Measuring up office design ROI - is it worth the investment?

Working from home isn't a novelty anymore, it’s a reality. 

And despite a growing number of offices reopening in some capacity, many employees are choosing to continue working remotely. In fact, Pew Research Centre surveyed 5,889 workers and found that as many as 61% of people are WFH despite their offices being open. Furthermore, 78% of people mostly working from home want to continue doing so after the pandemic; that’s up from 64% in 2020.

However, this doesn’t appear to be a case of change-averse workers “getting used to it”. Not if the findings of a recent Gallup poll are anything to go by. Because 48% of workers who have never worked from home but have a role that can be carried out remotely would also like to give it a try.

Simply put, workers have never been in a stronger position to choose where they work. And overwhelmingly, they’re choosing home. 

But this hasn’t affected the appetite for office development, not according to trends in the capital. Data from the City of London Corporation showed a near 70% increase in office development approvals in 2021 from the year before. Staggeringly, it approved a total of 4.4 million square feet of new office floorspace compared with 2.6 million square feet in the 12 months prior. This is without taking into consideration the vast number of office refurbishments that were planned pre-pandemic. 

But what’s the return on investment for businesses looking to refurbish or relocate? It’s undeniable that things can never go back to exactly how they were before. So, is it worth investing at all? 

Before embarking in a process of transforming your workplace, here are some things to consider: 


The benefits of investing in office design


It’s one of your most valuable brand assets


In 2022, brand experience is everything. But this isn't exclusive to your digital identity; research reveals the physical parts of your organisation need to shine just as brightly. 

Interestingly, people actually feel prouder about their place of work when they spend more time in the office. So it only makes sense that your office design should help encourage that sense of workplace pride. Create a space that embodies your company’s mission and values? Well, your employees are more likely to echo these principles too.

But what about your clients?

Brand consistency is crucial in creating a sense of authenticity, recognition and trust. Pretty important when 81% of consumers say they need to trust a brand to buy from. So just as you’d ensure your digital assets were aligned before publishing them online, the same should go for your physical spaces. Just ask yourself:

  • Does your workplace reflect the external image you’re trying to portray? 

  • Would you be proud to bring your clients in? 

  • What would you think if you came to the office for an interview?

  • Have you considered accreditations/certifications to help attract talent?

Because a stunning workplace is just as much of a “perk” for new candidates as it is for visiting customers. 


Attracting and retaining future talent


With 47.4 million jobs left voluntarily last year, “The Great Resignation” isn’t hyperbole - it’s happening.

And many of those who haven’t left are considering it. Because according to a Microsoft survey, 41% of the global workforce would consider switching jobs in the next year. But what’s important to note is that 55% said that their work environment would play a role in their decisions. And with the average cost to hire and retain a member of staff in the UK being as much as £3,000 per head, investing in your workplace might just be the cheaper option. 

Especially if attitudes towards home working change as time goes on.


Mental health has been impacted   


According to an Eagle Hill survey, 58% of people who are working from home complained about feeling “burned out”. Perhaps in part to the fact that the average workday has increased by 48.5 minutes since the start of the first lockdown (National Bureau of Economic Research). It makes sense that without dedicated breaks and those impromptu “water cooler” moments, people are finding themselves overstretched at home.

But what about tech-savvy Gen-Z workers? After all, many of these first-time recruits will have never known any different. 

Surprisingly, a recent survey by Ten Spot revealed that only 30% of Gen Z wanted to stay remote full time, while 34% said they were “more productive and engaged” working from the office. 

“For Gen Z workers, some of the most exciting perks about a job are the company culture, socialising with coworkers, and finding a mentor they really connect with,” Ten Spot’s Sammy Courtright told Time in ‘Remote Work Is All Gen Z Knows. But Are They Satisfied?’

And this is a generation that was brought into the working world believing that ‘hustle culture’ is normal. However, research suggests that mental health is becoming more of a priority; the Gen Z Spotlight Report suggests up to 75% of this generation are seeking more of a healthy work-life balance

Unfortunately, this appears to be at odds with reality. 

Alarmingly, research by non-profit Mind Share found 75% of Gen Z workers had left a job at some point because of mental health reasons. 

