By designing the perfect office space!

Clear Design’s John Warrilow explains which furniture and design elements will foster happy employees and a productive workplace.

The office environment today is more complex than ever before. With companies vying after top talent and the popularity of telecommuting on the rise, the perks associated with a physical office are vital to attracting top talent and retaining it.

I interviewed John Warrilow, co-founder and CEO of Clear Design, a furniture company with a modern mission to provide solutions that enhance the work-life of clients and colleagues through innovation and design. According to Warrilow, in order to thrive in today’s business environment, companies must demonstrate high performance in all areas – increased productivity, communication, enthusiasm and accountability, areas that are captured with Clear Design’s products.

The history of Clear Design dates back to 1982 when its predecessor, Dale Interiors, was established in the UK. In 2003, the company opened its U.S. division. In staying true to its mission of promoting work-life, Clear Design has continued to refine its products based on changing work trends the company has seen among its clients. This hasn’t always been easy as demands in the workplace are constantly evolving. With its deeply experienced team, Clear Design has been able to avoid leaning into fickle trends and has really only changed its products based on necessity and improved functionality.

According to Warrilow, because you spend an incredible amount of time at work, it is essential to provide a positive office environment for workers. According to analysis from HuffPost, during one’s lifetime, the average person spends 13 years and two months at work. Therefore, the furniture and accessories you surround your employees with is critical because these things will have a direct result not only on employee happiness, but also on their workplace productivity.

Image by Clear Design.

Warrilow continued, “The environment you provide for your teams directly affects their happiness and efficiency. If you show your employees you care by providing thoughtful furniture and accessories, they will feel valued. You can also increase their ability to work effectively by providing them with the right furniture and layout.”

Image by Risner Photo.

I asked him to dive into this topic a little deeper—how can design elements really boost office morale? To this, he responded, “The number one item to boost morale is the task chair itself. While many companies provide fancy, high-end desking, they leave the budget short for the task chair. If employees are not sitting comfortably, then other nice items are moot.”

Image by Clear Design.

Beyond seating areas, Warrilow emphasized the importance of creating a peaceful and serene environment. “The most controllable aspect for an employer is removing physical stress caused or prevented by the design and quality of the furniture.” He says that many employees already feel stress by what is required of them in the workplace, so it is essential to provide a physical office environment that promotes comfort, peace and areas for socialization.

Getting the lighting and color elements right in an office are pivotal in creating this comfortable environment. For lighting, according to Warrilow, it is essential to make the most of natural light wherever possible. Lighting should be even and consistent. Workers should not have to strain to look at what they are doing, either from brightness or darkness. As for colors in an office, Warrilow and the Clear Design team have always recommended blue to their clients as it is “relatively timeless, inspires productivity and produces a calming effect.”

Despite many offices today incorporating trendy, “instagrammable” walls with bright colors and crazy patterns, Warrilow underscores the importance of keeping the walls clean in order to reinforce this calming effect. For desktop and table surfaces, he recommends a blonde-colored wood such as beech or ash, which blends well with blue and keeps areas light.

While all of these design elements and furniture pieces are important to the employee experience, Warrilow believes that senior management’s belief in an open-plan environment is imperative in order to foster a comfortable and collaborative office environment for employees.

Warrilow believes strongly that this office environment is one that is designed to stay. According to him, the cubicle system was commissioned more than 60 years ago for a male workforce where traditional, corporate rules were the norm. Apart from a few specialist environments, he believes that today’s offices are much quieter compared to the era of “dot-matrix printers, golf ball typewriters and loud phone conversations.”

Therefore, in order to have a successful open-plan office today, Warrilow believes it’s important to first understand your team’s needs and workflows. From there, it becomes easy to create a thoughtful layout that promotes efficiency, employee satisfaction and a sense of calm. As a baseline, this means providing enough meeting rooms, collaboration areas and private spaces  for employees. According to Warrilow, it is essential to “create an environment that allows your employees to move about, find private space, collaborate as a team or work at their desk amongst coworkers.”

Further, with telecommuting becoming so popular, having an inviting office environment is essential in order to encourage employees to come into an office. As Warrilow puts it, “humans by and large are naturally gregarious and enjoy social interaction. Creating different spaces for your teams for their different needs is important in your workspace’s appeal.”

In addition to an open work space, Warrilow recommends that adding areas or items that encourage socialization, such as a bar top with seating in a common area or even games like shuffleboard, will entice employees to continue to work from a corporate office. He also adds that mixed-use areas, which can be used for occasional events, will further boost morale.

And while these elements all sound logical and timeless, I had to ask the question, will these elements still be relevant for companies in the future? Because the future of work is constantly changing, will open-plan offices still be the norm? The answer from Warrilow was a resounding yes.

Warrilow envisions companies of the future making more use of flexible workspaces in which employees have options for where they work. Whether it be sitting in a comfortable, relaxed area for breakout meetings and brainstorming sessions, or tucked away in a private office for work that requires focus or discretion, he believes that the idea of open-plan offices with offshoots will be here to stay. Also, he believes that the cost of office furniture will come down dramatically over the next 10 years, which will keep open-plan offices affordable “as work surfaces and power requirements will become less as technology evolves.”

In short, how does one create the perfect office environment? According to Warrilow, you must have quality seating, and also owners and managers with vision and preparedness to change, leaders who think ahead for future growth and a c-suite that wholeheartedly believes in the benefits of staff welfare. Just as important, you must avoid hierarchical seating or desk layout arrangements, differing levels of quality for different pay grades, narrow walkways or areas that create bottlenecks and inefficiencies, and clutter or untidiness.


  • Beverly Lim

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