What exactly are the human needs of the office? From water coolers to breakout spaces, we look at how to design your office so that people can perform at their best.

The office came about from the need for people to have a location to do their administrative work. Having everyone together in one place made sense – you could share resources, stay in contact, and easily manage your people and business. In doing so, the office became a place that could look after people’s most basic human needs – warmth, water, shelter, as well as providing a certain amount of security and a sense of belonging. But as the workplace developed from a Taylorist approach of command and control management to a more humanist approach, businesses are acknowledging the need to provide more than a cubicle, air conditioning and a water cooler.

Today we recognise that offices need to respond to all our human needs. We talk about happiness, wellbeing, recognition and the need to achieve our goals. Psychologist Maslow explained that by achieving all of our human needs, we could reach our ultimate human goal: “to become everything one is capable of becoming”. So how do we design offices to meet the needs of individuals? How do we humanise the office so that we can be the best that we can be?

Our basic needs

Even in the digital age, workers still deem the most important aspect of the office is getting the basics right – temperature, lighting, comfort, and noise control. Whilst it’s hard to please all the people all the time, there are steps you can take to ensure your office design meets these most basic human needs: invest in a good air-conditioning system that can be easily adjusted for hot days or cold days.

Have a lighting strategy that provides different levels of lighting and as much access to natural light as possible. Acoustic panels can minimise noise disruption and a choice of alternative work settings can also boost comfort – particularly if you offer some comfy sofas in your breakout area!

Sense of belonging

One of the greatest assets of the office is its ability to bring people together. Designing offices with a series of breakout areas and communal spaces like a kitchen or dining area gives staff the chance to interact with each other, to share ideas, solve problems or even just to have a good chat! It’s the people around us that can make us feel happy, engaged and part of a bigger picture. "This sense of belonging can be achieved through flexible furniture that creates unique and private spaces within an open plan environment", highlights Matt from Tonic. Likewise, providing elements that can be personalised can create a sense of ownership in a larger office space. These could be anything from pin-up board to wall features or moveable lockers; anything that makes your staff feel more 'at home' should do the trick.

Autonomy and achievement

An office that permits independence and supports achievement will fulfil your human needs further. This could manifest by not being tied to your desk and having the tools you need to achieve in your role. Technology has a key role to play here. Once people have the technology to work where they choose, they no longer have to sit under the eye of a micro-manager but can move about a workspace to work in different locations, whether that be a breakout area or a ‘quiet zone’.

This practice is often referred to as agile working, where staff are given the choice and autonomy to work in a way that they choose so they can perform at their best. Being able to work in different locations or go to a meeting with access to all the technology and information you need, is key maintaining productivity and output.

The best that you can be

Research shows that money is not the prime motivator in the workplace. People want more. The workplace needs to provide a space where people can perform at their best, where they feel happy, engaged and challenged. And it makes sense that if your office is cold or poorly lit, or if you are chained to your desk all day, without any sense of purpose or comradery, you’re going to be pretty miserable. This is what psychology refers to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

In order to become everything you are capable of, you need to fulfil every need – from being in a space that looks and feels great, through to having working practices like agile working, that help you to perform at your best. And by designing an office that truly fulfils all our human needs in the workplace, we can create an organisation full of people who are the best that they can be. Now that sounds like something worth aiming for!