What is “Designed for Business”?

Frank Festa

They say that great design is that which you don’t notice. This principle finds its ideal expression in the difference between working in a coffee shop versus a purpose-built co-working space.

Taking your laptop to a coffee shop can be very pleasant, and if you’re good at blocking out distractions, then you might even get some work done. But as a professional solution to the challenge of working without (or away from) fixed premises, it just isn’t a serious option.

When you visit a coffee shop for business purposes, you need to be sure that the WiFi is up and running and that the café allows people to work on laptops (New York’s Café Grumpy is just one among an increasing number that don’t).

Then you need to find a seat that’s close to a power outlet, and where it’s comfortable enough to get set up with your gear. You pay premium prices for your coffee just to worry you’re being glared at for staying too long without ordering again. Getting up to use the bathroom or stretch your legs becomes a security issue unless you pack up your things and take them with you.

A good coffee shop may be expertly-designed for relaxing and meeting friends – but it’s not a design for business. You spend a lot of unnecessary energy just getting yourself set up and trying to ignore the problems.

Design is an art that is founded upon science. Let’s take a closer look at the elements of a well-designed environment that can help you to produce better work.

Well-lit spaces

Lighting is so, so important.

Bad lighting is detrimental to physical and mental health, and productivity. Inadequate exposure to natural light is a significant contributor to depression. It has a negative impact on ‘reported’ levels of morale (how a worker says they feel without much sunlight) and on objectively verifiable factors such as hormone levels.

Add computer screens to the mix, and getting work environment lighting right becomes even more of a fine art. The lights need to be bright enough for you to comfortably view everything you’re working on – including your keyboard and notes – which isn’t always the case in the ambient lighting of a coffee shop or a hotel room that’s been designed for relaxation. But high contrast between your computer screen and an overly-bright background can cause eye-strain as your eyes struggle to switch between the different conditions.

So it may seem like a good thing to find a seat with a desk space or counter that backs onto the natural light of a window, but the pros and cons cancel each other out. While bright summer sunlight may measure as much as 100,000 lux, a computer user’s environment should be more like 200-500 lux (in addition to being flicker-free).

For designers of working spaces, this requires an expert balance of natural and artificial light, light-absorbent surfaces, shade, and floor-planning.

Ergonomic Chairs

You’ve heard it for years, but it’s because it’s so true. A good sitting posture does wonders for you, and the chairs you spend your day in help keep you healthier and prevent pain.

In the 1980s, researchers figured out that dynamic support was essential: seating that works with your back as you work. More recently, research has highlighted the harm that sitting down for long periods of time does – particularly when using attention-consuming devices that may not be fixed at the most ideal height or angle.

In fact, today we know that the freedom to regularly move around is equally important to the use of task-appropriate seating. Hence, the phenomenon of the standing desk. But it’s not practical or comfortable to be on your feet all day, which means that if you work with a computer for several hours at a time, you need a chair that’s fit for the purpose.

The ideal solution is to combine a variety of ergonomically-designed seating options (multiple or adjustable items of furniture) with a mindful approach to your working style, and the freedom to give your body, eyes, and mind a break – even if it’s a working break.

Break-out Areas

The damage done by working from a comfortable couch all day with your laptop on your knees can’t be undone just by hitting the gym in the evening.

“People think that if they have fitness centers, they’ve taken care of all the aspects of wellbeing,” says Nila R. Leiserowitz, Regional Managing Principal of leading architecture and design firm Gensler.

“But that’s just one piece of what you need to consider. It’s not just a fitness center or a chair you can adjust. It’s not just about looking at your physical space… It’s a symbiotic ecosystem.”

Different tasks require different ways and areas to work, and even just changing your surroundings helps you look at things in a different light. It’s all too easy to get lost in the fog when you’re bound to your chair in the coffee shop and haven’t moved for hours for fear of losing your prime position (or your belongings).

A break-out area is a separate space away from your regular workstation, where you can have a chat or a meeting, a rest, play (from board games to ping pong to Wii), or just work in a different position for a while.

And yes, even the option to curl up on a couch for twenty minutes with a report you need to read, your iPad, or a cup of coffee is perfectly healthy as long as it’s an option and not a default.

As the mantra goes, “the best posture is your next posture” – and those may be the healthiest seven words you read today.

Having Plants & other natural elements

Biophilia is “the principle that human beings have an innate desire to connect and bond with nature” – and research shows that catering to this need in the workplace can boost levels of wellbeing and productivity by more than 13%.

Glimpses of nature create a sense of vitality and provoke “involuntary fascination” – “an effortless mindfulness that promotes stress reduction and renewal while stimulating curiosity and imagination,” according to environmental psychologists. More simply put, strategically-placed office plants can cut stress and negative feelings by 30-60%.

So it’s no wonder leading designers of shared working spaces are looking at all sorts of ways to integrate plants, natural building materials, and fabrics in natural colors into the spaces that they’re designing for productivity.

Making the choice to work in a purpose-built business environment means taking care of your health, career, and those who depend on your productivity. Is your work routine designed for business?