With all of this in mind, It’s vital that we design workplaces today for tomorrow’s generation. Especially when, in just three years, Gen-Z workers will make up a staggering 27% of the workforce


Prioritising employee wellbeing pays for itself


Recent research from RSPH revealed that 67% of the workers surveyed felt less connected to their colleagues; 56% also found it harder to switch off. Undoubtedly, these everyday issues come at a cost to the mental health of employees. 

But there’s a price that employers have to pay too. 

Staggeringly, Deloitte research suggests poor mental health is costing UK employers up to £45 billion each year. This is a rise of 16% since 2016 - an extra £6 billion annually. But the research also showed that for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions, they get £5 back in reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover. 

Believe it or not, the office environment can play a major role in boosting morale. 

Along with the obvious benefits of enabling more social interactions and connections with colleagues, its appearance can contribute to employee well-being too. For example, a study called ‘The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace’ revealed that workers in offices with natural elements, e.g. greenery and sunlight, report a 15% higher level of well-being. Not only that, they’re 15% more creative and 6% more productive. 

But this just isn’t a case of opening the blinds and adding a few more plants around the office - remote workers can do that at home. In fact, employers that are serious about bringing their employees back should go further than being “biophilic”; cost-effective and conscious office design is about balancing the wellbeing of workers with what’s best for the planet too. 


Make sustainable savings by building towards B Corp


According to IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), 71% of employees and employment seekers say that environmentally sustainable companies are more attractive employers. What’s more, up to 81% of workers aged 21 to 30 actually expect their company to follow sustainable business practices (JLL survey). 

With these stats in mind, sustainability can’t be an afterthought anymore. In 2022, it must be as ingrained in the fabric of your designs as it is in the minds of your employees. It’s even more important considering the built environment accounts for around 40% of global carbon emissions

The good thing is that we are now seeing a shift towards more sustainable ways of working. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 57% of architects, developers and contractors plan to ensure over half of their future projects will be sustainable.

But how can businesses do right by the planet but still ensure a return on investment? Well, the report also found that there are little-to-no additional costs to building in a green or sustainable way. 

There’s more good news for green-minded employers, too.

Because once they’re up and running, green buildings are 14% cheaper to operate than traditional offices. We’ve discussed taking a long-term view on sustainability before and you can find out how your business can achieve net-zero carbon here.

At this stage, there’s no doubt about what’s best for the planet. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that one size doesn’t fit all for today’s workers. So how are we supposed to design a workplace that caters for everyone whilst still guaranteeing ROI? It's simple: be flexible.




Why the future of design must be flexible (to work for everyone)


Flexible workspaces allow staff to collaborate comfortably wherever they are. Implemented correctly, they can offer just the right solution to welcome office workers back. Especially considering the RSPH research also revealed:

  • Over one in four (26%) of homeworkers surveyed are working from either a sofa or a bedroom.

  • And nearly half (48%) of people who work from a sofa or bedroom said they had developed musculoskeletal problems.

If anything, these figures tell us there’s an opportunity to forgo some of the excess formality of traditional workplace designs. Offer workers that relaxed and homely atmosphere they're looking for - with a design that’s just as good for their bodies as it is for their minds. 

With hotels being an idyllic escape from our homes, can’t the office take a few cues from hospitality to encourage workers back? Brian Parker at Work Design Magazine seems to think so.

“Just as new builds and renovated hotels across the country have embraced this strategy of creating a modern living room feel, the same approach could be taken to reimagine the office arrival — making it a place employees want to be and be seen,” he said in ‘The Rise Of The Destination-Worthy, Hospitality-Influenced Workplace’.

As opposed to traditional open plans, flexible spaces also allow for more activity-based working; crucially, they empower staff to use spaces that work for the specific tasks they’re doing at the time. Not everybody works in the same way and we need to embed this at the heart of workplace design. 

We believe it’s a myth that open-plan offices kill productivity but, admittedly, problems can arise if people aren’t given enough alternatives when they need to escape the distraction of shared space. This is particularly important for growing numbers of neurodivergent workers; research shows that 15-20% of people have one of a collection of conditions that includes autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. For these workers, noise, aggressive visual patterns, bright lights and even the repetitive gridding or layouts of open plans can be hugely impairing. Therefore, working from home needs to be an option if it’s preferred. However, workplaces still have to be designed so that they;re welcoming for everyone.

