The Importance of Your Physical Workspace

Posted by: Emma Hickey

Have you ever seen those mattress commercials that talk about how important it is to have a comfortable bed because you spend one-third of your life sleeping? That philosophy also applies to your workspace.

Though there are all kinds of jobs in the world, some of the most common ones involve sitting at a desk in an office. We might not spend one-third of our lives in these spaces, but we certainly spend a lot of time there, and it’s important to be comfortable. The American Society of Interior Designers captured this idea best in its slogan, which says: “Design Impacts Lives.” Through their research, ASID has identified four main results that can be achieved in the workplace through design: 

  1. Improved Employee Health
  2. Increased Employee Productivity
  3. Higher Rates of Employee Retention
  4. Energy Savings

ASID also suggests that the combination of increased employee productivity, employee retention and energy cost-savings will ultimately pay for the investment in improving the office’s design. Again, this information is put out by an organization called the American Society of Interior Designers, so they certainly have a vested interest in promoting the idea that design affects employee experience, but their points are reasonable and supported by research. At the very least, I know that I feel good when I’m working in comfortable and aesthetically-pleasing space.  

Creating and maintaining a pleasant physical workspace for your employees is also a great way for employers to demonstrate that they value their team. It’s the expression “put your money where your mouth is” exemplified. Employers can tell their team how valued they are again and again, but if that same employer won’t put resources into improving the office’s design, then the team may not be convinced. Providing comfortable chairs for your team goes a long way. Providing uncomfortable chairs for your team goes even further in the negative message it sends.

As an employer, there are a lot of changes you can make in order to improve the physical experience of being in your office. In their own headquarters, ASID created “a model for innovative workplace design where collaboration, flexibility, sustainability, and occupant well-being are the primary design drivers.” Their entire case study is available to read here. Some of the specific areas where they focused their design efforts include collaborative workspaces, healthy and sustainable material and furniture, air quality, lighting, acoustics, biophilic design, water filtration systems and the building’s energy performance. Since not everyone has a team of interior designers on hand to help improve an office’s biophilic design (which the ASID Impact of Design Series, Vol 1 Case Brief defines as design strategies that “reduce stress and trigger elevated levels of cognitive and emotional performance in occupants.”), here are a few more manageable areas of improvement you can tackle to elevate the comfort of your physical workspace: 


Nothing is worse than an office that’s lit light a hospital. Fluorescent lights can feel so bright they’re intrusive, and yet so many building default to these kinds of bulbs. Swapping out bright white light bulbs for softer yellow bulbs can help to make your office feel a little more homey and a little less medicinal. 

Depending on your situation, you might also consider installing dimmer switches in your office. It’s a relatively low-lift process to swap out traditional light switches for ones that dim, and it can help prevent your office from getting too bright.


At work, you likely spend almost your entire day sitting in your desk chair. For that reason, it is so important for employers to provide their team with ergonomic chairs to properly support their backs and reduce muscle strain. Uncomfortable office chairs can cause tension headaches, neck and back pain, poor posture and even spinal damage. If the pain these conditions cause your employees isn’t enough to convince you to buy them new chairs, also consider the effect these conditions have on your bottom line. Employees in pain are less productive and more likely to miss work. A wise woman once told me to never spend more than $1,000 on a chair, and while spending anything near that number seems wild to me, her point was clear: a good chair will cost you, but for the sake of your employees’ health and comfort, it’s worth it.


Humans love plants. Even those of us who would never proclaim ourselves plant-lovers are subconsciously affected by their presence. A 2008 study found that hospital patients with plants in their rooms had lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, lower ratings of pain, less anxiety and fatigue as well as more positive feelings and higher satisfaction about their rooms when compared to patients without plants in their rooms. Not only do plants provide those sorts of positive biological responses in our bodies, they also improve air quality. According to NASA’s Clean Air Study, “plants can play a major role in removal of organic chemicals from indoor air,” and they even developed a list of plants that most effectively purify indoor air. Some of those plants include Boston ferns, peace lilies, bamboo palms and spider plants. You can see a complete list of those plants here.  Adding more plants to your office’s landscape might require a bit of maintenance on your part, but they will only positively affect your office.

If you’d like to make some changes to your workspace environment but don’t have buy-in from your boss, there are smaller steps you can take on an individual level, too. If you have a lamp on your desk, replace that bulb with something softer. Lumbar support pillows can improve even the worst of chairs, and personal desk plants will brighten your day while also cleaning your air. Everyone deserves an office thoughtfully designed to maximize their satisfaction, but when that isn’t possible, these solutions are at least steps in the right direction. All people are affected by their physical surroundings, so why not take measures to make sure you and your team are affected positively?

But like... how much SHOULD I be making?

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