How Your Office Design Can Help With Your Work Life Balance

Posted on August 1, 2017 by Cindy Goodman in Miami Herald Blog

If you are stressed out at work, it may be because your office is designed in a way that creates tension. You may not have even considered that, right? 

Today, my guest is Juliana Fernandez, founder and principal of AEI U.S. Studio, the North American office of AEI, a world-class commercial design firm that is among the largest in Latin America. She has a lot to say about how the way office design affects our stress levels and how the right design can help with our work life balance.

Juliana has led office design projects in Miami, Latin America and New York and has more than 22 years of experience. Her clients include Microsoft, Coca Cola and Holland & Knight. So, let's talk design….

Juliana Fernandez (1)

By Juliana Fernandez

As employees spend more time working and staying connected to their jobs 24-7 via
smartphones, tablets and desktops, the boundaries between work-life balance are
becoming blurred. This has sparked a need for employers to take responsibility to address how their office environment plays a critical role in employee health.

From my day-to-day experience as a design professional, I have found that establishing
an office space where employees desire to spend their time is important. I have repeatedly experienced that even the smallest office changes speak to the value of making employee wellbeing a priority.

Yet, design is often overlooked when considering the foundation of improving burnout
rates and promoting healthy retention. This is unfortunate, as I have seen how
innovative workspaces can improve wellness and alleviates stress, while ultimately
encouraging movement, getting employees out from behind their desks, and fostering
interaction among colleagues.

At our firm, we employ in-house psychologists and anthropologists to design office
spaces that combat the stressful environment of workplaces to encourage and support
employee health and well-being. Our team possesses extensive experience in
workplace strategies, organizational culture and worker behavior. In fact, these
psychological elements should ideally play an integral role in today’s office design
process.

To really make a positive impact in the workplace environment and reduce employees’
stress in the office, here are the fundamental design factors that I have found to be
tremendously effective:

Provide Natural Light. Give employees as much access to natural air and light as possible, which has proven to decrease headaches and respiratory diseases. Some ways this can be achieved include creating offices near the windows, opening closed office spaces up with the addition of glass, and moving closed rooms toward the core of
building.

Design for Egronomics. Take ergonomics into account by using the right office furniture to minimize muscular and bone diseases. Effective ergonomic design can contribute to reduction in muscle and nerve issues. For corporate design clients, I
typically implement adjustable computer screens in terms of height and distance
to make people feel comfortable and to improve their visual acuity.

Factor in space use.  Consider how to stay dynamic by balancing work and social spaces. This allows employees to choose where and how to work and empowers them – leading to increased job satisfaction and significant stress reduction. Also, where possible, incorporate game areas and intriguing breakrooms to give employees another reason to stay engaged and satisfied at work.

Consider worker needs. Determine team needs based on your specific profession and culture. Give periodic surveys to employees to understand their work space desires. If
possible, work with a crew of anthropologists to collect observations, interviews,
questionnaires and results from ‘Design Thinking’ workshops – led by design
firms such as ours – AEI U.S. Studio. I have found that this process ultimately
acknowledges the relationship between spaces, workers and organizational
culture, by analyzing if they complement each other or on the contrary they send
opposite messages.

Ultimately, my years as a design professional have taught me that creating
work spaces that reduce stress, increase healthy habits, support the physical welfare
of employees, and maximize productivity and lifestyle –  requires the buy in of a socially responsible employer. If created and executed properly, thoughtful office
design has proven to be a powerful tool to support employee performance, one that I
have found to be key for surviving the digital uprise.

Holland & Knight Miami

(Holland & Knight Miami office)

The Work/Life Balancing Act