The Top 6 Office Design Problems - And How To Avoid Them

Problems with Office Design

The role of the office in the future of work has never been so hotly debated. And while predictions that “the office is dead” have proved untrue, it is undeniable that the role of the office has changed massively.

Many companies facing resistance as they try to persuade staff back to the office are meeting resistance from employees. While many reasons have been given for this, they all lead to the central point: staff prefer working at home to in the office. While it might be easy to blame staff for this, the real responsibility lies with your company. If you want your staff to work from the office, then it is up to you to provide a workspace that is better than their home.

The sad truth is many offices aren’t much better than the kitchen table. Certainly not enough to persuade employees to endure a long and frustrating commute. Everyone has become used to virtual meetings, and coming into the office occasionally allows them to catch up with colleagues.

On the other hand, your staff may have been back working in the office for months. They were glad to escape the isolation of working from home. However, they are getting very frustrated with your office. There are never enough meeting rooms, desks, or quiet spaces to get on with their work.

In this article, we will explain 6 of the most common issues with office design that are likely making your office so unpopular with staff. Three are high-level considerations that will need input from your company leadership on the future of the way your people work. The final three are more tactical elements that, while they may not be at the centre of the hybrid working debate, could be causing your people serious day-to-day frustration.

1) Variety

One of the biggest reasons many staff are resisting going back to the office is the lack of variety. If all the office has is rows of desks and a kitchen, why would staff commute when they can have that at home, without the hassle and expense of travel? Most prospects we speak to about their office have far too many of one or two types of spaces, such as boardrooms and desks.

This causes their staff problems because they have nothing between a single-person workspace and large meeting rooms. There is nowhere for the informal collaboration that is the backbone of hybrid working, or for impromptu 2 or 3-person catch-ups. At the other end of the spectrum, many offices also have nowhere for staff to take confidential calls in private.

The solution is to gain feedback from both staff and managers about how they work at the moment, as well as what types of spaces would make them more effective. The role of the office in the post-pandemic era is a hub for team collaboration and communication, so your office needs to reflect that. However, every office is different, and working preferences differ across teams. Getting feedback from staff on how they work when in the office is essential to incorporate the right types of spaces into your workspace.

2) Space Utilisation

While related to workspace variety, space utilisation considers how many people can work in your office, and how to make those people as productive as possible. It is by far the most common problem with offices in the post-covid era. While drab desk farms are thankfully now a thing of the past, many modern offices are not much better. They may have a larger teapoint and some sofas in a corner, but they do not match the way your company and people work in the post-covid era. Your office has most likely fallen victim to some (or all) of the 6 most common problems of office design.

Even if you have a variety of spaces to suit the different working styles of your people, if the mix isn’t quite right, the problem remains. You may have phone pods for calls and a breakout area for informal meetings, but if you don’t have enough phone pods, staff end up taking up breakout space for calls. The knock-on effects can make your office a very frustrating place to work.

If this is the feedback you’re getting from staff, you may want to consider workspace consultancy. Through a combination of staff surveys and occupancy tracking, a workspace usage report can give you an accurate understanding of how your staff are using the space, and what areas are under (or over) utilised. A workspace consultant can then combine this information with your company’s workspace plans to make recommendations on how your space could be changed to make your people more effective.

3) Branding

Many office managers think office branding is a company logo in the reception and a few walls in the brand colours. Branding in your office goes much further than that. Far too many companies take this approach, The result is that the workspace experience they provide to their staff is much the same as any other office.

As a result, talent attraction and retention become a huge talent. If issues like space utilisation and variety are making your people frustrated with the office, that becomes their perception of your company as well as your office. This presents a serious problem for your business.

The solution to the lack of “brand personality” in your office is to consider the experience that people have when in your office – both staff and visitors. An experienced specialist designer will be able to listen to your people, understand your brand and create an office concept that blends the two. This is about more than signage and decoration. It extends to every part of the staff experience, from the flooring to the coffee machine.

