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The Effect of the Office on Staff

11th August 2015

Without a doubt, our lives revolve around our built environment. From home; school; work; hospitals; offices; and public spaces, the built environment around us plays an important part in influencing our behaviour, both psychologically and physiologically.

By nature, we are social creatures. Since the earliest cavemen and women, we have been reliant on other members of our ‘tribe’ for our physical, social and mental well-being. In modernity, we create different ‘tribes’. In the same sense that a gang of youths is a ‘tribe’, a group of office-workers is also a ‘tribe’. Their physical environment can help facilitate the interaction of their ‘tribe’ by creating a place where it’s easier for a community to be formed and to thrive, whilst respecting the needs of the individual as well as the collective.

Picture: BBC Media City

"Like it or not, work environments are currently designed around a financial model, rather than a social or practical viewpoint."

Spectacularly built glass monoliths fill our cities, along with the pockets of investors and developers. Often, many of these huge glass structures actually lack innovation, functioning merely as 21st-century editions of the tailored industrial factory. Those who eventually work within them pay a high price in financial, social and health terms.

Traditional office environments configured of modular or linear desk arrangements are no longer compatible with the way that work is now done. For many organisations, ‘work’ no longer consists of a single activity. This diversity of activity is a challenge to be met by organisations in terms of providing the most effective work environments for the workforce, often against the most stringent pressures (in cost terms) of delivering it. Different work activities drive different ways of working, often termed ‘workstyles’, and these different workstyles benefit from appropriate workspaces to support the delivery of that work. The cost to the employer of providing a more appropriate space is often a difficult argument to make in financial terms, however in a low-unemployment, high-skills shortage business world the balance has shifted.

Workplace experts such as ourselves are faced with a challenge to convince the financial authorities within corporate organisations of the value of a design which incorporates multiple worksetting types against what’s considered a space efficient linear desk layout.

Often, individuals harbour negative ideas of workplace design, influenced by images of ‘pebble’ seating and quirky ‘creative’ work-settings. In contrary, a combination of ‘function’ and ‘form’ can deliver the most effective and accepted work environments that meet the fiscal demands of the employer and the social requirements of the workforce. Furthermore, research shows that the empowerment to be able to change your environment is linked to wellbeing and behaviour; it tells people they are trusted to work in an environment that reflects their work. This changes people’s moods, and in turn how they behave.

The impact of the built environment in workplaces has been widely studied and observed by many consultants. Workplace designs of modern day are not simply based on the intuition of designers, but leading evidence-based design approaches to facilitate users with their needs. Unfortunately, as a society, we are left waiting for a time when these internal designs receive the same recognition and award as external structures. To achieve this, we continue to demonstrate that businesses can be more effective because of where they work rather than in spite of it.


Mark Bradshaw is director, property & workplace consulting, at Capita.

Mark will be taking part in the FMP conference which takes place from 14-15th October at the Radisson Blu, Heathrow

This article first appeared at


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