Changing perceptions: how to create an inspiring office space

One of the best ways to engage a workforce and increase productivity is to give employees a space that promotes wellbeing and pride. Becky Turner, Workplace Psychologist at Claremont Group Interiors, examines how organisations can enhance office space to inspire workers.

9 mins read
I Stock 1471542553

10 Apr, 2024

​The office space is often at the heart of business culture, as it creates collaboration for meetings and group work, enhances relationships across the business and helps with in-house training and development opportunities. 

However, increasing numbers of professionals across the world are finding office workplaces uninspiring and uninviting, with the after-effects of the pandemic causing a shift in work attitudes.  

According to a report by the International Workplace Group (IWG), for 70% of the people they've surveyed, a choice of work environment is a key factor when evaluating new career opportunities.

So, what can businesses do to improve the office space? 

Becky Turner, Workplace Psychologist at the British interior design firm Claremont Group Interiors, explains more in our interview: 

Q. What can businesses on a budget do to update their office space to suit the modern workforce?

A. On a budget, it's all about prioritising maximum impact. You’ll probably want to consider phasing some work and so potentially, if your maximum impact is to create a lot more spaces for your colleagues to connect and collaborate with each other, then you might bring in some open collaboration areas, some booths that you can have semi-private conversations in.

But don't lose sight of the bigger picture. Consider a wider programme of works that you might want to do over five years. Maybe create a five-year plan of your real estate and then you can phase it into certain pockets of activity. So, like I say, you're spreading that budget over those five years.

So, design for maximum impact first. Make sure you're communicating with your colleagues about the plan, if you can be as open as possible. Really take them on that journey with you, because then, all these little bits of disruption over the period that you're going to be doing some work, they'll be on board with because they understand the impact that it's going to have on them in the future.

Q. What sort of approach should business leaders take when designing their office space?

A.It's all about engagement. So, engagement with your colleagues at all levels. What do they need?

In this hybrid way of working, which a lot of organisations are taking on board, what's going to be that thing that makes people decide, when they wake up in the morning or they're planning out their diary, ‘am I going to come into the office that day or am I going to work from home?' What's going to make them want to come into the office?

To do that it's not a case of just thinking ‘I know my people, I know what they'll say’, because they might surprise you. It's all about understanding their needs and requirements because they're the ones who're going to be utilising the space, not making assumptions.

Q. How can organisations prioritise energy efficiency for next-generation workplaces?

A.This is a really interesting topic. It's hot on the cards for every organisation: you’ve got standards to meet, there's new and innovative ways to try and meet those standards, and really there's a couple of options here.

It was staggering when we did some independent research and, bearing in mind it was in January so we were going through this cost-of-living crisis and things were a little bit uncertain, we found that 28% of people were coming into the office for the energy and for the heating, which is just absolutely staggering. It's so important; if people are going to come in for the energy, for example, then we need to make sure it's efficient within the workplace as well.

It's largely about designing in some really smart ways to support your energy usage. You might try and look at your mechanical and electrical first and unfortunately, that's usually the biggest chunk from your budget. It’s going into things that are above the ceiling and below the floor that you can't even see, but it's going to make a huge difference to the bill at the end of every month, but also the comfort levels of your colleagues.

Q. How much does an office space impact an employee’s satisfaction and overall productivity level?

A.Employee satisfaction and productivity go hand in hand, they're highly correlated. It’s massive the impact your workplace can have on numerous levels.

Purely functionally, as long as you can come into your space and you can work in the way that you work best, that's going to massively maximise your productivity. If you're an extrovert and you might be doing a bit of admin work, sitting in an area where actually you can get some stimulation, that's going to be important to you and maintain your focus, which for some might seem a little bit backwards, but that's what the research shows.

And then equally, if you've got somebody coming in to do that same role, who might be an introvert or who might be hypersensitive, a little pod, such as the one that I'm in now, is nice and small. You can come, you can plug in, you can control the lighting and the temperature, and it's nice and quiet so you could get your head down and work.

