Why smaller offices are focusing on quality design

Good design is now more accessible than ever, and more businesses are taking advantage

It’s the offices of the world’s tech giants that tend to dictate the latest office design. Be it rock climbing walls, health food bars, or sweeping central staircases, the Internet is in thrall to their big-budget design iterations, helping the world understand what draws top talent to their doors.

For businesses with smaller office footprints and more modest budgets, emulating cutting-edge workspaces has traditionally been too expensive of an aspiration. 

But a trio of factors – digital transformation, affordability and the war on talent – is encouraging businesses that occupy smaller offices to reject nondescript working environments for more sophisticated designs. 

“More and more, smaller businesses are opting to create workplaces that accomplish what bigger firms have long known to work,” says Alana Hannaford, design strategist, JLL. “The latest design strategies can put culture, activities and desired behaviours to work for the business.”

Commercial flooring company Interface is among the cohort of companies with offices between 800-1,000 square metres putting people at the heart of their office design. The company refurbished and relocated into an old theatre that encourages workers to communicate and allows them to choose their own work setting – something its previous office lacked.

Interface’s new dig includes a variety of breakout spaces, soundproof booths, ample greenery and floods of natural light. The ability to accommodate growth was also pivotal to its design, says John Richardson, vice president, Product & Design, Interface.

“Our people spend five days a week in this space. It’s all about them and we thought if we could mimic the outdoors through biophilic design we’ll get better productivity and people will feel more relaxed.”

When modular is more

Human-centred office design demands an agile workplace, one where desks and break out spaces can be reconfigured to suit the changing needs of a business. It’s an aesthetic that favours modular components over fixed construction, soft furnishings and pared-back design that evokes comfort and collaboration, says Anthony Walsh, design director, JLL.

“The highly stylised tech offices of 2014 have changed. Today they express personality rather than work,” says Walsh. “These fit outs are not only more accessible to businesses with smaller footprints, but more sustainable.”

Companies like technology solutions provider Zebra Technologies show how being cost-conscious is not a detriment to design. The firm’s office has been lifted with new colour schemes, refreshed signage and graphics, and refurbishment focused only on high-impact customer-focused areas.

Setting space aside for workers to rejuvenate is another design tip smaller offices are taking from tech giants. With the World Health Organisation recently reclassifying burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ rather than a problem related to life management, employers are a lot more accountable for the mental health of their workers.

Google famously has its sleep pods, but “a relaxed setting located well away from the din of the workplace, or the simple gesture of providing healthy food are simple and realistic ways to bust the stress in a smaller office environment,” says Walsh.

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Change management

Engagement between leaders and staff ahead of a design change is critical as it can not only inform the change, but excite people about it and help them feel empowered to take advantage of what the new workplace has to offer, says Yioti Smith, Head of Design & Build, Hong Kong, at JLL. 

Companies that have successful designs typically start by establishing their emotional and cultural objectives as well as operational and technical needs. From here, a budget can be developed and also used when negotiating a lease, adds Smith. 

“Mobile-enabling technology to support the way people work, and the organisation’s willingness to encourage collaboration and innovation are essential to today’s workplace.” 

The race for talent

The accessibility of great design is enabling smaller business to support high quality staff with flexibility, seamless processes and innovation, says JLL’s Hannaford. 

“To attract and retain your top talent, you need a workplace that provides the desired human experience – an environment that empowers, engages and fulfils your staff to be the best version of themselves every day.

“If your space is not enabling your people, it is not enabling your business.” 

Ideas realised

Forward-thinking companies are realising the potential of a new workplace