Can The Right Interior Design Improve Workplace Performance?

An Interview with Joe Lozowski, President + CEO

When workers feel comfortable both physically and emotionally, they are more willing to be open and authentic with their peers, which ultimately leads to better performance, Tangram Interiors’ Joe Lozowski tells

When workers feel comfortable both physically and emotionally, they are more willing to be open and authentic with their peers, which ultimately leads to better performance, Tangram Interiors’ CEO Joe Lozowski tells Lozowski believes workplace performance also increases when environments have light, flow and technology. We spoke with him about how this works and what should be avoided for maximum workplace performance. How does workplace performance increase with the right interior design?

Lozowski: The right environment is different for every company. We try to create workplaces designed for the company’s mission while keeping in mind basic human behavior. When workers feel comfortable both physically and emotionally, they are more willing to be open and authentic with their peers, which creates better, more trusting relationships, more genuine collaboration and, ultimately, a better performance.

Over the past few years, Steelcase has released a number of studies correlating space to the emotional, physical and cognitive well-being of employees. In general, there has been a dramatic increase in interest directed toward how different types of people and groups work. We all know that the day-to-day activities of a salesperson and an accountant are very different, so why should their workspace, floorplan and acoustic layout be the same? Instead of trying to apply one solution, we are looking at providing tailored solutions to selected groups of workers that allow for increased satisfaction and performance. Essentially, we’re not working the same way we used to, and the environments in which we work need to evolve as well to satisfy employee well-being.

For example, we recently remodeled our headquarters based on this and other market research, and the proof is in the numbers. Our employees were previously spread across two floors, inhibiting effective collaboration. Furthermore, the workspaces they were using were designed 10 years prior, when most resident workers still had desktop computers, an overabundance of paperwork and filing and desktop phones. Real estate efficiency was very poor, maybe not even a thought, and there were little to no small or medium-sized meeting areas close to the workstations. Employees in complimentary departments—and, sometimes even in the same department—were not placed near each other, which caused communication barriers.

To aid in the physical well-being of the staff, we reduced the size of all workstations, which in turn allowed us to move everyone onto the first floor and place like departments next to each other. We also implemented another design philosophy called Choice and Control, which means giving the employee the ability to choose the position and posture in which they work. All resident workers were given height-adjustable desks and encouraged to work in different places around the office, utilize the walkstations and move around throughout their day based on the tasks at hand.

The changes we made to better suit the cognitive well-being of our employees stemmed from a partnership Steelcase had with author Susan Cain, who published a book called Quiet and produced a very popular TED talk. Susan’s study on the difference between introverts and extroverts led to an increase in spaces specifically designed for heads-down work or as sanctuaries away from the open office to accommodate fully every personality type. As a result, we added several small meeting spaces around the office to allow for impromptu collaboration, a personal call or some heads-down work.

Finally, to support the emotional well-being of the staff, we turned what was previously our materials library into a centralized work café to serve as a social hub for employees to come together, eat, laugh and effectively build relationships.

We’ve found that there has been a significant cultural shift within the company since the opening of the new showroom. There’s better collaboration, and employees are more engaged in their work and with each other. There are more people in the showroom on a daily basis, both employees and clients, and as a result, we had our best year yet in 2016. How do light, flow and technology improve workplace performance?

Lozowski: Recent studies have shown a very strong correlation between physical surroundings, creative capacity and performance. Benefits such as access to natural light or views of nature can cause the brain to release endorphins, improving mood and increasing productivity. Research has also shown that spaces that create “long views” (i.e., high ceilings, minimal visual impediments, etc.) can help workers engage in new ways of thinking and see ideas from a new perspective.

Technology in the workplace is ubiquitous in this day and age. However, not all systems or installations are created equal. One of the most amazing transformations we are starting to see is the true integration of furniture and technology into the workplace with the intention to improve and optimize user experience. One example of this is a large project we just completed in Seattle where our industrial design and engineering team in Tangram Studio partnered with our technology specialists to design conference rooms that were perfectly tailored to the user function all while also providing a beautiful aesthetic.

We are also starting to see workplace technology become easier to use and navigate. Two industry giants, Steelcase and Microsoft, announced a partnership earlier this year around workplace integrations and the introduction of the Microsoft Surface Hub, which is far and away the easiest and most intuitive collaboration tool we have ever used. Their partnership serves as testimony that the integration of technology and the physical space is only just beginning.

I know we will continue to see the integrations of architecture/furniture/technology and other building management tools connect via IoT devices so that we can begin to measure and track the optimization of our spaces. Workplace performance is directly related to the environment we react to, the noise level, number of distractions, temperature, lighting, etc., but until recently we have never been able to study analytically all of those platforms together. Additionally, technology systems can also aid in recruiting new talent, especially with the tech-savvy Millennials entering in full force. Should companies have a long-term technology strategy?

Lozowski: When creating spaces that maximize employee engagement and performance, we advise our clients against gravitating toward any type of extreme. A productive workspace is all about balance: counteracting an open floorplan with adequate quiet spaces, giving employees the access to both collaborative areas and spaces that offer privacy, etc. Outfitting a space with one extreme or another creates a wide array of outliers, which in turn leads to employee dissatisfaction and lower workplace performance. Another faux pas employers often make is not realizing the importance of integrating technology into the workplace. Technology integration not only creates a more cohesive aesthetic, but also improves workflow and, as a result, performance. Additionally, a poor HVAC system and bad acoustics can lead to negative workplace conditions that can seriously affect employee-satisfaction rates. What else should our readers know about this topic?

Lozowski: We are in a very exciting time right now, a true office renaissance, where the cost of manufacturing has been driven down, and the ability to shop for both aesthetic and function is at an all-time high. Customers have the capability today to craft their environments to reflect their brand and culture and engage and empower their workforces. As stated in the Gensler 2017 Design Forecast, “In a values-based world, brands must live their mission every day. Office buildings function as dynamic ecosystems that support purpose and innovation.”