We spend most of our lives at work. How can we get the most out of it? Find out what a cleverly designed workplace can do for us, from enhancing productivity to improving our health and wellbeing. Workspace design experts share their know-how.

What would your perfect office look like? Would it be within walking distance of your home or a commute away? Super cosy or well ventilated? Full of character or minimalistic? The options are endless, but one thing is for sure – details like the design of the lobby, where we sit and the ambience of our work area play a significant role in our job performance. It can even affect our health. London is leading the way with its Healthy Workplace Charter, backed by the Mayor, which empowers employers to make the workplace healthier and happier.

Our first few steps into the office can hugely impact our working day, says John Robson, Asset Management Director at Workspace.

The front of house in our business centres is almost like a hotel lobby. It is generally focused around the café area and has satellite features like breakout areas and quiet booths. We design our buildings around accommodating these in the front-of-house area, because when things are displayed people use them far more heavily than when they are hidden in the building.

John Robson, Asset Management Director at Workspace

Above: Alcove seating and lower ceiling for quiet study, behind the café at Vox Studios in Vauxhall

This design approach allows people to make the most of the space on offer. Frans Burrows is Founder and Director at architecture and design firm, Bluebottle, which has worked on a number of Workspace business centres like The Leather Market in London Bridge and Vox Studios in Vauxhall.

Vox Studios’ main courtyard-style area has a clear distinction between the café area and the quieter study zone. Bespoke joinery separates the open space to segregate it into areas for different types of working. Burrows says, “The alcove seating with lower ceilings is a bit cosier so people can concentrate and do more quiet reading. At The Leather Market, you come into a lively hub with atmosphere but can also disappear into the corners for quieter work. Tucked behind the café servery are a series of meeting rooms for hire.”

Most of us have to endure meetings, but where and how we choose to hold them can greatly impact how productive they are. Do you really need to spend an hour sitting down in a formal meeting room?

Consider sofa catch-ups for quick meetings and semi-private work tables for open discussions. The glass-fronted breakout areas at Kennington Park Business Centre are popular because they provide privacy for meetings.

Above: The glass-fronted breakout area at Kennington Park offers a relaxed meeting spot with plenty of natural light

Environmental factors affect how well we work; these include acoustic and air quality, cleanliness, maintenance, lighting, office layout and furniture and temperature. Brunel University London has research expertise in the use of biomimicry – using nature’s principles – in architectural design, health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Rob Holdway, Professor at Brunel University London and Innovation Director at Co-Innovate says there is an inextricable link between the design of our working environment, culture, productivity, and health and wellbeing.

Pollution is a recognised problem. London’s new ultra-low emission zone will commence from April, in a bid to improve air quality and cut the thousands of deaths triggered by car fumes each year. Motorists will pay £12.50 a day to drive in the zone. Holdway says, “There are increased concerns over volatile organ compounds, allergens and asthmagens. Air quality can impact productivity by as much as 11%, according to the UK Green Building Council, and improving ventilation from around five litres per second to 20 can improve employee performance by up to 8%.”

Design firm Peldon Rose recommends running heating, ventilation and air-conditioning at optimum levels, to provide comfort cooling and healthy air for everyone. Temperatures that are too hot or too cold will reduce productivity and affect morale. Employers can improve ventilation by extracting pollutants from server rooms and printers, to help keep people healthy and alert.

Sickness absence costs businesses in London alone £10.4 billion every year, and a tenth of the UK’s gross national product is lost due to job-related stress. The London Healthy Workplace Charter gives employers steps to make their offices healthier and happier, which includes the workplace environment.

Above: The atrium at Metal Box Factory in Southwark is flooded with natural light

Many of Workspace’s centres are designed with healthy living in mind, offering showers and ample bike storage to encourage cycling to work. This design feature is based upon customer feedback, which Workspace acquires on an ongoing basis via its centre managers and regular surveys. When building new business centres, customer feedback helps inform the design process.

For instance, Workspace’s new centre in Fitzrovia, which is now being designed and will open in 2022, may offer standing meeting rooms with no furniture, in order to encourage quick, informal meetings. Standing meetings can be more productive; they cut meeting times by up to a third, according to data in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Health experts say that standing can help us live longer. Sitting down can quicken the onset of type 2 diabetes and is even linked to breast, prostate and lung cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.

A cleverly designed office can do more than just help us work more efficiently, it can help us live longer and better.

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