Is the traditional office ready for reinvention? Not only is it ready for reinvention, but it’s long past due for a change. Why is office design such a big deal? If your workplace (physical environment) stresses you out, it’s not optimized for employee happiness–and when you aren’t happy, you aren’t productive.

A well-designed office space should be the new normal. Even a city like Las Vegas, the city of palatial hotels and casinos, has its fair share of boring office spaces. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine how you’d feel if you were hired as an entry-level life insurance salesman for a prominent insurance firm in the Neon Babylon, but when you got there for your first day at work, you weren’t greeted by the usual bland décor you’d come to expect from any type of established, dyed-in-the-wool financial institution.

Instead, when you stepped into the office, you found Las Vegas office furniture that was made out of natural fibers like wool or linen and natural materials like wood, stone, or metal. Besides a lot of space and natural light, everywhere you looked, you’d see a tasteful blend of warm and cool tones and divisions of quiet or communal spaces.

As your new boss showed you around the spacious office complex, introducing you to your new colleagues, you’d be taking in the contrast between open spaces with soft seating areas and enclosed spaces for break rooms and conference rooms. Moreover, the different spaces would have a variety of colors—some with warm earth tones or bold spice tones, others with subtle, warm neutrals or modern, cool neutrals. How would you feel before you even sat at your desk?

Perhaps a tinge of optimism; perhaps, slightly energized; perhaps, refreshed and calm. Any nervousness you had about well suited you were for your new job would have dissipated in the warmth of the wall colors your desk might be facing. That’s the power of design. It can shift your mind out of any misgivings, doubts, and insecurities about the nature of your work and instead refocus your thoughts. Without even realizing it, you’ll be thinking of your place of work as something of an adventure where good things were sure to unfold for you.

A happy workplace by design

So what does an optimized office that lifts up human spirits look and feel like? According to the authors of a research paper called Ethonomics: Designing For The Principles Of The Modern Workplace, which explores the relationship between the workplace and employee happiness, “Alert, engaged, and healthy workers are most often those who are afforded a stimulating and inspiring work environment that encourages movement–to sit, stand and walk around.

We are more alert after taking a walk with a coworker or friend–and perhaps having an insightful conversation. And that feeling of well-being is likely to affect the way we interact with others–less negative feelings and fewer expressions of anger, irritation, or resentment.”

The research paper suggests the following strategies for improving workplace happiness:

  • 1. The workplace should encourage movement.
  • 2. The workplace should have quiet places for privacy, place where employees could focus on their work, their minds freed from paying attention to random noise and endless distraction.
  • 3. The workplace should echo aspects of nature—what they called biophilic design. In other words, it should bring a reminder of the outdoors.
  • 4. The workplace should offer an environment that provides a sensory contrast from the world of technology.
  • 5. The workplace should provide a careful selection of colors and textiles.
Beige carpets & white walls

Apart from large monitors and ergonomic chairs, most offices, apart from those in high tech, are hardly distinguishable from their 20th-century counterparts. Beige carpets and off-white walls and people sitting on outmoded furniture wearing subdued business attire of grays, blacks, whites, and navies are still part of our corporate reality. Even if you happen to love the nature of your work, a dismal environment can quickly convince you that you’re living a rather bland life.

High-tech companies are the exception to the unspoken business rule that banal is tolerable. They’re different not because they have abundant cash flow, nor because it’s a way of branding their image as cutting-edge nerds, but because they understand that there is a direct relationship between office design and how people feel when they work in an aesthetic place.