The research is complete, the plans have been approved, and it’s time to announce the new office design. Worried about whether the project will be a success? According to interim results of an extensive workplace & wellbeing research study – you should be.

The study, co-sponsored by Kinnarps, lays bare a simple, yet profound, reason why many workplace design projects fail. It's not due to the absence of collaborative workspaces, the increased focus on hot desking, or the lack of integrated workplace technology. It’s really down to this single word: participation.

“Some people weren’t interested until we showed them a floor plan… then everyone has an opinion.”

Changing workplaces, changing practices

In recent years, significant changes to our ways of working have had a profound effect on the sense of control many workers have over their place of work. Technology and knowledge working has allowed people to work more autonomously and with it, gain greater insight into how they work best – their preferred methodology, timings, environment, and more.

As working practices evolve, the danger is that office design projects don’t, instead remaining stuck in the age of hierarchical decision-making which says: ‘Here is the new office plan – deal with it.’ The result? The project doesn’t succeed, as the newly designed office doesn’t fit the needs of the employees who use it.

Participatory design, on the other hand, relies on gathering the views of employees and getting broad buy-in to a solution before it is proposed. This actually suits the modern workplace, which is essentially a community of individuals with different (and often conflicting) needs and preferences. The best way to respond to changing workplaces is to take the participative route when it comes to office design.

“No one said: ‘Hey, what is it that you need?’“

The proof of the participative design pudding

There is ample research to suggest that involving employees in changes to the workplace leads to several notable outcomes: (i) the proposed solutions are more likely to be welcomed; (ii) the changes are more likely to be long-lasting; and (iii) the overall impact on employee wellbeing is positive.

The problem with too many office design projects is that the changes are viewed by employees as being ‘imposed’ – benefiting the organisation at the expense of staff wellbeing. Participative design bursts that bubble, instead encouraging involvement, promoting open discussion, and placing value on shared decision-making. This empowered approach has been found to lead to positive feelings amongst employees about belonging, ownership, and attachment to their place of work.

If you are involved in the process of office design, the research is clear: it’s not just the final decisions that matter, but how these decisions are reached. The choice of approach is likely to have far-reaching consequences. Download the workplace & wellbeing report below for the full story.

As the largest workplace furniture provider in Europe, Kinnarps believes in providing workspace solutions that improve employee wellbeing. Get in touch below to explore what we can do for your place of work.