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How to Avoid Common Office Design Mistakes

Sponsored by Workopolis: Struggling to improve productivity and performance? Tried everything you could to get employees motivated and engaged? It might be down to some faulty office design. A badly designed office may create a negative atmosphere by killing morale, collaboration, and effectiveness and job satisfaction.

Freaked out yet? Don’t worry. You can always make changes. Here are some tips from the experts on how to spot and avoid common office design mistakes.

Plan ahead

If you’re hoping to redesign or reorganize your office layout, you’ll need time. Lots and lots of time. This is especially true if you plan on hiring a designer, as you’ll need your schedule to allow for proper consultation, creative brainstorming, and decision making.

“Too short a schedule can lead to costly mistakes,” says Toronto architect Heather Dubbeldam. “Providing more time for back-and-forth will result in better proposals, and ultimately, an easier decision when hiring a designer.” It’s worth noting that this process should also account for the time needed getting permits (if necessary), tendering contractors, and construction.

As you can imagine, communication is an important part of this process, and to ensure that nothing ever slips through the cracks, assign a project manager to work with the design team.

“Too often a client assigns a staff member who is already too busy or the principal of the firm who doesn’t have time,” Dubbeldam says. “Having a dedicated project manager, who can coordinate both sides, has the authority to make decisions, and can respond quickly during construction makes the process much easier for everyone involved.”

Forget the corner office

As nice as “the corner office” might be, this kind of private space is becoming a relic of the Mad Men era. “It’s less democratic to locate private offices at the perimeter, taking all the natural light and views,” Dubbeldam says.

The trend today is to instead place enclosed spaces (like boardrooms and offices) at the core of the building, where bathrooms and elevator stacks have traditionally been located. This frees up spots with the best views for break rooms or multi-purpose work stations.

“Private offices can borrow natural light across the workstation area, whereas if private offices are located on the perimeter, they block access to natural light,” Dubbeldam says.

Pay attention to the acoustics

It might be the last thing you think about, but sound matters when you’re designing an office.

“Especially in open offices, the quality of the acoustics is really important,” Dubbeldam says. “Using acoustic materials to reduce noise levels can make a huge difference in how efficiently staff can work in a space, and in their comfort levels. You’ll need to find ways to reduce excess noise from other employees or equipment.”

To cut down on unwanted reverb and echo, offices can also use rugs, upholstered furnishings, and wall panels to dampen sound.

Ditch the one-size-fits-all approach

One of the most common office design pitfalls is to go with a “me too” design.

“There’s a temptation to say, ‘I was at this place and it was fantastic — let’s do that here too,’” says Robyn Baxter, vice president and regional leader of consulting for HOK Canada. “But every company is different, so to implement something new just because you’ve seen it somewhere else can lead to failure. It’s not your solution — it was somebody else’s.”

A better approach, she suggests, is to take a step back. Ask yourself why you’re making the change, and what you hope to accomplish.

“Really understand your own needs between you start assigning your space,” Baxter says. “You can look to others for ideas and inspiration, but if you simply saw something cool and want to try it, that’s where you start getting into trouble.”

Don’t force things

“Every organization is on the quest to enhance collaboration,” Baxter says. “And a common mistake is to say, ‘Look, we have this corner, or we have a hallway that’s really wide — let’s put two chairs and a table there and call it a collaboration space.’”

But unless these spaces are designed with collaborative work in mind, they will fall short.

“If collaboration space is what you need,” she says, “integrate it into the team space, and design it appropriate to the task. Install a display, a place where you can share content, and a table at table height, with task chairs rather than loungers.”

In other words, put design first, and don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole.

About the author: Workopolis is Canada’s leading career site for job seekers and a leader in HR technology solutions for employers.

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