Irk Spaces

How office design fads falter

Worker sitting in a pool of colorful balls.

Sit-stand desks, “collaboration lounges,” and private focus rooms are among today’s cool office trends. But modern offices may not be helping employees do their jobs. They may even be distracting.
That’s the premise of Built to Thrive: How to Build the Best Workplaces for Health, Well-Being & Productivity, co-authored by Senior Lecturer Cristina Banks. She and experts from a variety of fields argue that too much attention is paid to physical space at the expense of the psychological and social needs of employees.

Case in point: sit-stand desks. While intended for health, studies show the novelty quickly wears off and employees mostly sit. “Collaboration” lounges are too close to cubicles to use. Focus rooms for privacy aren’t often soundproof. To inspire motivation and well-being, the book says businesses should focus on autonomy, social connection, bodily security, and work with purpose. For example, extroverts are happy to sit on a sofa and collaborate, while introverts prefer to sit behind a table.

“There’s this myth that designing wellness into the workplace is more expensive than not doing it,” says Banks. “This book shows why that’s not the case, and why office design needs to be among the top three concerns for any business leader.”