Workplace Aesthetics Part 3: Office Aesthetics Stats & Tips

desk-panel-1This Office Furniture USA “Insights” newsletter has some good tips for improving office aesthetics. First, they reveal some telling numbers that show why this is important. A study titled ‘Recruiting Qualified Employees‘, commissioned by the American society of interior design, found that:

  • Employees were 30% more likely to be satisfied with their jobs if they liked the appearance of their workplace.
  • More than 40% of workers and job candidates said the physical workspace impacts their decision to take a job.
  • Half of employees say the quality of their workplace might influence them to quit a job.
  • After pay, comfort and office aesthetics ranked as the most important workplace benefits.

Obviously, looks matter more than most employers think. It’s not enough to put fancy furniture and pretty pictures in the reception area. Job candidates and employees need to feel at home throughout the facility. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to tear everything out and start from scratch to improve the appearance of a typical office. OFUSA offers a few ideas for simple changes that can make a big difference:

  • Adjustable workstations that allow for mobility and increased privacy symbolize an environment that is open for change.
  • Flexibility in allowing workers to provide input into wall hangings and color schemes gives workers a feeling of inclusion and is a simple way to create psychological comfort for employees.

Cubicle panel extenders and desktop panels could actually fill the bill quite nicely. They are easy to install and remove, making workstations adjustable to meet different working conditions for each employee. Plus, workers could even get together and vote on a favorite color from our catalogue of polycarbonate panels including red, blue, green, and yellow options. If you wanted to really let them feel special, let each worker pick their favorite color and embrace the look of a more vibrant office aesthetic with an array of bright hues. It would be hard not to feel cheerful in the face of so much diversity!


Workplace Aesthetics Part 2 – Do Beautiful Workspaces Matter?

This week’s study about beautiful workspaces is even more interesting than last week’s. It was carried out by Elizabeth Siler as part of a dissertation to earn her Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It’s a small study, but Ms. Siler delved very deeply into the insights of about 20 people working in a variety of older and newer buildings. Some of the facilities were lovely and some of them were ugly. Here are some key insights from her 100 page paper entitled “How Does Beauty Matter? An Exploration of Employee Perceptions of Office Aesthetics”.

Siler found that people’s responses tended to fit into one of four basic categories: “One group of participants loved their work and saw their offices as an avenue of self-expression, an extension of themselves. Another group experienced considerable emotional distress because their offices did not reflect the quality of their organizations’ work. For a third group, functionality was primary. For the last group, the office stood in for the organization as a whole– their feelings about their workspaces mirrored their feelings about their organization.”

Youth and Beauty Don’t Always Go Hand in Hand

Interestingly, while functionality was important and generally ranked higher for the newer buildings than the older ones, aesthetics could be just as bad in a new facility as in an old one. For example, a fully renovated office space that enforced total conformity with bland and utilitarian furnishings was often considered unaesthetic. Employees who had the desire and ability to decorate their own workspace expressed more satisfaction with the appearance of their work environment than those who did not.

That being said, ancient facilities did take some hard knocks for their appearance. Employees tended to feel bad about signs of neglect that made old buildings less attractive. They felt it showed their employers didn’t care about their hard work. Even worse, they said that a poorly maintained facility reflected badly on the quality of the work they did.

In fact, many respondents had difficulty separating their feelings about their work from the ambience of the workspace itself. That could be positive or negative, depending on the aesthetics of the building and furniture. For example, some respondents said they found their workplace depressing. Others found a beautiful workspace made them feel more organized, productive, and creative. The study had a small sample size, but you’d probably get similar responses if you interviewed employees at your own company.


April Is Workplace Aesthetics Month at OBEX

Here at OBEX, we’ve talked a lot about how privacy and noise control affect employees at work. However, there’s another aspect of panel extenders that we haven’t talked about very much—the aesthetics. In April, we’re spending all month on the topic of how workplace aesthetics impact employees and how cubicle extenders and desktop privacy panels can enhance the workspace. First, let’s explore some of the research that’s been done on the topic.

It’s Not All about Ergonomics

A 2011 Swedish study published on PubMed has revealed something interesting regarding how employees feel about their workplace. Almost 2000 employees were surveyed at a broadcasting company and asked to provide feedback about both ergonomic and aesthetic concerns in their work environment. According to the results, workers notice more issues with how a workplace affects their senses than with how it supports their physical bodies. Aesthetic needs were mentioned more frequently than ergonomic needs—with no difference in reporting rates between men and women.

When Do Workers Care Most about Beauty?

