How Your Office Setup Will Affect Wellbeing

24th August 2018


UK employees work an average of 42.3 hours every week – the longest working week in the EU. When you spend so long at work, it’s important that your office environment is safe, collaborative and welcoming, designed to promote health and happiness – not stress and anxiety.

Sadly, a recent report from the Health and Safety Executive found that 45% of all UK working days lost due to ill health, were directly caused by stress.

Many UK employees aren’t happy with their current offices – 74% stated their workplace didn’t have spaces that encouraged them to relax, whereas 54% stated that no private spaces had been created, and 45% said that their workplace actively failed to promote collaborative work.

The research has been done to back this up: according to Premier’s Workplace Wellbeing Appraisal survey, 75% of UK employers scored less than 50/100 in the working environment category, with just 5.5% scoring 75/100 and above.

It seems that employees are crying out for collaborative, inviting workplaces that allow them to relax and be creative – two key factors that for many, are required to carry out their jobs effectively.

We’ve looked at several ways in which office setups directly impact wellbeing, with both positive and negative effects. These factors include:

  • Open plan offices vs cubicles
  • The rise of remote working
  • Office dogs (and cats!)
  • Plants and botanicals
  • Fresh air and daylight
  • Office acoustics, colour and layout

Open plan office

Open Plan Offices vs Cubicles

Cubicles have been disappearing in offices across the country for many years, in favour of open plan designs.

Open plan offices were introduced for several reasons: one of the main ones being to encourage workers to collaborate and communicate. However, it’s not always worked out that way. For example, when two major corporations converted from cubicles to an open plan office, face-to-face interactions actually dropped by 70%, with employees switching to email and instant messaging instead.

Why? Well, take a look around your office. How many people have their headphones in? A plea for privacy, a sign for do not disturb. When working in an open plan office, it’s highly likely you’ll be able to see the person you need to speak to. If they have their headphones in and are staring intently at their screen, then it may deter from going over and speaking to them face-to-face in case they don’t want to be disturbed. So instead, you end up sending them an email.

Arguably this scenario wouldn’t happen if workers had cubicles, as you wouldn’t be able to see whether or not that person looked “in the zone”. Instead, you’d be more likely to walk over to your co-worker and have a conversation.

So, there’s an argument that open plan offices can hinder communication, but do they affect wellbeing? In 2014, an international survey of 10,000 workers discovered that 85% of employees were dissatisfied with their open plan workplace, and were left unable to concentrate.

95% of those surveyed said that it was important to be able to work privately, yet only 41% found this to be possible, with the average worker losing 86 minutes every day due to distractions – which ultimately, can cause stress levels to rise.

Yet, if it’s not complaints about open plan offices being too noisy, then it’s that they’re simply too quiet. In 2011, two Harvard professors wrote an article titled “Who Moved My Cube?”, and raised the issue that for many employees, if they think they’re being overheard, their conversations were naturally shorter and more superficial.

Unfortunately for open plan offices, they’ve had a lot of bad press for these reasons: bringing about stress and anxiety due to disturbance and distraction; not to mention the fact that they favour extroverted personalities over introverts.

But does that mean we should bring back the traditional cubicles? Well, they raise issues in themselves: disconnect from the wider office, which can lead to feelings of isolation.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer, as both offer benefits and drawbacks. Instead, a combination of set-ups are required to impact employees’ wellbeing, as collaborative workspace provider Werqwise found. With open plan collaborative desks (45 square foot allocated per person), private offices and “thinking yurts”, their office space allows plenty of opportunity for collaboration with others, in addition to quiet spaces for employees to get in the zone, distraction-free.

The Rise of Remote Working

More than 4 million people in the UK work solely from home, enjoying a greater degree of flexibility. This is a trend that’s increasingly on the rise (allegedly, by 2020 half of the UK workforce will be working remotely), because all that’s really needed is an internet connection.

The benefits for employees are clear: commuting times are cut to zero, you can wear what you like, and have time to exercise (a jog around the block is a surprisingly efficient way to get your creative juices flowing).

Working from home can also make employees much more efficient, as they’re not distracted from what’s going on in the office, leaving them able to solely focus on work. In fact, it’s been reported that remote workers enjoy increased productivity levels of 16%. This of course, is a benefit for employers, as it means that work is done on time, and to a great standard.

