When we think about the role design plays in employee happiness, we tend to think about quirky offices with lots of bright colours and bean bags scattered all over the place. While a well-planned office is undoubtedly important to employee wellbeing and satisfaction, design has a role to play in every part of the employee experience.
Design is, after all, about solving problems. And within any workplace, there are plenty of potential problems to be solved.
With that in mind, we’ve looked at some of the ways design can impact on employee happiness from the moment they clock in to the moment they leave at night.
Actually, that’s not quite right. You can use design to improve employee happiness before they even get into the office. Take your employee parking for example. While creating an aesthetically pleasing parking lot is never going to be the easiest task, you can apply design to make the whole parking experience more pleasant.
One company that’s done so successfully is Facebook. At its Menlo Park campus, the IT staff continually monitors vacant parking spots.
“We know exactly how much available parking we have at any given time, when it fills up, and how it’s trending,” Facebook CIO Tim Campos said in an interview with CIO.
That’s important in a place where parking is at a premium. By sharing its insights with staff it can save them the trouble of driving round and round the parking lot.
It’s not all high tech though. Something as simple as sensor-driven lights that turn red when a parking space is occupied can seriously alleviate and reduce tension.
Your office entrance serves a couple of purposes. Sure, it’s the place visitors report to and wait when they come for a meeting. It’s also, however, the first point of contact most of your employees will have with the office.
It should therefore be as welcoming as possible and immediately put people in the frame of mind you want them to be in when they’re working.
Other things worth considering are whether the entrance allows them to get to their desks as easily as possible and whether it’s potentially distracting (something that’s especially important in small offices).
Finally, if you need security, think about how you can make it as uninvasive as possible.
For some inspiration, check out these incredible office entrances.
Another important thing to remember is that workplace design doesn’t just exist in the physical realm. As the workplace becomes increasingly digital, you have to put as much effort into that kind of design as you do into the bricks and mortar.
A great example of this is the company intranet. As a blog by Punchkick Interactive notes, “company intranets, databases, content management systems, and wikis are all critical to the productivity of an organization”.
Unfortunately, many organisations get their company intranets catastrophically wrong. This is especially true of large organisations, where too many stakeholders get involved and you end up with a general mish-mash that everyone hates using.
Get the user experience right though and you can build a powerful productivity tool that unites teams across the organisation.
Designing the day
Time is one of the most precious resources we have as people. Thing is, for many workers, time can be incredibly scarce.
One way to increase happiness within your organisation is to help your employees design their time rather than managing it.
It might sound radical, but it pretty much just boils down to taking the same strategic approach to their time as any other part of your business.
One Google employee has even outlined how to do this.
While you’re figuring this approach out, the very least you can do is avoid scheduling meetings right before the end of the work day.
At day’s end
One side-effect of helping your employees design their time is that they’re less likely to have to take work home with them.
That’s good, because they’re more likely to use that time to rest, allowing them to come back to work refreshed.
There are, however, other things you can do to ensure they leave work at the office. You can, for instance, design your email systems so that your employees’ inboxes shut down at a specific hour (as Volkswagen did a few years back).
If you have the resources, you could also institute exercise classes after hours to instantly break the connection with the work they’ve been concentrating on during the day.
As an added bonus, these classes can also spare them the pain of having to deal with peak-hour traffic.
The above represent just a handful of the potential design-centric happiness touch points in the workplace. There are many more.
Wherever you find these touchpoints, though, there are a couple of things to remember.
Foremost among these is that good design is about anticipation, experience, and memory.
As Randall Stone, director of experience innovation at Lippincott, told FastCo, anticipation “goes back to our primitive skills of releasing dopamine. It’s our hunting skills. If we didn’t have this sense of anticipation, we would have starved to death a long time ago.”
“The experience itself is really important,” Stone added, “but an experience is never perfect, and you don’t weigh an experience by adding it up over time. It’s not like you add four and five and get a score that equals happiness. You actually remember the high moment and the end moment, and the most important thing is the memory.”