So really providing lots of different spaces where people can feel comfortable getting their work done and work to the best of their ability, that's going to massively improve their satisfaction levels and equally productivity.

Q. How important is personalisation when revamping an office space?

A.It's a really big deal, actually. Historically, if you think about offices and how they were portrayed in movies from the nineties and the early noughties, especially in America, people are in cubicles, and they've all got pictures of their dogs, their family, their kids. People have always enjoyed personalising their spaces; it's their safe space.

So this is a big challenge when you're then opening areas up, and having a slightly more open plan office, particularly now in hybrid working, where not every everyone might have a designated desk. That's where maybe there's this idea that ‘oh no, I'm not going to be able to control my space anymore. I'm not going to be able to personalise it. It's not going to feel like mine.’

It's a change in mindset, about thinking ‘ok, this isn't my space only, it's not my den, it's our space that we all share together and collectively, so how could we all get involved in the design process?’ And this takes me back to one of those first points about engaging with your colleagues. What do you want? What do you need? What's going to make it comfortable for you?

That's the sort of bigger picture of personalising on a grand scale. Everybody's getting a bit of insight and an opportunity to put their thoughts forward within the design. So in a sense it's being created as a collaborative process.

But then alongside that, you can create hackable spaces. These are areas where actually the function might be multifunctional; it's going to really maximise the space that you've got, particularly if you've not too much space. It could be a meeting room that's got walls that could fold back, it could have panels that you can move around. There's a lot of furniture that's on wheels nowadays, so you can move it, you can create the kind of experience that you need. So, on a day-to-day, you can equally personalise it to get exactly what you need from the space.

I'd say an important thing here is that it's great to give somebody a little space that they do own. That might just be a nice sized locker so that people can put their valuable things they might have, especially if they've cycled in, they've got somewhere that they can lock everything up, that's just a little place that somebody owns.

Q. Socialisation is a key part of office life. How can businesses utilise its space to help enhance socialisation and collaboration with colleagues?

A.We’ve almost got two points here where socialisation and connection with your team is so important. We saw over the enforced lockdown period when people were feeling a lot more isolated, mental health went down in general because of this isolation and also the fact that people were unsure of what was going to happen and had lack of control.

The amount of insight you can get from non-verbal communication – by body language for example – is huge. By connecting over teams, you don't quite get that full experience. We've evolved as social creatures to be in front of each other, so I don't think that there's anything that could quite replicate that.

So, what we've been doing quite regularly is creating essentially a social heart to office spaces. Say you’ve got a three-storey office, rather than putting a big social space or a nice kitchen on each floor, you put a few tea points where you can go and get your water, make sure you stay hydrated and maybe a quick brew on each floor, but maybe on the middle one, you'd have a big social space. So that would have your really good coffee machine, as anyone that likes a good coffee will go up to that space and connect with other people that they might not do on a day-to-day basis.

It's the space that you would go to for lunch, and it's the space that you would then go to for events in the evening if you had any social events or ‘lunch & learns’, if that's what your organisation does. Just really social things to get everybody together in one place rather than disperse across the three floors because that's the sure-fire way to create silos if you don't have a central space.

So that's your heart. And that's where everyone's going to come together.

Then you've got the collaboration side as well, and that could be informal. You could use this big social space and that could also be a big collaboration space. It could be an innovation area because it looks and feels a bit different. So you just have to move the furniture around a little bit, creating some tiered seating areas so you could hold big town hall meetings, for example, or present something or get an external organisation to come in and present to you. That way you're really showing that you value your colleagues, you're supporting them through their development, but it's all about providing the platform with your space to enable that.

Looking for your next hire? Speak to one of our expert consultants today.

You may also be interested in these...

Employee monitoring: a guide to best practices
1 mins read

Employee monitoring: a guide to best practices

Employee monitoring can help ensure productivity and accountability among employees, as managers can track their work progress and identify areas where improvement is needed. Monitoring enhances data security by detecting and preventing unauthorised access or data breaches and additionally, it enables you to adhere to regulatory and compliance requirements, reducing legal risks. 

