If you’ve turned on the news lately or taken a ride on the subway you know one thing is certain, people are unhappy. The World Happiness Report ranked Americans as #19 in the world for happiness from 2016-2018, not exactly leading the way. But why should you care that nearly two-thirds of people in the United States are unhappy? Well in short, because you work with them. Unhappy offices are less productive, they have problems with employee retention and over the course of time it hurts the company’s bottom line.
The solution is probably much simpler (and less expensive) than you think. Introducing optimism in your workplace through great design isn’t just the answer to unhappiness in the office, if done correctly it will completely transform your organization.
The first step you can take to introduce optimism in your office is remove labels. Let’s talk about your physical space for a little bit. Optimistic use of your office should differ from the conventional wisdom of creating rules that focus on what’s not allowed. Put simply, why are there always more signs telling you what you can’t do than signs that tell you what you can accomplish? An optimistic attitude forces us to look at what the possibilities are, instead of what the possibilities are not. So take the labels away.
We all have that room. A table, with eight to ten chairs sitting around it. Why does it always have to be used for a meeting? Everyone has seen this play out: your marketing team is in a pinch and needs to layout pitch decks on the conference room table and the rest of your employees are upset because the room isn’t being used for a meeting. Removing labels gives employees the freedom they need to think creatively about the space they have at their disposal and use it to find solutions.
Second, choose movable furniture. If you’ve seen the movie, Men in Black, you know there’s one scene that’s hard to forget. The paper exam.
For those who aren’t familiar, Will Smith’s character arrives late to a paper exam where he finds stiff men in suits trying their best to contort their bodies in egg shaped chairs all to find a suitable surface to take an exam on. In a moment of ingenuity, Smith’s character walks over to a large steel table in the middle of the room and drags it back to his chair, screeching and all. Why is a sci-fi thriller from the 90s relevant to your office? Your employees shouldn’t have to work that hard to make their space work for them.
It’s a simple point but it has real implications for your day-to-day life. The furniture in your office has to be movable or employees will feel trapped inside the limitations of their cubicle or workstation. In most offices, employees focus all of their attention and effort on getting the most out of their current routine, putting process before learning and creativity. It’s this very way of thinking that causes people to feel too burdened by busyness to find new ways to approach work. To be truly creative, inspired, and engage in learning people need to be taken out of their everyday routine and space. Real optimism begins to grow when you give people the ability to manipulate their space to find better solutions to their day-to-day functions, even if they’re not a part of the Men in Black.
One more step you can take to introduce optimism to your office, use all of your space. Most organizations end up at some point in a building much larger than they need. They experience growth but not quite fast enough to justify putting desks in every corner of the office. The problem is, leaving portions of your office unused, dark, and empty can leave your team with the impression that the company isn’t doing well. Instead, you want to instill vision for what the future of the company will look like and help employees visualize how the office will function when you get there. This gives people more than just something to look forward to, it gives them something to invest in and be a part of accomplishing. So dust off unused desks, create corners for people to meet or take a coffee break and show your team-members that just like every team-member, all of your space matters.
Still looking for ways to spark optimism? Remember that sometimes the most pivotal piece in your office may be one that serves no function other than it’s beauty. Think of The Bean in Chicago, it serves no real purpose other than it’s beauty, fun, and whimsy yet tourists from all over the world continue to make it an important stop on their trips to the city. Architecture and design doesn’t just have the power to improve efficiency, it can introduce inspiration and joy into the most mundane of spaces. That’s optimism.