Even things like lighting play a part – is the light cool or warm? Which fits best with your company, and the way you want people to work while in the space. by creating an identity and atmosphere throughout your space that brings your brand to life

4) Compliance

Unlike the other 5 common problems with office design, compliance is not a common complaint of staff. This is because most staff (and companies) are unaware of many of the regulations around fire safety, disabled access, and so on. There is a reason these regulations exist – to keep you and your people safe. In many offices we visit, small works have been carried out by (often unqualified) contractors who have not made sure their designs are legal.

The most common violations we see are rooms built within existing rooms (without additional fire protection), new rooms added without fresh air supply, and partitioning reconfigurations that don’t allow for disabled access. A room without fresh air will not only be a drag on the productivity of your people, but it could also cause health issues over time. Your building insurance will also likely be invalidated if your office is not legally compliant. In addition, these violations could also be costly to remedy at a later date when you complete a larger project.

To ensure your offices are compliant, your will need to speak to a building regulations consultant or a qualified office fit-out company. There is a bewildering array of regulations, covering everything from the width of corridors to the fire-rating of ceilings. By engaging professionals at an early stage, you will be able to ensure your early-stage designs are compliant. This will eliminate the need for complicated changes at a later stage.

5) Acoustics

The problem of noisy offices is not new. It’s a favourite war cry of all the haters of open-plan offices. In many cases, these people have a point. Many open-plan offices can be noisy. However, this is not an inherent drawback of open-plan design – it is the result of poor space planning and acoustic design.

Poor acoustics is a serious problem in your office. It creates many distractions, all of which lower the productivity of your people. over time, this can lead to serious frustrations amongst your team, which damages their wellbeing and performance even further.

The good news is that you don’t have to completely refurbish your office to improve the acoustics. By installing acoustic baffles or ceiling rafts, you can reduce the background noise in your office and add a design feature at the same time. An uncommon but effective solution is sound masking. Sound masking is a system that analyses the noise in the space and creates white noise at frequencies that neutralise the background noise, making it quieter.

6) Biophilia

While you may not have staff complaining regularly about the lack of plants in the office, biophilia (or the lack of it) is nevertheless a very common problem we encounter in office designs across the country. While people may think of biophilia as a few plants around the office and succulents on desks, biophilia is much more than that. It encompasses all the natural elements, finishes, and designs within an office.

A lack of natural light is a real problem, especially in larger offices. While meeting rooms with a view may seem like a good idea, they can block a lot of light. If your people spend 80% of their time working in artificial light just so a handful of meeting rooms can sit empty for most of the time, that’s a serious waste. The finishes throughout your office matter, too. If your office has predominantly block greyscale colours, your staff are forced to work in an unnatural environment. Over time, this reduces their wellbeing and productivity.

Biophilia is another area that doesn’t always require a full-scale project to bring it up to standard. Distributing plants throughout the space is a great start. They will improve air quality and provide a refreshing design element, boosting the performance of your staff.

To get the full benefit of biophilic design, though, you will likely need to redesign your office. This will be to harness the 3 most important elements of biophilia – natural light, biophilic finishes, and air quality. Studies have shown that maximising light and distributing plants throughout the office can lead to surprising wellbeing and performance benefits.

Creating Your Perfect Office Design

While this is not a comprehensive list of every problem we have seen in offices across the country, these are the 6 most common. At least 3 of them affect 80% of the offices of the prospects we speak to. As well as being problems with your office right now, they also have the potential to derail your next office fit-out.

To get the most out of your workspace, you will need to partner with an office fit out firm who can create a great design for you. This is not merely a concept that looks stunning, but a substantial package that meets the current and future needs of your staff and business. Whether you are looking to maximise the potential of your office for hybrid working, tempt your staff back to the workspace, or implement a new working model, our expert workspace design team can create that package for you.

If you look around your office right now, can you see any evidence of these problems? Are your staff squabbling over the phone pods? Having to work alone in a boardroom to get some peace? Working from a desk with a view that’s about as inspiring as a cardboard box?

If so, then you can book an initial call with one of our workspace experts to discuss the challenges you are having with your workspace, and how they can be fixed. Want to know how much it would cost to refurbish your office to fix these issues? Dig deeper with an article we wrote on that exact topic.


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