data-driven workplace design
27 March, 2024
How data-driven workplace design optimises your office
How doing your research can improve employee wellbeing, maximise the use of your space and future proof your office.

Data is king, isn’t that what we’re told? With more information at our fingertips than ever before, in all our decision-making activities we’re able to act in a way that feels more informed. The same can be said of office design, as long as you know how to use it.

data-drive workplace design

What is data-driven workplace design?

Data-driven workplace design is where we use information on human behaviour and spatial configuration to inform better workplace design.

In 2015, a study by UCL’s Space Syntax Laboratory at the Bartlett School of Architecture, wrote about the benefits of evidence-based and data-driven design in new emerging workplace practices basing design decisions on rigorously collected data. They said:

“Scientists are beginning to discover clearer and recurring patterns that show how the spatial design of a workplace affects staff satisfaction, wellbeing, exchange of information, communication and movement flows.”

This is an approach that has escalated since then, thanks to the proven benefits of data-driven workplace design, from cost to efficacy and staff wellbeing. In the post-pandemic era, where the purpose of the office in a world of hybrid working is ever more important and ever more intentional for each business, the need for an informed, precision approach is that much more important.

Why is data-driven workplace design important?

Understanding everything from user behaviours to energy use, footfall and the different ways people feel, and operate at work are all part of what makes up great office design.

UCL’s research noted: “In the perfect office, workers would be provided with everything they need: sufficient quiet spaces in which to concentrate, team areas in which to collaborate and inspiring social spaces for meeting and exchanging ideas — all balanced appropriately to suit the needs of a business and accommodate workflows.”

However, reports have shown that traditionally, even these basic criteria were not met in most offices. UCL quoted a 2013 a Gensler report which showed that only 20% of people in the UK workforce were satisfied with their working environment.

Traditionally, a lot of architects and designers have relied on intuition. The research paper, Changing the Architectural Profession – Evidence-Based Design, the New Role of the User and a Process-Based Approach, says:

“The design process as the core of the architectural work has often been described by different scholars, for example as a process of making (Schön 1991), as experimental in nature and a trial-and-error approach (van Schaik 2005), as ‘learning by doing’ phenomenon where the problem and solution emerge together (Lawson 2006), as neither procedural nor systematic, but as a process where multiple alternative solutions are simultaneously tested (Dursun 2007).”

Turning that mindset on its head, understanding where the challenges and solutions lie in the design of the workplace comes from the combination of data as well as experience. The two together ensure that design is informed by the desired user experience and addressing barriers to optimal workplaces, rather than in a top-down approach from designers.

As a case in point, the Gensler 2023 UK workplace survey reported that:

“More than four in five office workers who say they have a great workplace experience have choice in where they work within their office. A diverse spectrum of spaces to choose from positively contributes to workplace effectiveness and experience. For the UK workforce, spaces that support rest, quiet individual work, and creative group work have the greatest impact on space effectiveness and experience.”

As more businesses seek to increase the amount of time team members spend in the office, this kind of information offers insights into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to achieving specific objectives, laying the groundwork for better short-, medium- and long-term outcomes. 

What are the benefits of data-driven office design?

By using a data-driven approach to office design, we can create intentional workplaces that support employee wellbeing, productivity, maximise the use of the space and future proof the office, with adaptability in mind. There are many benefits to using workforce data and people analytics when it comes to office design, helping businesses to make informed, strategic decisions and achieve their goals both for individuals and the organisation as a whole.

Benefits of data-driven design for employers

  • Improved office design and build ROI
  • Better use of new and existing spaces
  • Improved cost-efficacy
  • Improved staff productivity
  • A future proof working environment
  • Increased staff workplace attendance
  • Informed decisions
  • Reducing the need for changes
  • Faster design and build turnaround

Benefits of data-driven design for employees

  • Improved employee experiences
  • Improved employee workplace wellbeing and satisfaction
  • Increased workplace flexibility
  • Access to optimised workspaces

How do you take a data-driven approach to office design?

A data-driven gathers information in lots of different ways – heat maps, interviews, surveys and more. In some instances, you may use sensors in the working environment to monitor footfall and movement around the office.

We use visioning sessions, appoint employee steering committees, conduct online surveys and engage team members in discussions at all stages of the design process. This helps us to understand what the company wants and needs, but also what its people want from their experience of the space as well.

It’s this information that gives insights into the specifics of how workplaces can be designed for optimised outcomes, from getting people back into the workplace on their own free will, to improving collaboration between teams.

Some of our favourite examples include:

A workplace people want to be part of

Leading international tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturer, JTI, wanted to create a dynamic workplace that team members proactively wanted to be a part of. The aim was to deliver benefits to team members that were different to those of working from home, generating a sense of excitement about being in the office.  Key features included giving each team its own pod within an open plan office, complete with private phone booths, hot desk seating and a meeting point for quick drinks. This was compounded by a large central bar on the ground floor where team members were encouraged to congregate for meals.

Listening to what the people want

Commerce technologies business, Planet, wanted to create an office that felt completely different to the traditional corporate or tech environment, with a members’ club aesthetic that encouraged collaboration. Through a combination of data-gathering approaches, we created a playground of zones so people could come in and work the way they wanted to. It included a bar-style reception, an elegant and flexible dining area that could also be used for presentations, open plan desk space for collaborative working, small meeting rooms for private calls, one-to-one conversations or quiet working, and executive suites. The style of the space was very much in response to the company having listened to their team members and what they wanted from the working environment.     

Creating space to support staff

Debt management company, Lowell UK Shared Services, created an impressive, purpose-built office for their team in Leeds, with a view to supporting staff wellbeing as a central feature of productivity. In the call centre, staff experienced high levels of intensity in their work, often with distressed clients. The company wanted to create space for team members to step away and regroup, feeling supported and nurtured in the workplace. In a design concept driven by that objective and developed through listening to the team, we created a vibrant working environment where the pivotal feature is an entire floor dedicated to stage wellbeing. Using the best views in the building, the top floor has floor-to-ceiling windows to maximise the natural light, a large circular coffee bar with an impressive cherry blossom installation overhead, as well as a range of seating from hammocks to modular sofas. It’s a joyful and relaxing space where people can relax in a way that suits them.

Want to create an informed workplace that optimises office use and experience?

Speak to the team at Maris