What does the office of your dreams look like?

Perhaps you’re in a high-backed ergonomic chair, overlooking a floor-to-ceiling ocean vista. A living wall of plants to your right, and to your left - an inspiring array of artwork, quotes and photographs.

Maybe you’d have a diffuser with essential oil aromas wafting through the air, and light ambient jazz would surround you to ease you into the zone.

A plush woollen carpet lets you pad around barefoot, whilst a happy tropical fish floats around a spacious tank. There's a games room in one section, a meditation room in another...

Ok. I’m getting carried away now. But there’s a lot to think about, isn’t there?

The value of a well-designed space

Designing the perfect workspace has been a growing focus of attention for many forward-thinking companies. A well-designed space needs to offer many functions: a mix of focus and productivity, collaboration and discussion, rest and recuperation.

From installing meditation pods to curating biophilic design, modern firms are always looking for new ways to improve productivity and workplace wellbeing.

Research shows that those who worked in offices with natural greenery saw a 15% rise in productivity over a three-month period, in comparison to those working with no greenery or natural elements within their immediate environment. But a global study found that 47% of offices lack natural light, and 58% have no plants. So there's definitely room for improvement.

In the era of workspace design, things can be a bit trial and error. A company's intentions might be positive, but they don’t always get it right. Office companies like WeWork claim to use behavioural analytics and big data to create the most productive offices - but they're hardly a paragon of business success.

Is an open office the solution?

Open-plan layouts are pretty much the standard for any new office built today. They can range from the mundane to the futuristic. They may look attractive, but do open plan offices really work?

Studies suggest that they can actually be really distracting.

“Everyone has that one teammate who's so loud (and perhaps so obnoxious) that he distracts the entire office. Instead of being able to close a door to enjoy uninterrupted work, colleagues are pulled to engage in conversations. Research has even found that hearing one side of a phone conversation is more distracting than listening to both sides of an in-person conversation.” - Entrepreneur

As well as that, they're well-equipped for the spread of disease if someone comes in when they're ill, which makes absenteeism all the more likely.

So perhaps open plan offices aren’t the answer.

What about making the workspace a bit more fun? After all, doesn’t everyone love the idea of a helter-skelter slide or a revolving bookcase?

Ideal workplace, or modern factory farm? Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi / Unsplash

Does a perfect workplace need to be fun?

One enterprising boss filled his Salford office with a quarter of a million plastic balls, turning it into a giant ball pit. The office, complete with life size Storm Troopers and Simpsons characters, was heralded to be the ultimate workspace, with some calling him Britain’s ‘best boss’. (Although the noise of people wading through the ball pit all day must have been a bit distracting.)

Although it looks great to have your office be like a playground, work is not inherently a place for hedonism. And whilst a huge office helter-skelter may look like the pinnacle of fun office design, it’s not necessarily going to make workers any happier.

Professor Cary Cooper, an expert on workplace wellbeing from the University of Manchester, says:

“A study I was recently involved with revealed that approval-seeking quirky perks can actually annoy office workers. People rarely want to work in a hammock, or take a crisis meeting in a ballpit.”

A fancy office doesn't always make a happy workforce

In our opinion, there’s no need to offer gimmicks as an incentive to lure staff to work. Most people are happy with great coffee, comfy chairs, and a respectful company culture.

We believe that what people desire most is the ability to do great work - but not spend all of their precious time in the office.

When reviewing the best and worst of workplace benefits, we mentioned that a huge 43% of employees said they were most interested in 22-35 days of paid annual leave. Having more time to spend with friends, family, and loved one is the ultimate workplace perk.

A well-designed space is always appreciated by staff, but when it comes to the choice between installing a new popcorn machine or giving time off to a colleague to attend his daughter's school play, the latter will always win.

After all, happy, motivated employees are the foundation on which to build a perfect work environment. Fancy desks, workplace massages and free fruit can only be appreciated if your staff are energised and rested.

A space can only be as zen as the employees who inhabit it.

Feature photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

Thanks to writer Kerry Needs for lending her expertise to this article.