How Creating Happy Spaces Leads To Better Work

It is no secret that environment impacts productivity, happiness levels, and creativity.

From noise level to color and light settings to sounds, one’s ability to create and think is impacted by their environment.

In a recent study by architect design firm Gensler, they report that people operate in four work modes: focus, collaborate, learn, and socialize.

During Unleaded’s recent MeetUp, the lead interior and architecture team from WeWork’s headquarters joined top Washington, DC-based creatives and creative thinkers to discuss how to build spaces that foster creativity, collaboration, education, and socialization.

Here, we provide top insights from the event and other design experts on how they approach developing workspaces that inspire creativity and foster social interaction and privacy.

Engaging Space = Positive Work Experiences

Engagement, now an integral component of every marketing and social media strategy, is also a key factor in designing spaces that foster positive and happy work culture and retaining employees.

Key findings from a recent Steelcase study revealed that increased employee engagement in the office relates to satisfaction at work as well as a sense of control over environment.

WeWork offers a packaged solution with their Pantry - considered the “heart” of each WeWork community and the initial starting point for each WeWork design team. Acting as a vital artery among their workspaces, the Pantry offers an often colorful and playful space for WeWork members to host everything from impromptu meetings and happy hours to events, brainstorming sessions, and lunch. The newly opened Manhattan Laundry space in Washington, DC features books, board games, unlimited coffee, teas, water, two beer kegs, and an easily accessible vending snack bar.

During the Unleaded workshop, designers, strategists, and interior design experts brainstormed additional ways to promote positive social engagement. Suggestions included a zen garden,work hours exchange, neighborhood volunteer programs, and module desks.

Environments that can work on multiple levels encourage engagement and interaction while offering the choice to work solo or network. The workshop provided insights into how opportunities to do good and give back enabled positive interaction within a community, while spaces like a zen garden provide the option to meditate or converse in a calming space.

Focus + Collaboration= Better Ideas and Work Flow

Providing a place to escape the bustling office of today’s open and shared workspaces gives team members the opportunity to focus or a reprieve from near-constant interaction. And according to Gensler, spaces that are able to balance privacy and collaboration are more effective for individuals.

Ultimately, workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful. —2013 U.S. Workplace Survey, Gensler

At WeWork, glass walls or nooks without doors strive to provide space for focused solitude without interrupting the feel and flow of open office spaces.

For teams spread across various cities and countries — rather than various cubes and offices — workspaces also need to accommodate the technology that allows for seamless communications as well as spaces for quality sound and little interruption.

Phone booths at WeWork are a popular feature among in its workspaces, offering the privacy and quiet needed for cross-continental conversations. They serve as a distinctive design element, too.

Connection Through Design

A building can positively affect motivation by providing conditions that promote positive affective functioning, psychological engagement and personal control. — Judith Heerwagen, program excerpt, US General Services

When it comes to embodying “the feels” of a space, factoring in culture, art, and nature is integral to the design process. Endless studies review how the impact of color, artwork, smell, light, and accessibility to see or interact with nature affect a person’s ability to work efficiently and creatively.

Judith Heerwagen, program expert at US General Services, tells HOK, a leading international design firm in an article addressing enhancing workplace wellness and performance that “a building can positively affect motivation by providing conditions that promote positive affective functioning, psychological engagement and personal control”.

Other factors HOK highlights? Color, noise control, air quality, and views.

In a burgeoning creative city like Washington, DC , inspiration is found in its political landscape and local culture. At the WonderBread Factory, where our own creative agency has a 12-person WeWork office, Twinkie-inspired wallpaper line the walls in the lobby, glass garage doors open to an outdoor patio on beautiful days, and colorful, hip, and relevant artwork by local DC-based artists is featured throughout the corridors.

At the newly opened Manhattan Laundry, hand-painted alligators crawl along the brick walls of its pantry space — inspired by its Florida Avenue street address. [Note: alligators can only be found the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, DC].

Keep Happiness Top of Mind

At the end of the day, when it comes to space design that fosters productive and creative work, the first thing to remember is that these “employees” are people, too — individuals with personal needs and work preferences. Providing your team with choices on how and where to work — whether collaborative in an open office one day and in a more focused-enabled space such as a private nook or office on another day — can have an immediate impact on employment happiness.


Unleaded is a monthly MeetUp that provides a space for Washington, DC-based designers and creative thinkers to discuss how to use design to make a positive impact. Interested in joining for next month’s MeetUp? Learn more here.