The key thing to remember is that workplace surveillance is perfectly acceptable, as long as you can legally justify your reasons, and it is always better to be ‘overt’, not ‘covert’.  

A report shows that despite normality returning to working life post-pandemic, demand for employee surveillance software is 49% above 2019 levels. 

Our eBook, ‘Employee monitoring: a guide to best practices’, provides insight from top experts in the field including:    

Keith Rosser, Director of Group Risk and Reed Screening, Reed 

Hayfa Mohdzaini, Senior Research Adviser, CIPD

 By downloading this eBook, you will discover:   

  • What employee monitoring is 

  • Whether it's needed for your business

  • Considerations for introducing workplace monitoring  

  • The benefits and drawbacks  

  • Potential impact of surveillance on the workforce 

  • Your duties as a responsible employer 

“Monitoring software that employees see as intrusive and unnecessary is more likely to erode mutual trust in the employment relationship. Employers need to show how using monitoring software can benefit employees, while respecting their privacy.” -Hayfa Mohdzaini, Senior Research Adviser, CIPD.

Workplace monitoring: guidance for your organisation
2 mins read
  1. Article

Workplace monitoring: guidance for your organisation

​In the past, workplace monitoring was relatively simplistic: employers relied on visual supervision and basic timekeeping systems, and the concept of privacy was limited.

Fast forward to the digital age. Employee monitoring has reached new levels of sophistication and become common practice for employers seeking to boost productivity, enhance security, and ensure compliance with regulations.

Improved productivity and deeper insights

With the advancement of technology, including GPS tracking, computer monitoring software, and biometric identification systems, surveillance can provide employers with detailed insights into employee activities and performance.

One of the key benefits of employee monitoring is the ability to track and improve productivity levels. By monitoring employees' activities, employers can identify inefficiencies, analyse workflow processes, and provide targeted feedback to enhance performance. This data-driven approach allows companies to optimise their operations, allocate resources effectively, and ultimately improve their bottom line.

Monitoring can also help employers identify and address issues such as time theft, excessive breaks, and unauthorised activities in the workplace. With real-time monitoring tools, employers can detect irregularities and take corrective actions promptly, therefore improving accountability and integrity among employees.

Employee monitoring can also aid in compliance with regulations and industry standards. By keeping a close eye on electronic communications, websites visited, and files accessed, employers can ensure that employees adhere to data protection laws, maintain confidentiality, and comply with company policies. This proactive approach minimises the risk of data breaches and security incidents and also protects the company from potential legal liabilities.

Balancing surveillance and ethics

Despite the clear advantages of employee monitoring, it is crucial for organisations to approach this practice with sensitivity and respect for staff privacy. As a matter of course, employers should establish clear policies regarding monitoring practices, communicate openly with employees about the purpose and scope of monitoring, and ensure transparency in the use of monitoring tools.

Prioritise the protection of sensitive employee data by implementing robust security measures, restricting access to monitoring data, and complying with data protection regulations such as GDPR. These considerations can ease employees’ minds about any surveillance and even instil appreciation for such measures. After all, workplace security is in everyone’s best interests.

Download our best practice guide to employee monitoring

Our eBook, ‘Employee monitoring: a guide to best practices’ provides insight into how employers might best integrate employee monitoring into their organisation, and considerations for what the impact may be on employees. With opinion from thought leaders, it addresses everything from pre-employment checks to the tracking tech that might be right your organisation.

Looking to hire top talent for your organisation or to find your next dream role? Get in touch with one of our specialist consultants today.

Temporary vs permanent teaching roles: which is best for you?
4 mins read
  1. Article

Temporary vs permanent teaching roles: which is best for you?

​Whether you’re just starting out on your teaching career or considering your options midway through, both temporary and permanent teaching roles have much to offer in terms of personal and professional development. The deciding factor for many is often concerned with the impact an individual hopes to make in their career – whether they see a long future at a particular school or are drawn to the rich experiences that may lie in a series of temporary or supply teaching roles at different schools.  

