Pino Catalano

By Pino Catalano
Lead Designer |

 An uninspiring workplace can have major ramifications when it comes to staff morale, productivity and attracting new staff. All of these factors can adversely impact an organisations overall performance and as a result, many companies are now investing in workplaces that aim to inspire.

What colour walls should we have? What types of cushions shall we choose? What carpet should we go for? Office design has sometimes been guilty of being a bit 'fluffy', an over-indulgence for the Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen-types, a 'nice to have' for many organisations. But in today's workplace, leading organisations are realising the positive effects of having an inspiring workplace and what it can mean to the bottom line.

Attracting the best people

The UK faces a brighter future than other parts of the world as the economic recovery goes from strength to strength, experts at Ernst & Young recently reported . With the economy growing at a fast pace, never has the war for talent been so fiercely contested. Companies are going above and beyond to attract and retain the best people and office design is increasingly being seen as an important ingredient in this mix.

We have seen how companies like Google and Facebook design exciting and inspiring workplaces and it's no coincidence that they are also able to recruit the best people. In fact, a recent study of 7,600 office workers concluded that office design was so important to workers that a third of respondents claimed it would unequivocally affect their decision whether or not to work somewhere. With statistics like this, it’s evident how poorly designed offices can potentially inhibit the recruitment of the best talent, which of course can fundamentally affect the overall success of a business.

Engaging the workforce 

Last year’s Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report found that the majority of workers (51%) said they weren't engaged in their jobs, while a sizeable proportion (17.5%) said they were "actively disengaged". 

In fact, less than a third of workers reported being engaged in their jobs. With statistics showing that businesses with engaged employees have much higher productivity than those that don’t, it spells bad news for businesses failing to engage their people. So how can office design influence employee engagement?

The importance of work as a meaningful activity in our lives is higher on the agenda than ever before. As members of the workforce, we want to be able to add value in our roles and work for a business we believe in. Offices are often the physical manifestation of companies and can become places to embrace, reflect and communicate it's culture and core values. 

It is the process of engaging with these values and buying into the culture that drives people to putting in the effort and hard work that will ultimately lead to higher individual and company performance. If you look at a business like Nuffield Health, their office design included features like a smoothie bar, gym, and flexible breakout areas.

Nuffield Health Workplace

The design reflected and emphasised the company’s healthy ethos and commitment to wellbeing in a way their people could engage with. People matter when it comes to driving a successful business forward, and workplaces matter in motivating successful people.


Steve Jobs famously altered the design of Apple HQ to ensure that the toilets and shared spaces were at the centre of the open plan. He wanted to force chance encounters and encourage serendipity. Merissa Meyers, CEO of Yahoo! famously banned home working in 2013 as she saw the advantages of having teams together in the same building. Inspiring workplaces become a destination rather than a chore. People want to be there, to be part of the buzz, to feed off the energy from their workplace.

Inspiring offices today are designed to encourage this organic collaboration, to maximise that bump factor and those water cooler moments that can speed up communication or lead to a eureka! moment. With a less than inspiring office, people will just work from home, or stay pinned to their desk, limiting group interactions, collaboration and potentially innovation.

The cost of an uninspiring workplace is probably too complex to calculate precisely, but with people making up one of the biggest cost centres for most businesses its easy to see how a negative effect on recruitment, retention, engagement and productivity can be seriously detrimental to a business’s bottom line. This is not to say that the only way to create an inspiring work place is to spend millions or fit a Google-style slide. It might be as simple as adding some colour or artwork to the whitewashed walls, or reconfiguring the furniture to create a more dynamic or agile workspace.

Most importantly, it’s about understanding ‘what does ‘inspiring’ look like to the people in your workplace?’ Free coffee? Music playing? More communal, collaborative areas?  Once you know what will inspire your people you can remove the inhibiting factors and create a workspace where people can flourish