Office workers are now customers of their workspace, not just passive users of an environment that is assigned to them.  In industries where there is a shortage of people with the right skills and abilities, it is now down to employers to sell a workplace experience, not just a job opportunity.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending the Future Offices conference in New York. There were a host of insightful presentations, many of which focused on the power of design to make the workplace a better place to be.

I saw examples of incredible innovation and thoughtful design that spoke to the importance of well-being and comfort. Companies invest large sums of money in making workplaces fit for purpose: the right setting for different types of activity, data-driven space management, and even implementing customer journey exercises for the staff in the buildings.

This latter example brought home to me that in many organizations, there is a real battle for attracting and retaining talented people.  

What matters?

Measurement of workspace satisfaction is more refined and prevalent than ever before. Huge, ongoing surveys, such as the Leesman Index, gather data from hundreds of thousands of office workers from all over the world. Other research, such as that carried out by Gensler and many companies in the commercial real estate and facilities management sectors, confirm the trends and identify what is important.

According to the Leesman Review, over 80% of respondents say that the design of the workspace is important. While workspace design is seen as being critically important, there is an underlying dissatisfaction in many workspaces with the environment, for example:


One other startling statistic is that only 53.3% of respondents said that they would be proud to bring visitors to their workspace.


Power of reviews

Surveys, such as the Leesman Index, give important insight to the general state of workspaces around the world. They show what is important. But what if you are a potential employee looking for your next job? Here, reviews of individual companies become important. There are so many ways of discovering the culture of a workplace, from informal trawls of social media all the way through review sites such as Glassdoor.

Beyond that, companies are also showcasing their workspaces on sites such as Office Snapshots or Work Design – here you can find out how organizations are creating increasingly brilliant and inviting work environments. These showcases are there to promote not only the work of architects and designers, but the organizations themselves – an image is being promoted of forward-thinking, high-quality workspaces.

When you look at some of these case studies, a number of elements jump out.  Modern workspaces look less like offices and more like hotels, restaurants and even the home (sometimes called “resimercial” design).  There is a wide variety of furnishings that wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique hotel. Work areas sometimes look like upmarket coffee shops (which, for a lot of people, is a familiar place to work). There are places to relax, collaborate and also to concentrate. Plants abound and other biophilic design features are common. The ability to move around a building to find the right place to work also gives a little time for the mind to relax and recalibrate before starting the next task.

The rise of co-working spaces is also influencing the design of mainstream office spaces. Creating spaces for accidental meetings with colleagues that you wouldn’t normally work with encourages all sorts of serendipities. Ideas are generated that wouldn’t be in traditional settings where people work mainly within their own departments.



Everyone is different, and everyone works differently as well. People have unique ways of working and maximizing their productivity. These preferences may change according to particular activities or projects.  This is called neuro-diversity, and as this practice gains recognition, businesses become better at leveraging innovative performance strategies such as wellness-based workspace design and more. This helps to maximize employee effectiveness and wellness in the workplace, making the office better suited to all employees, rather than a select few. 

Sometimes, space constraints make creating a diversified workspace difficult (or just too expensive). Therefore, so flexibility and adaptability come to the forefront. Spaces can be reconfigured quickly and easily through the use of screens, dividers, modular furniture, and mobile or standing desks. More than ever, the individual needs of employees are becoming the rule in the office, rather than the exception.


What are the signs of a winning workplace?

First impressions count

As an employer looking to recruit the brightest and best, it’s important to ask what design elements are most likely to make the greatest impact on your business. As mentioned before, only slightly over half of the workers surveyed in the Leesman Index would be proud to bring a visitor into their workspace. However, in the organizations rated as high-performing in the index, that figure jumps to over 80%. 

As an employer looking for bright, new talent, would you be proud to bring a candidate into the working areas of the office, not just a meeting room, during the interview process? Creating a fabulous design in reception or customer-facing areas is only part of the story. By creating a complete office design that employees love, it is easy to promote it to visitors, clients, and your potential new recruits as well. This is the goal of successful businesses in the modern era.

The power of empowerment

Over the last 15 years, a large body of research has shown that when people have agency over their working environment, performance and well-being improve considerably. This could mean being able to personalize a permanent desk or cubicle. It might also mean being able to find the most suitable place to work without needing approval from colleagues or bosses. It is good practice for facility managers and HR representatives to ask themselves if it appears as though your staff has agency over their workspaces. If it doesn’t, then your office may give the impression to recruits that staff has no agency or empowerment over their job as well – which is not a good look.


Design for purpose, not just for image

The fancy offices showcased on websites such as Office Snapshots look quite exquisite. However, without a purpose behind the design, they become expensive vanity projects. Design should always be deliberate, purposeful, and beneficial to everyone involved.  

Not just about offices

 A lot of effort is spent on the design of retail and hospitality environments to create a great customer experience. However, it is easy to forget that the behind-the-scenes spaces are also working areas. Design is just as important for wellbeing and productivity here as it is in outward-facing spaces. Presenting a great image to customers is much easier if staff feel good about their job and working environment.