Temporary teaching roles: flexibility and exploration 

Temporary teaching roles offer educators flexibility and variety in their careers. Whether it be covering maternity leave, sabbaticals, or filling short-term vacancies, these roles provide opportunities to gain diverse experiences across different schools, age groups, and subjects. For those craving new challenges and exposure to various teaching methodologies, temporary teaching, cover teaching or supply teaching positions – just some of terms by which short-term teaching goes by – can be immensely rewarding. 

Temporary (or temp) roles enable teachers to test the waters before committing to a long-term position. They offer a glimpse into different school cultures, leadership styles, and student demographics, allowing educators to discern their preferences and strengths. This exploratory phase can be invaluable for early-career teachers seeking to refine their teaching approach and identify their niche within the education sector. 

It may even be said that everyone should try supply teaching at some point in their teaching career. Such roles can strengthen resilience and help teachers adapt to diverse environments, navigate unexpected challenges, and quickly establish a rapport with students and colleagues. These experiences enrich professional skill sets and cultivate a broader perspective on education. 

However, temp roles come with some uncertainties, such as job insecurity and lack of long-term stability. While it is highly unlikely in the current climate – unless you are inflexible when it comes to your working location – teachers may face periods of unemployment between assignments, necessitating financial planning and resilience to withstand potential gaps in income. The transient nature of temporary roles can impede the establishment of deep-rooted connections within school communities, potentially affecting professional networking and career advancement opportunities, unless working with a reputable teaching recruiter 

Permanent teaching roles: stability and long-term impact 

In contrast, permanent teaching roles offer greater stability and security, providing educators with the assurance of ongoing employment and consistent income. For individuals seeking to establish roots within a school community, build lasting relationships with students and colleagues, and contribute to long-term educational initiatives, permanent positions are conducive to professional growth. 

Permanent (or perm) roles afford teachers the opportunity to make a sustained impact on students’ lives, offering continuity and consistency in their educational journey. By immersing themselves in a specific school culture and curriculum, educators can develop deep connections with students and take on mentorship opportunities and leadership roles that contribute to the school community. 

Permanent roles often provide access to comprehensive benefits packages, including healthcare, pension schemes, and professional development opportunities. These perks enhance job satisfaction and overall wellbeing, helping teachers feel valued and supported. A permanent contract often makes it easier for teachers to access opportunities for career progression and development. 

However, commitment to a permanent teaching role entails a long-term investment in a specific school or institution, therefore factors such as school ethos, leadership vision, and career prospects should be considered before committing to a permanent position. Conversely, such roles may limit opportunities for professional exploration and diversification, potentially stifling creativity and innovation in teaching practices. 

Deciding what's best for you: priorities and nice-to-haves 

Ultimately, the decision between temporary and permanent teaching roles hinges on individual priorities, aspirations, and circumstances. Here’s how to guide your decision-making process: 

Reflect on your career goals:

Take time to assess your long-term career aspirations, values, and priorities. Consider whether you prioritise stability and continuity or crave variety and exploration in your professional journey. 

Evaluate your personal circumstances:

Consider factors such as financial obligations, family commitments, and lifestyle preferences when weighing the pros and cons of supply and permanent roles. Could you cope with long commutes for example, or be ready to move time and again? Determine how each option aligns with your personal circumstances and desired work-life balance.  

Seek mentorship and advice:

Reach out to experienced educators, mentors, and career advisors for guidance and insights. Their perspectives can offer valuable guidance when it comes to the nuances of temporary and permanent teaching roles and help you make an informed decision. 

Flexibility and adaptability:

Remain open to new opportunities and embrace the flexibility inherent in both temporary and permanent roles. Your career journey may evolve over time, and being adaptable to change is essential for growth and fulfilment. 

Choosing between temporary and permanent teaching roles is a deeply personal decision that is best decided by evaluating professional aspirations and personal circumstances. While teachers all have the same goal in educating and inspiring the next generation, the way they achieve this may be through various routes – making a difference to the lives of many in one or more schools. 

Looking for your next teaching role? Get in touch with our specialist education recruiters today for temporary and permanent teaching opportunities.