Is your workplace layout affecting your mental health?

Is your workplace layout affecting your mental health?
Photo credit: Getty Images

The layout of workplaces plays a significant role in staff productivity, engagement and mental health - which are all essential for a business' bottom line. 

CEO and director of Spaceworks Lizzie Whaley has 17 years experience as a residential and commercial designer, and is an expert on creating workplaces that have a positive impact on both staff and business.

With technological advances bringing change to the workplace, things like working from home and open plan offices are becoming more common. Newshub sat down with Lizzie Whaley to discuss why it is essential for businesses to get the office space right. 

What is the relationship between physical space and employee wellbeing? 

It's huge, it is responsible for motivation, for employees feeling valued, for work being completed effectively and productively - which is instrumental for every business' bottom line. 

Every business owner wants productive staff. How employees feel has a direct relationship to work output. 

I've always lived by the philosophy that your mental state is a reflection of your environment, messy desk - messy mind, dull workspace - dull mind. 

It is hard not to be inspired and vibrant if your space is all those things. 

Broad generalisations aside, and not to minimise the seriousness of mental health, but changes to the physical environment can be very influential to a person's state of mind. And in a working environment, if one person is not in a great space, it's infectious. The same can be said for someone in a great mood, it's infectious too.

So what does a great workplace look like? 

A great work environment is not just relating to aesthetic; it also relates to function and technology. 

Aesthetically we all love something that is visually appealing, a tired, boring office is demotivating and has a direct influence on mood and productivity. 

On a personal level, this includes lockers, space to put coats in winter, space to put your lunch, adequate areas to eat and heat lunch, even showers for gym-goers or bike riders. 

From a work perspective, function includes spaces for collaboration, for focusing, bookable meeting rooms, breakout spaces, ergonomic furniture. From a technology perspective, if people are encouraged to work from other places around the office or at home, then laptops need to be suitable to do so, and adequate Wi-Fi if many people are using it. 

Is your workplace layout affecting your mental health?
Photo credit: Getty Images

Why should organisations invest in creating workspaces that appeal to employees?

We all know that finding good staff can be difficult, and having a great looking work environment can be influential in securing new staff to work for you. 

Having a great space gives the impression that the business itself cares about the employees.

Similar to securing new staff, a good work environment can be influential in retaining staff, which reduces recruitment costs, training costs, and potential downtime in productivity.

What are some of the worst offices you have seen?

We have seen some shockers, and unfortunately, these businesses often can't see it until they step back and take a look.

They get this way through growth and expansion, squeezing more people and stuff in. White box battery farms they look like.

What are some of the best offices you have seen?  

The best ones are the offices that reflect the business' core values and personality. Every business has a personality and this should be reflected in the interior environment. 

If you want people to think your business is fun and approachable, then make sure the employees feel like that when working there. If you need to be serious and formal, then slides in the boardroom are not a match to what you're trying to achieve.

Speaking of slides, have you had any experience with companies that think putting a slide or pool table in their office would make staff happier?

I've seen companies that thought it would enhance culture and this is nonsense. Gimmicks like that are not a one size fits all. 

Some will think it's cool, some will not, and the rest will be on the fence. 

The only people you are appealing to are the ones who think it's cool. When we look to enhance culture, we are aiming for the majority, not a few.

Many businesses who have these will know that it's the same people that use the pool table, not everyone.

Generally, the things that raise office morale is when management listen for cues as to what the majority wants. 

They can include a variety of things. Maybe a great coffee machine, or free fresh fruit, or a team lunch for connection or even a health and wellbeing initiative (like boot camp or yoga). 

Is your workplace layout affecting your mental health?
Photo credit: Getty Images

What are some simple, easy and cheap changes companies could make to help morale without completely redesigning their office?

Re-lay the office, especially if you have grown and just added more people. Often a new layout with existing furniture will give better options for productivity and workflow.

Plants plants plants - injecting this life into any space just gives it a lift

Lighting - so many offices have not re-tubed their lights and are working under inconsistent dull lighting. Change to LED for long-lasting and get that brighter light back into your space.

Painting a couple of walls a fresh colour is such a cheap, easy solution to have your space feel entirely different!

Lunchrooms often have tired furniture, and some cheap solutions will give a pop of colour and make employees feel loved. Especially when management spends money on employee-only areas.

Get into an art hire rotation with a supplier, bright, colourful art can lift any space, especially if you are living in a white box.

Go paperless, get rid of the clutter. So many offices are overloaded with stuff. Get cleaning.

Have you had any personal experience with good or bad offices?

I have the smallest CV. I'd challenge anyone to beat me - I've had one job other than being at Spaceworks. And I would say the two bad offices and two good offices were both at Spaceworks. 

One was a tiny little space in Grafton, perfect for two to three people, but when we grew to five - it was just awful. We could not see it for the great little space it was, we had so outgrown it that everything became wrong.

Then the two great spaces have been the offices we have had in the Ironbank building on K Rd. The bigger office oozed who we were and what we wanted to be. It had great colours and separate meeting spaces - everything we needed to be productive. 

Although when we started to ou grow that space, it became noisy, cluttered and unproductive.

Our current space is awesome. An awesome space affects your desire to get work done, to want to interact and to be creative.

What motivated you to get into this area of design? 

I trained as a designer and worked in residential interiors for some years. At some point, I decided I wanted to give commercial interiors a try. It's the same as residential in that we are creating aesthetically pleasing spaces with the end-user is a person in space. 

But with commercial interiors, there is more psychology behind the space in relation to getting people more productive, efficient, collaborative and in retail - how to influence shopper behaviour and create sales transactions. 

This aspect of commercial design is what has kept me here.

You're heavily involved in charity work, why is it so important to you? 

I believe it's so important to contribute to our community. It's growth and development. To me, this means we should not leave behind those less fortunate. Whilst giving money is what most charities would benefit from, the most valuable thing I think we can give is our time, attention and focus to ensuring we can all have the best lives that we can. 

I don't do as much as I would like to, but as the business becomes more successful, I can see that charity will become more of a focus.

What was your journey to becoming a CEO so young?

I started my first business at 23. I had business ownership in my blood, both of my parents had their own businesses and now a joint business together.

I just always believed it to be part of my path. I admire what they do and it just came naturally. I certainly learnt a lot very young about myself and other people. Managing people, clients and finances grows you up very quickly.

One of the things I would always tell people is 'to surround yourself with the right people', those that will challenge you to grow to the next level. 

Don't surround yourself with 'yes people' or risk-averse people - align yourself with people who will support you to achieve your goals.

What have you done to your office to make it a better environment for employees? 

We moved to laptops with docking stations, so people have the flexibility to work from home or work alongside another colleague in the office.

We have our team mascot, French bulldog Harvey Specter, who is loved by all. 

We also have an open-door policy for dogs for all staff. It makes it a lovely homely environment having dogs allowed.

We completed an office survey and asked 600 employees as to what made them effective, productive and efficient in the workplace. 

It was fresh air, natural light and ergonomic furniture. 

So we made sure we had an office with a lot of natural light at both ends. We have full opening doors at each end for airflow and we have ergonomic furniture.

Is there a move towards working remotely? Are offices, and the way they are designed, still important?

Yes, there is a move to working remotely but not for all businesses.

However, it is not likely to be anytime soon that businesses move entire teams or entire companies to be working from home.

Right now, there is still value in face time together and being able to collaborate together as a team. We could be having a different conversation in six to seven years, but right now, it's still important to have a great environment. 

In many situations, we are seeing people working remotely for a couple of hours or part days a week. This allows people to have a quiet place to focus.