Value of staff involvement in workspace design

The creation of a new workspace is almost always linked to some form of change within a company. Often it is about finding new ways of working but it might also be a more significant organisational change. What is usually overlooked is the role that the design process can play in supporting this change.

The new workspace is usually developed to facilitate and enable the change.  It is about providing a new stage on which the new working, whether it is about collaboration or other forms of productivity, can take place.

Designing a great new workspace can be a positive reinforcement for these changes.  But this often done through a space that is designed for the staff.  What is less well known is that greater value can be found in a fantastic space thatis designed by them.

Participatory and co-creation design processes can deliver tremendous results in terms of engagement and buy-in to the design and to the wider changes in an organisation. We would argue that more organisations should view workspace design as something that should be much better integrated in with wider change and HR programmes.

In his research at Exeter University, Dr Craig Knight found that employees who have control over the layout of their workspace are happier and healthier and also more productive…up to 32% more so!

To provide this control, it might be ok for the management to be setting the objectives and framework for the design.  But to achieve the best results it is the staff who need to be involved in the design process.

We’ve had nearly 40 years experience in designing the most demanding kinds of workspaces. We’ve always used participatory methods ranging from early design prototyping using full scale cardboard mock-ups of a workspace layout through use of scale models alongside other interactive design exercises and workshops. The important factors are getting into these exercises early and quickly and using adaptable materials like cardboard so the staff can get interactive.

workspace mock-up exercise

Full scale mock-up of a workspace

We’ve always found that the process also needs to be underpinned by good research into how people are working and what the future is going to be like both from a ways of working and a technology perspective.  We invest time at the outset in primary research, talking to people and observing behaviours.  This means that when we get into the design process with staff we can offer evidence into discussions and the staff have had an opportunity to shape the early thinking.

It is also critical for our role which is in facilitating these exercises – participation isn’t about a free reign to employees to have what they want; it is about guiding them and giving control over certain key decisions.

workspace design exercise

A design workshop using a scale model



David Watts


  1. […] – the process you go through with the staff is also central (something we discussed in a previous blog on participatory […]

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