That’s why premises need to adapt to what people need from their company's headquarters. For example, Salesforce recently reduced the number of desks in its office by 40% to create more room for collaboration. This included booths, cafés, communal tables, soft seating, whiteboards and mobile audiovisual equipment. A truly ‘phygital’ office that allows teamwork to happen anywhere - but doesn’t sacrifice some workers' need for privacy. 

As the Salesforce example demonstrates, office design ROI doesn’t necessarily need to be about increasing your space. Downsizing can work too, as long as your design works for everyone - including introverts.


Being inclusive means designing for introverts too


Much like pool tables and beer pumps are geared towards office extroverts, some open plan and even activity-based workspaces don’t always work for the more introverted employees.

But this segment of staff can’t afford to be overlooked. Especially, when they account for between 30% to 50% of the workforce. But designing for introverts isn’t just important for inclusivity; it can boost office design ROI as well.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking argues that the relative absence of private spaces in modern offices, means the true value of introverts is rarely ever realised.

“Introverts recharge their batteries by being more on their own or in low-key environments, and extroverts recharge their batteries by being in spaces where there’s a lot going on,” Sudan comments. “So if introverts go into a space that’s too noisy or cacophonous, you’re placing extra cognitive load on their thought process that doesn’t need to be there, and shouldn’t be there if you want to get the best of everyone’s brain.”

You can see why the idea of returning to a noisy, open-plan office might not appeal to more introverted workers. In fact, this environment can cause many people to put in their headphones and tune out. But as one study into ‘open’ workspaces suggests, this in itself can cause business inefficiencies. Harvard Business professor Ethan Bernstein studied two Fortune 500 companies that shifted to an open office environment from one where workers had more privacy. The results were startling:

  • Workers spent 73% less time in face-to-face interactions after moving to an open office floor plan.
  • As a result, there were 56% more emails and a 67% increase in instant messaging.

Somewhat defeats the object of an open plan environment if everyone's tuned out, doesn’t it? The point is, for employees to want to return to the office - and for it to be worthwhile having an office altogether - employers must design a solution that works for every type of employee. 


Office design ROI - is it worth the investment?

Taking on board the evolving and individual needs of employees isn’t just the right thing to do. Evidence suggests that creating a workspace that works for everyone boosts morale, performance and ROI as well. In fact, The Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management’s Stoddart Review suggests an effective workplace can improve business productivity by as much as 3.5%. 

However, every business case is unique. And weighing up whether it’s worth redesigning your office or not is all about asking the right questions. So before taking on a project of this scale and scope, consider the following:


Questions to ask before investing in office design


What are your main objectives or goals? 

Instead of ‘“bring employees back to the office”, look at productivity and morale levels - could they be improved? Or how about whether or not the space is doing your business justice when customers visit. These days, brand experience is just as important as products and services. Attracting and retaining a couple of high-level prospects is a return on investment in itself.

Is your current space stylish, inspiring, sustainable and efficient? 

For example, renovating your space could decrease your energy bills - now more important than ever - and also increase employee productivity. What's more, a well-designed office  can act as a magnet and create a strong culture.

Are there ways that you can keep design costs down?

You could cut costs without compromising on style and functionality by reusing existing elements, e.g. furniture and flooring. In fact, you could even create a sense of modularity  through furniture solutions. Why not kick off a workplace strategy audit beforehand to assess how much space you really need? You might be surprised, this could even lead to downsizing and cost savings on real estate.

How does your office environment compare to competitors? 

Look at their job adverts, do they “sell it” as a perk? Attracting the best talent can greatly contribute to your bottom line. For example, having an office that’s neurodiverse could give you a huge competitive advantage. 

What is your employee turnover rate like? 

On the flip side, exit interviews should look for insight into the office environment and whether it played a part in their reason for leaving. Was it too noisy? Maybe the space wasn't conducive to creativity? Or perhaps it just wasn’t flexible enough?

Does the office space suit different styles of working? 

For example, huddle spaces for collaboration and quiet zones for concentrated working. Importantly, is it an accessible space for everyone?


These are just a few of the things to consider when thinking about office design ROI. For more insight, check out our whitepaper with WORKTECH Academy which helps define the post-pandemic workplace.

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