4 Design Tips to Support Mental Health in Hybrid Workplaces

Written by Angela Ferguson


Feeling down and unmotivated at work? Insights show that it’s the space you’re in.

Long before the pandemic, workplace wellbeing was becoming an increasingly important part of workplace strategy and workplace design. The World Health Organisation definition of health is that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” This is important when we talk about wellness at work – the workplace environment must support a holistic approach to people’s physical, mental and social well being..

Now that the hybrid world has changed how much time we spend in the office, this means organisations need to take a leading role in addressing the pressing issues of mental health, and be active in designing workspaces that support a staff’s good mental, social and physical and wellbeing.

There are many ways employers can take a fresh look at the physical design of their office. Research by Oxford University found that happy workers are 13% more productive, so investing in a workspace which aligns with employee needs and drives wellbeing, is a positive investment into business revenue and retention in a global talent shortage.

“Happier employees are more involved, more productive, more cooperative, more creative, and more innovative.”- Happiness at Work Manifesto

Our studies show that extended time in a poor or unstimulating working environment will have a long-term impact on an employee’s mental health. While gym memberships, free lunches and development programs have an important place in the workplace, it is the physical environment which has the greatest impact on productivity, engagement, and happiness.

If organisations want to attract employees back into the office, they need to look beyond putting a pot plant in the corner or adding colourful furniture to create an ‘atmosphere’. Following are Futurespace’s key workplace design tips that will drive engagement and long-term wellbeing amongst workers:

1. The power of colour on mental health in the workplace

Colour is a powerful communication tool, which can influence our mood and impact performance. The subconscious way colour impacts us tends to be universal rather than subjective, meaning certain colours will trigger certain emotions in all humans.

While colour selection is of course a stylistic or even a branding choice, smart business owners will draw on the psychology of colours to evoke positive moods in customers or use certain colours to reflect company values.

In the design of a leading professional services firm, PwC, our workplace strategists, and workplace design team employed colour combinations which resonated with the organisation’s commitment to thinking and innovation. The leading colour of gold reflected PwC’s wealth of knowledge and ongoing legacy, while the use of deep green in collaborative spaces aided to trigger learning, growth, and harmony.

2. The benefit of nature for mental health

Office interiors that embrace biophilia (a human’s innate instinct to connect with the natural world) and bringing the great outdoors indoors can help to reduce stress levels and have a positive impact on the well-being of the employees.

This is more than having a window and placing same pot plants throughout a space. It is achieved through simple natural materials, fresh air, natural light, planting, greenery, and organic forms.

Using green walls that ‘breathe’, hanging plants, organic materials like wood or stone, textured carpets which mimic the natural landscape and incorporating atriums, are easy ways to connect nature to the workplace.

3. A holistic design approach to support all employees

It’s a fact that people don’t all think or work the same. For many years the office has been designed to be conducive to neurotypical people. Since more research has been conducted into neurodivergent thinking, workplaces must cater for different types of employees’ workstyles and neurodiverse conditions. Employers have recognised that embracing this level of diversity can in fact provide a huge benefit to an organisation through building a more neurodiverse staff.

Additionally, the design of a traditional office space has changed dramatically. The rise of Work from Home in the last few years has changed the way we work and has highlighted the importance of having a variety of workplace settings.

The new hybrid workplace requires a range of spaces, including cosy, quiet rooms for focus work and people who are easily overwhelmed or overstimulated, larger open social spaces for collaboration and employees who thrive on social interaction. It also requires the provision of a workplace that reduces distraction, has different lighting levels, can be navigated intuitively and controls sensory stimulation.

Workplaces should provide a sense of safety and support for all employees. Incorporating elements within your physical design to be inclusive of people’s needs, is a worthwhile investment for long-term attraction and retention.

4. Ergonomics is an investment in your employees

The last few years of lockdowns which led to the sudden rise of working from home saw us spending longer times at our desks, on back-to-back virtual meetings, often without breaks or incidental exercise that we would normally have had through travel or the daily commute. It also elevated the variety of ergonomic options available.

The new hybrid workplace means the office should offer the same level of flexibility that people get when working from home. It is important to consider the basics such as ensuring all seating – especially lounges, sofas and other more domestic style seating is at the right height for working on laptops or viewing screens. Screen sizes, adjustable monitor arms along with laptop stands and ergonomic task seating at each individual desk are essential. Provision of accessories such as standing height desks and community/collaborative settings can also play an important role in ensuring optimal physical posture and maximising opportunities for movement.

At Future X Collective we’ve always believed that people are the product of their environment … it has been our experience for more than 20 years of strategizing and designing workplaces that the better environment you create for people – then the better their experience of work is, and in turn the happier and healthier they are. The simple tips we have provided can go a long way towards supporting a staff’s good mental health and well being.

To learn more about how we can help you create a supportive environment for your people, contact one of our workplace strategy experts today.