Any good business leader wants their team to be happy. We want this on a basic, human level, first and foremost. But we've also identified a business case for happiness--it leads to more engagement, greater productivity, and higher levels of retention as well. 

There's a lot that a business can do to influence how happy its employees are. Benefits, competitive salaries, a positive company culture--all good ideas. One area that is sometimes overlooked is the design of your office. 

Some companies are obsessed with office design and invest a lot of money to make their workspaces into second homes. And others probably look a bit closer to what you saw in the movie Office Space.

If you're running a young company, or a company that doesn't have cash to burn on showers and nap pods, don't worry. Here are a few office design tweaks that will have a subtle but real impact on your employees. 

Emphasize water cooler culture

Whether you use old-fashioned water coolers or a fancier sparkling water machines to keep your team hydrated, place them in various locations around your office and build a culture around drinking water often. Encourage water breaks, offer employees refillable water bottles as company swag, and consider placing your coolers in strategic locations. 

For example: Moving your water cooler to the edge of your kitchen means your employees can rehydrate without walking past a room full of snacks. These behavioral design nudges can help you cultivate a healthier, happier workforce that isn't bogged down by sugar crashes, snack overloads, and insufficient hydration. 

Put plants everywhere

When in doubt as to how to decorate your office space, go heavy on the plants. You might know this from your own research on home decor, but plants in the office help reduce stress, cut sickness and absence rates, and boost productivity. 

It's true: Plants have been shown to improve both levels of concentration and workplace satisfaction. Plus, they just look nice. We once celebrated Earth Day at my company by inviting every employee to pot a succulent that now lives on their desks. 

Create varied workspaces 

Different teams at your company will have different objectives and goals, and as a result, different work styles will emerge. Some teams will be more talkative than others; some will come into the office later and stay later. Especially in this era of open floor plans, trying to make each team confirm to a singular work style is impossible and can lead to tension. 

Instead, build or designate certain areas of the office as "quiet" or "collaborative" spaces outside of everyone's individual desk space. People who need quiet to get their work done can use these areas without feeling like they have to work "over" their teammates. 

Also, breaking up the office with cozy communal areas--couches, or long tables in the lunchroom--gives people a chance to work in a variety of environments without leaving the office. 

Organize your space with natural light in mind

Humans aren't meant to spend all day indoors, so the least we can do is increase people's exposure to the elements--including exposing the office to as much natural light as possible. 

If well-lit areas of the office are premium spaces, treat them as such: They shouldn't be reserved for private offices, but used to illuminate your collaborative and communal spaces instead. When possible, use glass rather than solid walls to let light filter through to other parts of the office. And keep your windows clear of clutter--don't let supplies or deliveries pile up on the sills. 

Natural light is an important part of employee happiness: It can fight seasonal affective disorder, help regulate sleep patterns, and improve mood. In fact, people who sit closest to the windows are more likely to show up for work than those who sit farther. 

Make the office 'legible'

Finally, in your effort to outfit your office with the latest technology, games, and snacks, don't overdo things to the point where there is no clear delineation of where certain parts of the office end and others begin. Office "legibility" improves employee focus and gives them a sense of being valued, so make sure it's easy for people to find others, that social spaces are separated from work spaces, and that each space is used as intended (meaning the couches in the quiet area don't become social zones). 

There are lots of expensive ways to improve the design of your office, such as creating nap rooms and painting every area a different color. Start with these tips, however, and see how easy it can be to boost employee happiness with little tweaks rather than big changes. 

Published on: Dec 23, 2019
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