For employees actively looking for flexible employment opportunities, remote working is a great alternative to a traditional office job. Even if employees don’t work remotely all the time, having the option to work from home when needed can be a great way to improve morale amongst the team, and give employees the chance to experience the benefits that remote working brings.

However, it’s important to remember that in order to be productive, you need to be self-disciplined. With initiatives like Werqwise and Wework offering collaborative office areas to be rented out on a per person per week format, we predict remote working will merge with collaborative spaces, to benefit from all of the amenities found in a sophisticated office environment.

Office pets

Office Dogs (And Cats!)

According to Reed, 8% of offices in the UK allow workers to bring their dogs in. One of these companies is Nestlé, with 56 of its 1,000+ workforce having undergone the “pawthorisation” process at their City Place headquarters, allowing their dogs to spend their days at the office.

Nestlé has allocated 12 designated dog-friendly meeting rooms for pooches to relax in, in addition to the newly created Central Bark garden. However, mostly the dogs will lounge around on cushions dotted around the office.

Employees at Nestlé noted they’d seen an increase in happiness at work, directly due to the presence of dogs. By encouraging communication between employees, a warmer, more sociable atmosphere was created in the office, with people taking the time to stop and chat to each other, and play with the dogs.

At NG, we’ve had dogs in the office for the last six years, and they’ve become part of the furniture! Adding an element of fun to our environment, they help to relieve stress; and our staff volunteer to take them out for walks.

For that reason, office dogs can help to encourage a healthier lifestyle too; as someone will need to take them for a walk. Getting out and enjoying some much-needed fresh air can help employees be more productive, and improve their wellbeing.

Of course, with upsides come downsides – for anyone who is allergic to dogs, this environment can be extremely problematic, and may deter them from applying for jobs in offices that are dog-friendly.

It also represents extra responsibilities for dog owners, to ensure their dog is safe and happy at work. Whilst many dogs are content sitting with co-workers whilst their owners are away from their desk or in meetings, for clingier dogs, it can be quite distressing.

If you’re more of a cat person than a dog person, then the good news is, that office cats contribute towards employee wellbeing and happiness too. Ferray Corporation – an internet solutions company based in Japan – adopted nine rescue cats, who now live in their office. Free to roam about, cats will sit on desks and in employees’ laps, and are always up for a cuddle.

Since the cats moved into the office, Ferray reported a notable increase in inter-office communication, and employees themselves said they felt less stressed, with the cats acting as a calming presence. In Tokyo, where space is a concern and many apartments prohibit pets, being able to stroke and play with cats in the office have had an extremely positive impact on the wellbeing of workers.

Plants in the office

Plants & Botanicals

Biophilia describes the innate desire that we have, as humans, to be connected with nature. According to psychologists, offices devoid of pictures, souvenirs and other distractions are “the most toxic space” that humans can be put into.

According to research conducted at Exeter University, employees were 15% more productive when plants were introduced into their office, with one plant per square metre substantially increasing productivity.

It turns out that plants bring other benefits too: research by the University of Technology, Sydney, reported that for offices decorated with plants, tension and anxiety fell by 37%, depression by 58%, anger and hostility by 44%, and fatigue by 38%.

More sophisticated space planners are building plants into their internal office designs – especially in collaborative spaces. These schemes are low maintenance, and plants are irrigated to prevent any accidents with watering cans.

According to the 2015 Human Spaces report, 58% of workers have no live plants in their workplaces, but if they can bring about such benefits, then it seems a no-brainer when it comes to garnishing your office with botanicals.

Exposure to daylight

Fresh Air & Daylight

A 2006 analysis on workplaces found that poor quality air lowered employee performance by 10%. Offices ventilated with a good supply of outdoor air reported a 35% reduction rate in short term sick leave amongst employees. When you consider the fact that 27 million working days were lost in the UK in 2013 due to coughs and colds, you can see the negative impact that poor airflow has on employee wellbeing in offices across the country.

In fact, there’s a name for an airless office that makes employees ill: Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), with symptoms ranging from headache and fatigue, through to infections and respiratory issues.

Fresh air and daylight go hand-in-hand, and a 2011 study found that offices with above average daylight and views reported 6.5% fewer sick days.

