Friendly Advice
Jul 10, 2020

The Ultimate Guide to Workplace Experience Design

Genna Edwards

If you’ve never heard of workplace experience design, it can be hard at first to wrap your mind around. Do chairs and tables and cubicles really have that much to do with productivity, collaboration, and overall social well-being in an office? Yes, and workplace experience design can affect even more, going as far to affect how healthy your workers are and what kind of relationships they have with each other.

Good workplace experience design incorporates office layouts designed for maximum collaboration, but also with spaces to work alone if need be. Working with others and working alone are both valuable, but unfortunately modern office culture has veered us far towards the latter than the former. Working together on projects, ideas, and solutions is more vital and valuable than ever.

Read on for where workplace experience design came from and how you can implement it in your own office or start up. Trust us- after reading about its history, you’ll want to.

Change your office from a cubicle farm to a haven- trust us, the results will astound you. Workers are not happy in cubicles, yet they continue to be used. The open office has similar naysayers- but more on that later.

What on Earth does ‘workplace experience design’ mean?

An explanation in practical, bare-bones terms

Where you place your chair affects how you talk to people. Where you place your desk, or rather, where your office places employee desks, affects your relationships with others.

That seems like a wild concept, right? But it comes down to the physicality of our relationships with each other and how physicalities affect collaboration.

Think first about your desk. Is it cluttered? Is there a wall of some sort separating you from the person across from you? Are you comfortable? All of these aspects affect your focus right now, and focus affects how well you can do your work to the best of your abilities.

There are two definitions of workplace experience.

  1. The application of UX (user experience) thinking applied to today’s workforce- its digital and physical spaces, processes, and cultures.
  2. The way you do business- regardless of where or who you are, both on-screen and off.

What constitutes BAD workplace experience?

The Cubicle, The Open Office, and The Laptop Cafe are all examples of bad workplace experience. You’re probably super surprised, and we don’t blame you- haven’t we all worked in one of these three forms? Why would we use them if they didn’t work?

These forms of working are universally disliked. So again- why do we continue to use them? There are easy ways we can change what we’re doing to be more comfortable and productive.

The open office may seem like a good counterpoint to the cubicle, but beware- it comes with its own set of issues. It turns out that the best workplace design incorporates aspects of both the cubicle and the open office. Read on for how to make these changes a reality in your own office space.

Flexible Workspaces over Open Offices

A step-by-step guide for how to change your office layout

Now that we’ve sold you on the idea that your office is probably terribly set up- sorry- there are simple ways to fix it. That’s the good news- fixing bad workplace experience design is super easy, and we’ll walk you through it.

Step One

Your desk is for a person- not a computer.

Technology has affected how we work for generations. With innovative technology becoming smaller and more accessible, more hand-held by the day, these effects are even larger. Think about how much of your time at work you spend with technology. You’re likely either on your computer or on your phone, using Skype or Zoom, using Google and Facebook and loads of other softwares on a daily basis.

Because of the rise of digital services in corporate spaces, we’ve begun to rely on our computers more than each other. Our desks have become larger to fit our computers and assorted hardware. Know what these larger desks have led to? More distance and separation from each other, both physically and mentally.

Think about The Cubicle, our first example of bad workplace experience design. The cubicle was not designed with people in mind, but computers. It was designed as an efficient layout for organizing cables and computers to every employee, to create an organized layout for the building’s electricity.

While the number of US workers in cubicles has declined over the decades, there’s still a good chunk of the American population who works in them. The percentages of unhappy cubicle workers are high. Cubicles provide no acoustic or visual privacy when you need it, and overall aren’t very comfortable. Consider office temperatures and the comfort of the chairs you sit in. It’s all equally important.

Originally, the cubicle was designed in the 1960s by Robert Probst to be a semi-private customizable space. That’s the key word here- customizable. There were window inserts in cubicles with blinds you could lower, with one hundred twenty degree walls to give you more space and comfort. Probst called this the Action Office.

Unfortunately, his design was lost in translation. People started seeing just walls, not walls that are movable and open and can have windows in them. Thus, we get the modern cubicle.

The solution? Get rid of the cubicle farm format. Combine this with steps two and three, below.

Step Two

In your office layout, openness should be optional.

In the 1990s, Silicon Valley created The Open Office in an effort to fight against the ill effects of the aforementioned Cubicle system. But the open office has a myriad of problems of its own.

In the open office, privacy and productivity suffer. If the cubicle isolates you from everyone else in your office, the open office forces you to interact every second of the day. These two designs are extremes on either end of the spectrum, when in truth we need to find the middle ground. While the cubicle discourages collaboration, the open office forgets that sometimes we truly do need to work alone to get things done. We can’t be social all the time, just as we can’t be antisocial all the time.

Still with us? Awesome. So to fix this, we need to find a happy medium. That happy medium comes in the form of movability and flexibility in your office furniture.

Think chairs on wheels, or lightweight tables that are easy to move. Think open spaces with individual meeting rooms that can be used for privacy, but also open spaces where colleagues can pull up their chairs at a big table and talk through strategies. Now there’s spaces for individual focus as well as collaboration. Both are equally important.

Step Three

Now we must consider the changing American landscape. With coronavirus more than ever changing how we work with each other, more and more office landscapes are changing forever. We can now do a good amount of work from the comfort of our homes, or coffee shops, or wherever we have a good wifi signal.

Think about it. We can answer work emails on our phones, take calls, send payments- more than half of our day-to-day jobs can be done from that little device in our pockets. Work is becoming more mobile. The definition of work is now changing to become one that reflects that work can be done anywhere.

Much of our work is done in the virtual world. Because of this, remote work is more popular than ever and more companies have started implementing remote practices into their regular work week cycles. As technology advances, physical workspaces will start to matter less and less.

Thus, the desk shall become normal again and can be used for its original purpose. A workspace where, if you want, your friend can pull up another chair.

There you have it- the three steps to changing your office design to better suit your employee’s human needs. The health of your company and its success start from the home base, and the home base for a company is wherever your employees are.


Workplace experience design affects every aspect of your office culture- now you know how to change it for the better

There are three main ways to improve your own workspace’s experience design. One: design your office for people, not the technology they use. Two: give your employees access to both private spaces and public spaces for collaboration. Both private and public work are important and must be balanced as so. Three: allow the option for remote work, making your employee’s opportunities and flexibilities higher.

For more information, take the workplace experience design course at the link we’ve used to find all the above information. It can help you understand more about workplace experience design and how to use that knowledge in the best way for your interests. Happy designing!