperature controlled by the landlord or the tenant?
  • Are there temperature zones within an office?  Do individual employees control the temperature of their office? 
  • What do other tenants say about the temperature at different times of the year? 

If you don't like the answers you get to those questions, you may want to consider different office space. 

Once you are in the office, appoint a staff member to act as the liaison with the management company on temperature issues. Make sure that reasonable staff complaints are reported to the management company promptly and that any issues (drafty windows, vents blowing excess cold air, an office that is consistently warmer than the rest of the space) are delivered in writing.  In most cases, the landlord has lease obligations to ensure working HVAC.

While temperature is hard to individualize, light can be much easier to address. The process begins when identifying and designing office space. 

  • If possible, every employee should work in space with at least some natural light; at a minimum, create common or public spaces that have access to natural light.
  • Remember that fluorescent lighting is no longer the only choice for overhead lighting. Research and employ new lighting options.
  • Specialize lighting according to tasks; this small bit of personalization can make working easier on the eyes. An accountant working with spreadsheets all day likely needs more light than a senior executive who spends the majority of her time on conference calls or managing staff.

Dig Deeper: How to Get a Good Deal on a Lease

How to Create a Productive Office Environment: Open vs. Closed Space

Your office space doesn't have to adhere to the old standard of a ring of executive offices around the perimeter, a cluster of cubicle spaces in the middle and a staid lunch area occupied only at mid-day. Such office configurations limit collaboration and have been shown to slow response times in bringing products to market or responding nimbly to client needs. 

The trend today is to support collaboration, in all its forms:  mentoring, problem solving, routine communication and information sharing. To do so, create more open spaces in the office, from workspaces with low panels that make it easier to communicate to all-day cafes where employees not only eat, but meet to work.   

But what happens when someone in a large open office environment needs to concentrate on a big project or lead a conference call? Open spaces only work when employees have access to areas where they can focus on a specific task. One solution is 'hoteling,' offices that can be reserved or used at will when needed. These offices can be small, but should be highly functional. They should be equipped with good lighting, phone systems and technology necessary to complete critical tasks.

Dig Deeper: The Real Consequences of Office Clutter

How to Create a Productive Office Environment: Flexibility

Though fixed office space is the norm, flexible spaces are the most productive. To create flexible office spaces, you need workspace of a common size with interchangeable components that can be customized to a user's need. For example: a graphic designer may need multiple large computer screens, while a senior manager may need a space that can accommodate interactions with team members. Offices of the same size with flexible functionality are not tied to a corporate hierarchy, which means less frustration and office movement when employees change positions. Universal spaces also support hoteling for employees who aren't frequently on site (sales staff, virtual employees, part-timers, et al).

The same holds true for open spaces: adaptability is important. Conference rooms can do more than host scheduled meetings, they can be used for spontaneous brainstorming, an employee who needs a quiet space to review research or a place to view videos of a competitor's viral marketing campaign.  When equipped with Wi-Fi, lunchrooms and common areas can also be productive work and meeting spaces.

Over a long lease period, flexible office design also allows you to modify your space as your company and staff evolves. 

How to Create a Productive Office Environment: Sustainability

For several years now, offices have benefited from improved paint, carpets and ventilation systems that limit the gases present in an office space and improve the overall internal environment. Now, sustainability has evolved to include systems that limit energy consumption, include more natural light, expand recycling programs and support the use of renewable and local materials. These are aspects of office design that both improve comfort and create a source of pride for employees.

Dig Deeper: 9 Ways to Cut Energy Costs

How to Create a Productive Office Environment: Ergonomic Design

A large amount of research has been done about the impact of office chairs, desk height, keyboard trays and appropriate phone usage on employee comfort and health. Companies should take advantage of the research and give thought to furniture design and how it fits the needs of employees and their work habits. Working with a consultant specializing in ergonomic design will reduce days away from work and hours of productivity lost to discomfort. At a minimum, survey your employees to assess what they need to be more comfortable as they go about their daily tasks and make sure that employees know how to adjust their furniture.

Dig Deeper: Office Chairs for Every Budget

How to Create a Productive Office Environment: Technology

It goes without saying that the office should be wired to support Wi-Fi to maximize the flexibility of the space. The positioning of your office no longer needs to be dictated by where the network connection and outlets are located. Of equal importance is making sure your office technology supports employees who work from home – either occasionally or regularly. Making it possible to access files anytime and anywhere, as well as using video conferencing and other collaborative meeting technologies, is part of the flexible office design process.

How to Create a Productive Office Environment: Style Supports Function

In the best of all worlds, an office space will reflect your business's personality and culture. Wall colors, art, amenities and comfortable gathering spaces can all enhance your brand as well as productivity. Your office 'personality' can often be tweaked easily over time, allowing your space to evolve as the company does, without major new investments. After all, most of us spend more time at work than nearly any place else these days – it should be a comfortable and inspiring environment.

Lois Goodell is principal and the director of interior design at CBT Architects.