Designing a Workplace to Optimize for Productivity

The cat’s long been out of the bag as to the effect of workplace design on productivity, but corporate culture is hitting a drastic uptick in new triggers for focus, cognition and enriched social interchange. So what does this mean exactly? And, more importantly, how do we make it actionable?

The short answer is workplace strategy. Wikipedia will tell you that workplace strategy is “the dynamic alignment of an organization’s work patterns with the work environment to enable peak performance and reduce costs.” If that sounds a bit cold and robotic to you, we’re inclined to agree. Which is why our definition of workplace strategy has its roots in workplace anthropology — analyzing a company’s makeup and recommending a workplace experience that best supports people, behaviors, and culture, in addition to work processes. While there is no one-size-fits-all layout that will work for every company, from our experience, it’s important to be aware of the three different work modes that should be reflected in every space layout: Focus, Collaborative, and Social.


In a nutshell, focus spaces cater to individual activities, such as emailing, writing, analyzing, reflecting, researching, and inputting data. The problem with traditional desk bays and cubicle farms is that they don’t help colleagues signal when they are heads down, focused and need to be undisturbed, versus when they are working at their desks but open to conversation. In a world where we tend to multi-task, with calendars resembling barcodes, we need work settings where focus can be protected. Why is this important? Because knowledge is a competitive advantage and having spaces for uninterrupted work is critical to productivity.


Collaboration is at the heart of how most work gets done, so it is critical to provide the right environments to allow for creativity and productivity. Think group purpose-driven activities such as video conferencing, brainstorming, ideating, meetings, and onboarding. Well-designed collaborative spaces can be public or private, the important factor is that they bring people individuals together at key moments and groups together to focus, think, and create. Allowing your people to “think out loud” creates opportunities for serendipity and transparency.


Have you ever noticed how people at parties always seem to congregate in the kitchen? A) that’s where the food is, and B) it’s just a comforting, warm place to be. That’s what you want in your social spaces, too — places that encourage community and communication. Creating spaces for colleagues to connect as individuals helps to increase trust, a known driver for productive and effective work environments. Great spaces weave in pathways and connection points to deliberately bring people together. Not to mention, in our experience, it’s much better to connect with someone while they are in the kitchen grabbing a coffee than setting a calendar invite for a formal conversation.

The trick is allocate a certain percentage of space for each work mode based on your company’s culture and goals. A great time to think about this when you’re planning an office renovation or move, but with the advent of third spaces, like Neighborhood by Knotel, focus, collaborative, and social spaces are now available as when you need them. Not to mention it’s often a lot cheaper to use a third space than investing in additional square footage at your headquarters.

Our perspective on workplace strategy brings together the operational considerations of what it takes to make an office work and the human considerations of what it takes to make a business thrive. If you want to hear more about how we're revolutionizing the workplace, get in touch.