Whilst it may come as a surprise to some, there are many offices that don’t have windows, meaning workers must operate under artificial lighting for eight hours a day. Understandably, the consequences aren’t great: employees that work in offices with windows (something which many of us will naturally take for granted), are exposed to 173% more daylight compared to those that didn’t, and as a result, enjoy an average of 46 minutes more sleep every single night.

However, for offices based in major cities like London and New York, access to clean, fresh air isn’t always possible – and not just because of the pollutants. Open the window of an office in central London and employees will be distracted by the noise of cars and passers-by.

So, how can you solve that? Heading back to our previous point, indoor plants can help to purify the air in offices through photosynthesis. By absorbing particles and taking in carbon dioxide before transforming it into oxygen, this helps to reduce poor quality air by purifying it.

Of course, it goes without saying that employers should be encouraging employees to take lunchbreaks and go outside, so they can enjoy the sunlight and breathe in fresh air. A break away from your desk can improve your mood, concentration and productivity levels. However, a third of UK employees never leave their workplace for the working day, and 7,135 people surveyed don’t take their full lunch break. This can leave workers stressed, restless and frustrated, having a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.

Werqwise go one step further, ensuring there is ambient lighting across their offices, in addition to natural daylight flooding through the office. Lighting is pointed up and down, to reach optimum levels, helping employees to feel relaxed and productive.

Office Acoustics, Colour & Layout

One of the main issues with open plan offices, are the noise levels, which can become unbearable for employees at times. However, as annoying as a loud office can be, silence is equally as bad – that’s why the key to office wellbeing is to have the right level of ambient noise.

Music played at a low volume can be a great way to banish the silence, and stop employees from feeling too self-conscious to talk. However, carpeted floors and freestanding screens placed at the edges of desks can help to reduce noise travel, to lessen the disruption for everyone else.

Flooring can impact noise levels too. At Werqwise, their floor covering is insulated, to reduce the echo of people walking past.

It’s imperative that there are designated quiet zones for employees to retreat too, whether it’s for meetings, phone calls, or a place to relax when they need some peace and quiet. Think about how stressful it is, having an important call with a client or supplier and not being able to hear them, because the office background noise is drowning them out. To help reduce noise levels, it’s clear that there is somewhat a return of the traditional cubicle in open plan office environments.

Noise isn’t the only thing that can impact on employee wellbeing: research has shown that depending on what colour you choose to paint your office, it will directly impact your employees’ moods and productivity levels.

Are you a fan of the minimalistic look, opting for shades of white, grey and beige? It’s time to think of other options, as these colours can reportedly leave employees feeling sad and depressed.

Green and blue are largely considered the ideal choice for overall wellbeing, as they’re the colours that are associated with nature (hence the need for plants in the office!), and can improve efficiency and focus. Yellow is also a good option, as it’s viewed as energetic, optimistic and fresh – ideal for offices that promote innovation and creativity.

The use of red should be carefully considered. Whilst it can be inspiring, often it can increase heart rates and a feeling of panic, so should be used sparingly to quickly draw attention to something that’s urgent.

After conducting research into this, Werqwise suggest avoiding bright, punchy colours unless they’re part of your brand’s colour scheme. The reason for this, is whilst they can have an initial positive impact, over time they can become jarring, and not conducive to productivity. Instead, they suggest that sophisticated colour and texture palettes are the way forward.

In terms of layout, the word “collaboration” has been mentioned a lot, with many employees’ citing that they need a dedicated space for this. Getting away from your desk encourages you to think of ideas and be creative. From separate rooms to pods with comfy sofas, creating a collaborative space for employees to get together and chat about projects can directly improve productivity and wellbeing.

To conclude, all employers should consider employee wellbeing as great importance, and ensure the office space is helping to increase productivity, satisfaction and happiness levels, whilst decreasing feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

We’ve identified many ways in which you can tweak your office to improve worker wellbeing. Whilst not all factors will necessarily be relevant, there will certainly be aspects that you can take away from this. For any business, its staff is its most important assets: they are the people who come up with the creative ideas, carry out projects and speak with customers. Considering the fact that the cost of recruiting one skilled employee is estimated at £100,000, can you really afford not to tweak your office, to help improve happiness, creativity and wellbeing?

If you’re looking to rent or buy a commercial office space, we can help! Get in touch today and we’ll start searching for your ideal office space, that will promote positive wellbeing amongst your staff.


To find out more, feel free to contact us, give us a call on 0115 958 8599 or email info@ng-cs.com.