Improving Office Space: the Transformation from Blah to Huzzah!

You’ve recently leased a great office space for your company. Aggressive tenant improvement negotiations yielded customized design with open plan and some private spaces. It’s in a great spot, with close proximity to transportation, restaurants, and business services. You feel pretty good about the new digs, except that productivity and morale don’t seem as high as originally forecasted. Something is lacking—the pizazz of bright color accents; a different configuration of desks and workstations; or crazy, pure fun items like Microsoft’s slide between office floors.

Cash is in short supply after the expense of a move, so the slide is definitely out. How can you transform your office space from ordinary to inspiring, and bring back a sparkle in the eye and spring in the step of your employees?


Take a look around the office—how much sunshine is finding its way to the workstations? Natural light is scientifically proven to elevate mood, increase general well-being, and improve health. These benefits not only translate into high morale, but have also been shown to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism. One study noted that natural light benefits are so great that some European countries require that workers be within 27 feet of a window!

While the office layout model of past decades was to assign access to light and views according to status, today companies organize floor plans around spatial equity. Open plans often are located along a window wall, so that all workstations receive the benefit of the magic of sunshine. Where that is not possible, at least one common area should be filled with natural light, such as a break room, a communal work area or some other sanctuary where workers can repair with a dose of vitamin D.

Businesses in the process of designing office space might consider an atrium in the center of the office that will disperse ample light to every hidden, dark corner. Skylights can be added to fill the office space with sunlight, and to reduce the need for fluorescent lighting. If increasing natural light in the workplace is not a current option, the company may consider providing full-spectrum lights that mimic the appearance of natural light.


Studies show that ergonomic furniture and equipment increase productivity and employee satisfaction. Not only do employees suffer less eye strain, back and neck discomfort, and carpal tunnel and other repetitive injuries, but they also feel valued by a company willing to invest more for their health and well-being. Replacing chairs that contribute to back strain and spending a few dollars per employee on ergonomic keyboards and glare reducers produces a great return on investment.

Do you have a break room vending machine? This is a nice perk for employees, especially when both cold and warm food and beverage items are available. Arrange the breakout areas to be inviting and fun, with bright color, funky furniture, and stimulating activities that recharge flagging batteries (see “whimsy,” below).

Finally, keep the temperature comfortable, and even better, have different temperature zones, so that employees can adjust it. Adjustable lighting is also a perk that affects satisfaction. When personnel can exercise control over their direct environment, they are happier and more productive.

Flexible Space

Open plans are excellent for collaboration, but can sometimes be noisy and distracting. A productive workplace balances the need for this cooperative atmosphere with quiet areas that allow focused work. Collaborative areas benefit from quirky settings where folks can meet casually around tall standing tables or have informal meetings in beanbag chairs. Quiet work spaces, in contrast, aim for tranquility, and should be a pleasing sanctuary from the rest of the busy workplace.

Adaptable workspaces have infrastructure that is easily reconfigured to accommodate changes in departments or staff sizes. Furniture and workstation setups that can be easily taken apart and rearranged to adapt to organization changes not only reduces churn costs and minimizes disruption, but also keeps the workspace fresh and interesting without investing more capital.

Just a word about “desk rage:” how much time are your employees spending chasing down IT personnel for help with aging computers? Are they hiking to a different floor to use the copier, since the closest one is always on the fritz? Flexible space should not mean that the employees range all over the building looking for some equipment that actually works. Failing and poorly maintained technology causes frustration and wastes your employees’ time. Find money in the budget to update problem equipment, and keep a responsible maintenance schedule on everything else.


A little splash of color here and there to break up the business beige, or a surprising and unusual finish on the wall can add much to a space. We’ll leave those details to your interior decorator, and will only comment on bringing a little bit of nature indoors. Plants can reduce stress and improve air quality in tightly sealed buildings, and are aesthetically pleasing for both clients and employees. Calming water features bring tranquility and beauty to reception areas or other common spaces.

Manmade art can also be soothing, inspiring, or engaging, depending on your choices. Investing in art in any of its forms can bring a great deal of pleasure to employees and also help identify your company’s brand and instill pride in the workplace.

Perhaps the most effective investment in décor you can make for your business won’t cost you anything. Encouraging employees to decorate their own space has been proven to increase productivity. Photos of loved ones, pictures of a cherished national park, tacked-up children’s drawings or a beloved collection of frog figurines can go a long way toward the happiness and comfort of employees. Even if their interior decorating scheme does not quite complement the office space’s decor, resist the temptation to override the employees’ design style. Workers in a recent study who were able to customize their workspaces had 30% higher productivity and well-being measures over those in undecorated office space.


Even responsible, productive adults need to play when work gets exhausting. Many big-name companies throw the old parental adage, “work before play” out the window and provide all kinds of play things to rejuvenate employees during the workday. Google’s headquarters in Toronto has music rooms, mini golf, and arcade games for a bit of rest and stimulation between work hours. A giant Jenga set in the break room, a foosball table, or a pile of Legos can provide enjoyable respite when the eyes feel prickly and the muscles need stretching.

Whimsical décor also lightens the heart and elevates the mood. Chunky, bright colored furniture in quiet space, or a screenwall made of recycled items like hockey sticks (another idea from Google’s Toronto office) can instill pride in the company’s identity and workspace.

Space that inspires

Transforming an uninspiring workplace to an environment that both stimulates and motivates personnel takes some thought, but very little cash. A little sunlight here, a little playfulness there, and a lot of commitment to the health and comfort of employees will bring back the sparkle in the eye and enjoyment of work that translates into greater innovation and productivity.


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