I am not a number: Event recap

I am not a number: should employees have personalised workspaces?

CCD recently co-hosted the event with Davison Highley, respected furniture designers and manufacturers.  Our video and blog below recap the event.

When it comes to workspaces, we have seen significant changes over the last ten years. Many businesses have stepped away from compartmentalised cubicles and individual offices towards ‘open plan’ phenomenon. More recently the hot-desking trend has gained traction, partly driven by the needs for businesses utilise space more efficiently.

With more and more businesses opting for these environments, we decided to examine the impact of they have on the people in them.

Our panel involved four experts in different fields who discussed their work and debated issues surrounding personalisation, the loss of it in the office, company culture and the importance of environmental enrichment.

Dr Craig Knight, chartered Psychologist and director of Identity Realization.

David Watts, chartered ergonomist, and MD of human behaviour & design consultancy CCD Design & Ergonomics.

Jo Geraghty, ex-Goldman Sachs and director of Culture Consultancy, culture and change management specialists.

Thomas Palfreyman, horticultural enthusiast and director of Urban Planters, who improve the places people work, rest, and play through biophilia.

The benefits of enriched spaces

We began by looking at the evidence for enriched vs lean environments. Craig presented his research conducted with the University of Exeter. The study tested performance of standardised tasks in four different environments:

  • Lean
  • Enriched
  • Empowered
  • Disempowered

Over 12 years of research, people consistently performed worst in the lean environment. Both accuracy and speed increased by 25% in empowered environments. In the workplace we generally accept that work done quicker might have more mistakes, but Craig’s research demonstrated that in the right environment, you don’t have to sacrifice accuracy or productivity.

Despite considerable evidence that these lean environments aren’t enjoyable for the people in them, they continue to be prevalent.

Tom looked at the issue of personalisation and enriching spaces from a biophilic perspective. Not only do plants have environment impacts like cleaner air, but the holistic benefits are significant. The presence of biophilia has been linked to decreases in minor illness, stress levels and absenteeism.  He sees first-hand the benefits that biophilia and the presence of nature can have in the workplace; humans are hard wired to respond to nature.

Challenges of personalisation and enriching space

Jo touched on the importance of inclusive workplaces – open plan offices might be great for extroverts but uncomfortable for introverts. Both David and Craig also agreed that considering personalities is crucial to getting the right ecosystem of spaces for both individual and collaborative work.

Designing for everyone will always be a challenge, however David highlighted examples of how companies can involve employees in any amount of workplace change.


Implementing major changes without employee input can be met with resistance and impact negatively on company culture. Many workplaces struggle with culture, and Jo has seen instances where a company will try to change the culture by changing the workplace environment without consultation. However, this approach is ineffective and employees often see through it.

A major challenge of any project is cost. David gave several examples of ways companies in lean or hot-desking environments can give some personalisation back to their employees. Stickers on laptops, lockers and transportable containers are

One way to enrich space can be biophilia, however the practicalities of plants can have their challenges, particularly when it comes to convincing facilities and finance: spilt water, soil, dying plants. Tom emphasised that like any workplace strategy, biophilia needs to be properly managed, and it’s about picking the right plants for the space and budget.

It’s in the approach

All four panellists agreed on one thing – the way employees are involved in change projects (physical or cultural) is absolutely key to getting it right.

Both Jo and David discussed how involving people in change can get the best results. Without having a deeper understanding of how people behave in spaces and the tasks they perform, it is incredibly difficult to create a space that will function for them, let alone one they enjoy being in.

Certain techniques can be used to bring teams into the change process and get crucial buy-in from employees. Allowing people to enrich their own environments not only involves them in the process, but gives them back some control they may have lost.


Likewise, having a workspace that supports the company culture and the ways in which people work will help to keep employees engaged, and support them to deliver the best results. Think to the ping pong table, bean bag or more casual spaces that are put into offices – yet no one uses them. If your culture doesn’t align with these types of spaces or they don’t enable workplace tasks, they aren’t going to be valued by employees.

Take this anecdote from Craig: he mentioned one of the best attempts at personalisation he has seen was done with absolutely no budget. The employees were given certain spaces they could personalise. They came together to create several spaces that they enjoy being in and reflects their company culture.


Stephanie Clarke

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