There’s a big gap between expectation and reality in modern offices, with relatively high numbers of office workers lacking the basic facilities to support their work. That’s the message of office workers across the region, from research we recently conducted in the Thames Valley.

Colin Allan

Managing Director

18th Nov 2019

From poor-quality or absent kitchens and meeting rooms, to bad noise control and no natural light, employees claim their poor-quality workplaces are impacting on their ability to perform at their best. All of which has a direct impact on the region’s bottom line. Businesses are potentially losing out on thousands of pounds of profit because we’re not providing the right environments for people to do their best work.

Natural light and air conditioning

Only 40% of people have access to good air conditioning and heating, which is a concern as poor temperature control and a lack of good ventilation can lead to increased sickness. And reducing absenteeism is something that many businesses strive for. Meanwhile, 42% of people don’t have access to natural light, when it’s proven sunlight is essential for wellbeing.

We all know we feel better on a sunny, rather than a dull, day. Most office workers had a kitchen, but one third still find themselves eating at their desk. At a time when many employers still expect people to be in an office for almost 40 hours a week, that feels a little mean-spirited.

Getting away from your computer and having a proper break not only makes people feel better, but also means they come back to their desk refreshed and energised.

Access to natural light ranks highly on office workers’ wish-lists. This central atrium at Lane4 is a great example of how to bring natural light into a workplace. The space is used as a break-out area, eating place and meeting space; bringing together the teams in a collaborative and relaxed way.

Natural light in office design
timber tree in biophilic office design

Quiet working spaces

When people get down to work, they often find they’re distracted. Two-thirds of respondents don’t have quiet, concentrated work areas, while three-quarters don’t have the specialised work and project spaces they need to perform their role. This is compounded by the fact a massive 83% of workers said noise is not controlled in their workplace.

We all know what it can be like trying to work surrounded by chatty co-workers and people making loud telephone calls or typing too loudly. All this takes a toll on people’s productivity – and their nerves!

These quiet meeting booths at Morgan Sindall Group provide a sound-proofed escape next to the open plan workspaces, so it's never too far to duck into a private space. The walls are clad with cork to minimise acoustics in the small space, while the glass walls let natural light from outside flow through.

How can we improve?

Unsurprisingly, when office workers were asked which changes would help them to work more effectively, the most highlighted measures were a better office layout, quiet, concentrated work areas and better noise control. Businesses across the region need to think about putting people’s need for concentration and quiet working at the heart of the office.

This will maximise their productivity and engagement, and make them feel happier at work. And if people feel happier, and know they’re doing a good job, they’re more likely to stay in the organisation. With recruitment and retention of talent being a key issue for business leaders, this can’t be underestimated.

Collaboration space in office design
Lane4 meeting room ideas with natural light

The human touch

In a digital age, it’s easy to get sucked into using new technologies, and we’ve known of many businesses which have implemented new tech just for the sake of it. But our research shows people across the Thames Valley value human interactions and face-to-face conversations with colleagues more than anything else. When asked which aspects they would most like to have in their offices, people ranked more interaction with colleagues; more meeting rooms; better heating and air conditioning; and more conference call technology as their top priorities.

That means two-thirds of office workers’ priorities are based around good communications. In contrast, far fewer office workers rated technology as their top priority with digital document storage, interactive screens, presentation facilities and video conference technology being quite low down their wish lists. So businesses should consider putting good communications and collaboration at the forefront of any office design project, and avoid implementing arbitrary technology which could be seen as tokenistic


It seems to me Thames Valley businesses have a potential ‘easy win’ to boost their offices and the bottom line. When asked what they’d wish for in an office, more than half of the region’s office workers surveyed said they would like to see plants and natural features – making it the most popular response for wellbeing.

Good air conditioning was a very close second, followed by a better look and feel in the office. While a new air-con system is a considerable investment, introducing green elements through plants is a relatively inexpensive decision which can be implemented immediately.

There are lots of ways to make improvements to your office space without breaking your budget.

If a total refurb is a few years away, then the key is to understand what your people need and make sure every pound is spent well. Too many organisations make assumptions about what people want, without involving those using the space in the decision-making process.

Start by understanding how your current space is working for the people who work in it. By engaging with your employees in the development of the space around them, you’ll not only make them feel they’re being listened to, but ensure that the workplace reflects what they need. A well-designed and managed workspace can help boost people’s sense of wellbeing, engagement, and productivity; ensuring they’re always working at their best – which in turn impacts the profitability and success of your organisation