There’s no magic formula for creating an office environment that fosters productivity and collaboration while increasing employee engagement levels. However, it appears that the physical office space may be as important as the intangible factors that companies routinely chase.

A new survey of top-performing employees in Denver conducted by Layton Construction, reveals that office space is so important that it’s only trumped by salary, working hours, healthcare benefits, and the daily commute.

Regarding work factors that are important to employees, office space was ranked higher than the following:

  • Vacation days
  • The boss
  • Retirement benefits
  • Job title
  • Job seniority
  • Getting promoted
  • The annual review

So, if you’re spending money on pingpong and pool tables, or close access to dining, these amenities ranked quite low on the work-happiness scale.

When Layton Construction asked Denver-based top-performing employees what they really wanted and needed in their office spaces, they chose windows and natural light, followed by private, quiet spaces to work. And they also like ergonomic desks and chairs. In fact, the survey reveals that half of Denver’s top performers turned down a job simply because they didn’t care for the office space.

The top complaints among these top performers: distractions/noise (57%), the office is too cold (30%), no privacy (17%), and a stuffy office (14%).

These findings don’t surprise Leslie Saul, AIA, NCIDQ, LEED AP BD+C, founder of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Leslie Saul & Associates Architecture and Planning. Saul’s company has designed everything from office spaces to restaurants, and she’s also designed residences and other interior spaces at Harvard Medical School.

Saul says that business leaders are concerned about a Gallup poll released a few years ago that reveals only 35% of workers are engaged at work. “They’re also concerned about the demographics that have boomers retiring and not enough young people to take their places.”

“These worries have placed office design as a prime tool to help attract and retain workers, as well as to help workers feel more engaged at work,” Saul says. “When workers like the look and feel of an office, they feel valued by management, and that’s why office design has become a key element in recruiting staff.”

As humans, beauty and comfort appeal to our senses. “When the office not only looks ‘cool,’ but has the infrastructure that gives employees comfort, such as temperature control, lighting control and acoustic mitigation for sound control, workers are able to concentrate and do their work without the distractions of being too cold/warm, working with too dim/bright lighting, or being subject to noisy environments.”

One company that has created a working space designed for maximum comfort, convenience, productivity and engagement, is Boston-based Dyer Brown Architects — and they were kind enough to provide photos of their office.

Image: Darrin Hunter/courtesy of Dyer Brown

"We recently redesigned our own offices in Boston, and applied our usual client engagement techniques to our own team,” says Brent Zeigler, AIA, IIDA, president of Dyer Brown. “The surveys and visioning exercises revealed that our employees want to work in an environment that fosters well-being, in addition to one that offers comfort and supports productivity.”

Dyer Brown designs workplace, retail, hospitality, and other types of commercial spaces, and has worked with such clients as Kraft, Cushman & Wakefield, Brown Brothers Harriman, and Lincoln Property Company. “This emphasis on well-being mirrors our findings in our work for our clients: both millennials and post-millennials in the workforce don’t just want a wellness-focused, healthy place to work, they expect it,” Zeigler explains.

Image: Darrin Hunter/courtesy of Dyer Brown

“Our experience as designers reveals that investing in wellness pays off in additional productivity, employee satisfaction, and improved prospects for recruitment and retention of top talent,” he says. “So, we incorporated as much wellness strategy as was appropriate for the space and our team, including some approaches utilized in designs for our clients."

To encourage active lifestyles, Dyer Brown’s Boston office includes a shower and lockers, a mothers’ room for privacy, and a wellness room for relaxation and reflection. “Our lobby area features cafe-style counter-seating and still and sparkling water on tap, to promote hydration and encourage movement during the workday,” Zeigler says.

“Our workstations all feature ergonomic sit-to-stand desks, lit from above by pendant LED fixtures with custom-designed shades made from noise-attenuating material.” In addition, most of the office space has double-height windows along the perimeter walls to provide natural daylight.