How often have you heard someone say that they "practically live" at the office? Or called people at 7 or 8 p.m. and found them still at their desks? The fact is, we all put in way too many hours at our desks. And today's coolest office designs take that fact into account by giving us spaces to work where we can be relaxed and comfortable, give full attention to our work.

How do you do that? The upscale office designs common today--incorporating lots of glass and chrome; black, white, and gray; and striking modern art--make for gorgeous photo spreads. But they may not be the kind of environment where employees feel the most relaxed and focused. 

Instead, consider these tips from Jessica Dowling, head of trade services at the home furnishings site Wayfair, for how to create a welcoming space where employees can feel at home while concentrating on their work:

1. Go natural.

Cold and sterile finishes could breed a cold and sterile work environment. Instead, Dowling recommends favoring woods and fabrics over chrome and glass, putting down accent rugs, and incorporating plants in your decor. "Lose those cold metal blinds," she adds. "Install soft whites or, even better, leave the windows bare and let the outdoors in."

2. Create flexible spaces.

With real estate increasingly unaffordable, Dowling suggests "flexing" your space so that you can do more with less. "It's important to make your common spaces perform in many different applications," she says. For instance, you can eliminate conference rooms by creating sitting areas with things like sectional sofas and funky coffee tables.

"Consider desks on wheels that move together to create a large table for group meetings," she says. "Complete the area with ottomans--they have a dual purpose and can also be a chair, and they can be moved throughout the office easily for pop-up discussions."

3. Make your eating area more like a family kitchen.

"Traditional cafeteria-style tables are so passé," Dowling says. Replace them with a rustic dining table that will encourage everyone to sit together. "Dress it up with some vibrant fresh flowers in a funky vase to give the space a pop of color and fresh scent," she adds. Then your eating area can double as a meeting area for an impromptu conversation or brainstorming session.

4. Create a space to unplug.

"Most of us find ourselves staring at a computer for hours on end," Dowling says. "Sometimes we need a moment or two to decompress and collect our thoughts."

To enable these refreshing moments, Dowling recommends setting aside a room or quiet corner of the office where employees can disconnect and quietly recharge. "No group meetings here!" she warns. "Incorporate home furnishings, such as comfortable chairs and sofas, incandescent lighting, plush pillows and throws, plants, framed artwork, and bookcases full of books, and soft music. That will give employees the sense of Zen they need to get through work's toughest days."

5. Don't forget to have fun!

"Many small businesses want to set playful, fresh tones to encourage  innovation," Dowling says. To do that, she suggests mixing new and old building materials, such as reclaimed brick or barn board. Add interesting and fun art pieces and colorful lighting. And then put in some purely-for-fun elements such as a Ping-Pong or pool table, foosball, old-fashioned jukebox, etc. 

If you do all that, she says, "You'll have yourself a fun, interactive space that inspires creativity and fosters a strong team environment."

Published on: Dec 9, 2015
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