Making happiness happen in the workplace: Why design

Everyone has lived or worked in a place that simply doesnt feel right. It can have an enormous impact on an individuals wellbeing and happiness, which then has a knock-on effect to their productivity and possibly their longevity. According to Gallups 2019 State of the Global Workplace report (, just 10% of adults working full-time in Western Europe are considered engaged, (ie both involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace). Engaged employees in Gallups report are likely to be 17% more productive and their company 21% more profitable than those who are not.

While many elements go into this, dissatisfaction with the physical working environment is certainly a key element. Shifts from cubicle-farm style offices to hot-desking and back, and offices that dont take into account the needs a multi-generational workforce, mean companies have to look at what it means to build and design a happy office.

Significant research has been done into the impact of workplaces designed for or reconfigured to maximise well-being and happiness. There are some basic fundamentals that come out through most research.

Physical elements

There are some environmental elements that instantly increase happiness:

  • Delivering adequate natural light for all users of the space, not just the lucky few with a corner office;
  • Ensuring acoustics are appropriate to the use of the space so sound carries if needed or is dampened in other areas;
  • Building a mixture of collaborative as well as private space while collaboration is ideal, recognising that sometimes individuals need somewhere that is quiet or private;
  • Providing lighting, air and temperature are appropriate and fit-for-purpose.

All of these are simple but vital elements of a happy workspace.

Movement and wellness

Given medical experts regard sitting as the new health threat, the workplace needs to be designed to encourage users to move around. For example, ensuring stairwells are accessible and attractive so that people are more likely to walk and take the stairs rather than the lift. Employees are more likely to collaborate, take breaks and have positive interactions if they are encouraged to move around. This can be as simple as offering standing desks to employees but Googles Headquarters in Colorado took this to a new level, literally, with a giant rock-climbing wall.


Consider the ambience of your space. Does it have colours that inspire productivity and creativity or beautiful, interesting and natural interior design? Although not new, incorporating elements in an office design that provide visual complexity can impart a sense of comfort, ease and potentially mitigate stress. Give your office a sense of balance and proportion, as well as using colour and texture to improve the richness of the environment.


This is not about adding a yoga room but ensuring that spaces can be adapted to the changing needs of the day-to-day as well as the future. Adding flexibility to your design can help a company not only expand as its staffing levels change but to repurpose spaces as the company grows. With the average office cost per square foot in London the highest in Europe (GBP112.5 per square foot (Q1-2020) for the West End), giving companies the ability to maximise their office space is of paramount importance as well as fostering a more harmonious environment. Opened in 2016, Googles 6 Pancras Square offers modular meeting rooms. Known internally as Project Jack, each plywood pod is mass-produced and can be customised on-site into different sized spaces and different levels of privacy.


It is not a new concept to bring nature indoors. However, Biophilic design puts our interaction and connection to nature at its forefront. Research has shown that by simply including more nature and natural materials in a workspace, productivity can be increased by up to 15%. Among other recommendations, the Well Building Institute recommends one one-foot plant for every 100 square feet. This is more than a pot-plant on every desk, but the ability for users of the space to connect with their surroundings seasonally, during the day and night and even react to the weather.


Fundamentally, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is. By creating a space in which the users feel at home, inspired and creative, and where they can connect and collaborate with others, is a space which engenders a feeling of home and well-being. That feeling helps employees be more productive, creative and innovative, fosters respect and ultimately delivers happier employees.