Setting the mood Featured

9:58am EDT July 22, 2002

In a recent American Society of Interior Designers poll of 200 business decision-makers, 68 percent said office design should be reviewed at least once every five years to help companies remain competitive. Thirty-six percent said office design should be reviewed annually.

Research shows that the more control employees have over their work environment—lighting, temperature and furniture that accommodates different postures and tasks—the more likely they’ll be satisfied with their jobs and achieve greater productivity.

With so many affordable options available to improve any office environment, companies don’t have to settle for outdated, uncomfortable and inefficient work spaces.

More important, companies that refuse to settle often learn that a good working environment can help attract and retain workers.

We all know about reality. Who has the money for a top-to-bottom overhaul? Deciding what to tackle first depends on who you ask.

Therese O’Toole, owner of Therese O’Toole Interiors in Cleveland, says the aesthetics of a workplace reveal a company’s philosophy and culture, and the atmosphere can either promote or prohibit professional attitudes among staff.

Pam Lahm, owner of Lahm & Associates Interior Design in North Canton, says color psychology and color response—often overlooked variables of interior design—have significant impact on attitude and productivity.

Linda Chiera-Walker, interior designer at Braun & Steidl Architects Inc. in Akron, stresses that whether a work space is a private office, a shared area or a cubicle, there should be a designated work space for every employee to make each feel “at home.”

Terri Mauer, president of Mauer Design Group in Bath, says she sees many companies still using what she calls “World War II desks,” on top of which they stack computers and keyboards. “When you look at the costs of a lawsuit, workers’ comp and down time when people are off work with backs out of whack or wrecked wrists, the money is a moot point compared to the cost of improving a work situation.”

Employer’s checklist: Is your office environment working for you?

Here is a checklist of considerations from the experts to help keep the workplace humming:


Avoid fluorescent lights. Choose task-ambient lighting that alleviates eye strain. Softer lighting engenders a warm atmosphere and promotes productivity. In windowless work spaces, use full-spectrum light bulbs, which more closely match natural lighting.


Ergonomically correct chairs that encourage “active sitting” will reduce neck and back strain. The right seat offers lumbar support and positions the knees slightly lower than the base of the spine. Seatbacks and armrests should be fully and easily adjustable to accommodate separate tasks—such as keyboard work and desk duties—and enable the user’s feet to remain flat on the floor or footrest.

Desk and work surfaces

Allow for generous desktop and computer table space for separate tasks. Built-in units are often more efficient and less expensive than desks, but they aren’t portable, nor do contemporary metal units with laminate surfaces add the warmth that wood brings. Black surfaces lead to eye strain and lower productivity.

Computer accessory placement

The American National Standards Institute and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society recommend computer tables that put screen placement at least 20 inches away from the user’s eyes, with the monitor viewing area below eye level so a user’s neck and head are in a neutral position. Keyboard trays should tilt and move up and down so users can customize keyboard positions to reduce arm and wrist strain. Gel-filled wrist rests and mouse pads promote proper alignment of wrists and hands. And glare-resistant screens ... well, you know what they do.

Personal space Don’t discourage employees from personalizing work spaces with accessories, artwork and photos, because there’s no place like home, and you want them to feel that way, right? Items of questionable nature that might offend others should be left at home.

Storage Afford as much storage and locked-drawer space as possible for a sense of territory and privacy (and to discourage cluttered work surfaces and cramped work areas).

Background noise While soft, instrumental background music can stimulate neurons and promote creativity, music is a personal choice. Think twice before spinning “easy listening” tunes or classic oldies on the speaker system. And keep volume levels low on radios allowed in open areas.

Compliance issues “Universal design”—the application of accessibility codes to make public spaces available to the handicapped—is often absent in work environments, and businesses are bound by law to comply. Fire safety is also an issue overlooked until it’s too late.

Miscellaneous Designate a separate room for breaks and lunch time, to promote relaxation and help employees balance productivity. Provide a protected area for coats, umbrellas and boots. Potted plants bring warmth to a confined environment; plants also oxygenate and clean the air.

Employer’s checklist: Creating a better cubicle

While portable work stations can be designed to cater to a person’s specific needs and reconfigured to relocate employees, here are cubicle caveats to contemplate:

Consider acoustics when designing work stations.

Higher panels are better, for noise reduction and storage.

Incorporate a tack board surface for memos and personal items.

Use soft materials to absorb noise (carpet, upholstery, window fabric vs. blinds, wood vs. metal, acoustical wall covering vs. paint).

Keep colors light and neutral to relieve eye strain, promote a comfortable atmosphere and make it easier to coordinate designs in future work stations.

Hot colors for offices in 1999

Spice tones: burnt orange, terra cotta, curry yellows and golds paired with burgundies and browns.

Indigo tones: purples, indigo blue and bright blue-green.

Neutrals: charcoal gray, blue gray and green grays.

Warm tones: pearly whites and grays.

How to reach: Lahm & Associates Interior Design (330) 497-9060; Mauer Design (330) 666-0802; Braun & Steidl Architects Inc. (330) 864-7755; Therese O’Toole Interiors (440) 777-5150