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Top 7 Office Design Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Updated: Apr 25

Office Design Problems

An office fit out or refurbishment is a big investment. Inevitably, with such a large and complex project, there are a lot of potential pitfalls. The impacts of those mistakes could be huge – in time delays, increased costs, and/or build quality.


We’ve all heard horror stories about office designs that were a complete failure. They cost their company huge amounts of time, money, and wasted effort. However, your project doesn’t have to be one of those. By learning about these common pitfalls and their consequences, you can take steps to make sure they don’t affect your project.


We’ve been designing and building offices across London and the UK since 2008. In that time, we’ve seen a lot of office design mistakes. In this article, we’ll explain the top 7 mistakes we see made with office design. We’ll also go through the impact of those mistakes, and how you can avoid them with your upcoming office design. By learning what others would do differently, designing your office will be much less stressful and difficult. It will also result in a much better workspace for you and your people.


1) Insufficient Planning

This is the most damaging office design mistake we see companies make. They start looking through portfolios and social media for “inspiration” without sufficient planning. Compiling a wish list of design styles and features might be enjoyable, but those offices were designed for other companies and teams, not yours.


Starting your project in this way will make it almost impossible to succeed. You will struggle to get alignment within your internal team about the design, which will make it very difficult to secure design and budget approval. Even worse, the design won’t be appropriate for your people, which will reduce their productivity and performance.


To avoid this, you need to research and plan your office design long before starting the actual “design” phase. You should start by establishing exactly what is wrong with your space at the moment, and what your new space needs to achieve. To learn more about the process for a successful office design, read “How to Create the Right Office For My Company.”


2) Too Traditional

Overly conventional office design is one of the most common mistakes. Changing the colours and features in your office will be of little use if the layout remains identical to 20 years ago. These offices have far too many desks and private offices, as they have only been adapted from what was there before.


As a consequence, these projects do not deliver the return on investment that the company requires. There will be little or no improvement in the performance of your staff because the changes are merely cosmetic.


To create a successful office design, you need to adopt a “user-first” approach. This may sound cliche, but it’s powerful. Rather than adapting your current office, focus on creating an office design that maximises the performance of your people. This may involve a higher initial cost, but it will soon prove an excellent investment, as it will improve the productivity of your people.


3) Not Flexible

Many offices are designed for only one working style, with very little flexibility. For example, they have too many desks or a collaboration area with only one type of furniture. However, your people are all different, and need different things from their workspace.


If your office doesn’t include enough variety, many staff will struggle to perform. Your office design will likely only cater to outgoing extroverts who are more vocal about their needs. As a result, quieter staff who need more secluded focussed space will not be as productive as they could be.


As a result, you need to include variety in your office design. Primarily, you need to include a mix of focussed, semi-collaborative, and collaborative spaces. Within these, you should also include variety – a mix of desks, pods, and private offices within your focussed area, for example. It is impossible to create an office design that is perfect for everyone, but designing your office with flexibility in mind will allow people to work in a way that suits them.


4) Too Generic

If your office is not instantly recognisable as belonging to your company, then it’s too generic. Unfortunately, many offices look remarkably similar to each other. There is no personality or culture in the design.


If you have an office like this, you will struggle to attract and retain talent. The office is a key part of the working experience, and if you don’t create an office that reflects and enhances your culture, you may struggle to differentiate yourself in the talent market. You will also struggle to attract staff back to the office, as your office won’t offer anything better for them than their home.


To avoid a generic design, you need to make sure your office brings your culture to life. This is much more than a logo in the reception and paint on the walls. It involves how your office is laid out and what kinds of environment you include, as well as all the finishes, furniture, and features throughout the space. To learn more about creating a culture-based office design, read this article.


5) Outdated Technology

Many offices have a technology package that wouldn’t have been out of place 15 years ago, despite the office design being less than 5 years old. These offices feature desktop computers and non-adjustable screens. As they have been designed for static working, they also don’t have wifi or enough power outlets.


If your office technology package sounds like this, then you will struggle to get your people back to the office. Technology is a huge part of people’s working lives, and central to their performance. However, 26% of office workers have better technology at home than in the office.


The need to build an office around the needs of your people extends to their technology requirements. They need technology that enables agile working and hybrid meetings, from laptops and wifi to BYOD video meeting suites. However, it’s also a mistake to implement technology for technology’s sake. You need to carefully select and implement the technologies that will improve the ability of your people to communicate and be productive.


6) Poor Lighting

Substandard lighting is one of the most common office design issues, with 4 in 5 office workers being frustrated by poor lighting at work. This is often due to not enough light or the wrong colour light. In many cases, private offices and meeting rooms are also placed around the edge of an office, which is a waste of natural light.


According to Bloomberg. “The intensity and type of light we live with during the workday can have a major impact on our health, happiness, and productivity.” Poor lighting can severely reduce staff productivity. It also negatively affects their wellbeing - 32% of staff say better lighting would make them happier at work.


To improve the lighting in your office, you should ensure you have a modern LED lighting system providing a minimum of 500 lux daylight-balanced light throughout your office. You should also ensure that the most popular areas of your office are near windows.


7) Poor Acoustics

The main reason open-plan office design has been unpopular with many office workers is the distracting noise levels. However, this is not an inherent drawback of open-plan layouts, but rather a result of poor design.


Poor acoustics do have a tangible impact on the performance of your people. In a recent study, 40% of office workers said poor acoustics were impacting their concentration and 33% said their mood was negatively affected. As a result, their productivity is reduced.


To avoid the mistake of poor acoustic design in your office, there are several things you need to do. The first is to allow enough office space per employee. You should also lay out your office so that noisy areas such as teapoints are not located next to focussed spaces. The use of soft furnishings and acoustic wall and ceiling panels will also reduce background noise.


Avoiding Office Design Mistakes

Office design is an absolutely crucial component of your company’s performance. As the place where your staff spend most of their working lives, your office can help boost their productivity, wellbeing, and ability to communicate. If your office design isn’t good enough, you will struggle to attract staff back to the office, as well as attract and retain talent. You will also miss out on potential workforce and real estate return on investment.


Now that you know about the most common and damaging office design mistakes, you can make sure your company doesn’t have the same problems. As a result, your project will be much less stressful, the finished workspace will be much better, and your people will be able to perform better.


To learn more about making sure your office design is the success you need it to be, read How to Create the Right Office For Your Company. There, we’ll address 4 essential steps that you can take to make sure you create the office that your company needs.


If you want to find out about potential problems with your current office design, read 7 Signs You Need to Redesign Your Office. We’ll share 7 of the most common signals that your office needs a redesign, from overcrowding to recruitment and retention issues.

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