What was interesting was the information the study gathered about the type of employees who ranked aesthetic improvements as very important. This list included workers who were:

  • Tasked with psychologically demanding work
  • Experiencing negative work stress
  • Having sleep disturbances
  • Undergoing problems at work
  • Suffering from musculoskeletal pain

Apparently, employees experiencing challenges at work or at home may be more susceptible to noticing how unattractive their work environment is—and have a strong desire to work in a more soothing or uplifting space. In conclusion, “The study results show a relation between work place aesthetics and health and well-being. Future work health promotion and prevention may benefit from the inclusion of an assessment of workplace aesthetics.”

Using Panel Extenders for Aesthetics: Tip #1

Employers who want to improve productivity may wish to explore easy ways to create a more vibrant and appealing workspace. With the well-known impact of color on emotional well-being, installing blue or green panel extenders might be one way to help create a relaxing atmosphere for stressed employees. It’s an inexpensive way to give workstations a facelift.


A Day without Sound in the Workplace?

ear plugsIn just one short month, it will be May (already?) Springtime has inspired countless songs, but not everyone has the chance to hear these lovely melodies. A full 12% of the US population suffers from hearing loss and can’t fully enjoy the wonderful world of sound. That’s 38 million people! While hearing loss can often begin at birth or occur later due to illness or aging, more than 25 million people in the US have noise-induced hearing loss. Because this problem is so widespread, May is designated as “Better Hearing Month”.

As a reminder that employers and employees should pay more attention to noise hazards, Miracle-Ear Foundation and 3M have put together a hearing loss prevention campaign. They call it “One Day without Sound”. On May 1st, 2014, they are asking people everywhere to remove sound from their lives (as much as possible) for one full day.

Can You NOT Hear Me Now?

The soundless day provides an opportunity to educate communities and employers about the impact of loud noise. Participants can register at to receive more information and prevention tips along with a pair of ear plugs that greatly reduce perceived noise levels. Slip these in your ears, and you’ll get a small taste of what it’s like to have noise-induced hearing loss. That certainly won’t make it possible to fully understand the frustrations of actual hearing impairment, but it may raise awareness about how much we take our good hearing for granted.

Keeping It Down at Work

More than 30 million Americans are exposed to potentially harmful sounds at work. That’s one very good reason to make sure your workplace has an up-to-date noise abatement plan. However, it’s not just the dangerous levels of noise that can be a problem. Many employees report high stress levels and difficulty concentrating from prolonged exposure to phones ringing, coworkers talking too loudly, or just the general hustle and bustle of the office. Our desktop panels and cubicle wall extenders help limit these chronic annoyances so employees can enjoy their workday more. Think of our OBEX panels as ear plugs for your employees’ workstations!


Is It Time to Modernize Your Law Office Furniture?

Law office furniture often seems to be the only holdout in the march to modernity. While tech companies and even shoe manufacturers embrace the trendy and the quirky, law firms still have a reputation for stodgy design. There’s nothing wrong with dark wood (or wood veneer) and lots of frosted glass. But even legal firms don’t all have to look alike. A law office that wants to gain a reputation for creative, effective representation may do well to reconsider whether its interior design makes the practice look out of touch. That’s not to say they have to remake the layout to resemble one of Google’s “imaginariums”. But it’s possible to have a contemporary feel without going overboard. Here are some ideas that may help:

Elegant Knoll

Knoll law office furnitureWhen you really want to impress clients with refined style, go with the Flo. The lounge furnishings designed by Florence Knoll have timeless appeal. This particular collection says: “We care about quality”. At the same time, it isn’t so flashy that clients will wonder if you are padding their bill to pay for lavish office furniture. The collection features seating options in many sizes to fit everything from a modest reception area to a casual meeting room.

Confidential MAiSPACE

Law office conference roomA dark conference room with overstuffed chairs and a marble topped table may look impressive. But it can also be intimidating and gloomy. You don’t want clients to lose all sense of hope when they are attending a deposition. Keep things a little on the lighter side with modular meeting rooms that send a different message: “This too shall pass.” The type of installations provided by MAiSPACE are a good example of how glass and movable architectural walls can offer a sense of enclosure without making clients feel caged.

Private OBEX

Panel Extenders for Law OfficePrivacy is always one of the top concerns for most legal clients. This means the popular open office plans aren’t a good option for clerical workers. At the same time, you don’t want staff to feel too isolated. Panel extenders offer a way to enhance workstations so that employees and clients get the sense of greater control over confidential information. With muted panel colors, acoustic fabrics, and classy aluminum frames, these panels are the right fit for any law office furniture.


Workers Are Getting Sick of Open Plan Offices

A Swedish study published by the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors indicates that open plan offices really do make workers sick. The retrospective survey of over 1,850 people found that those in open offices fared worst. The study found “A significant excess risk for sickness absence was found in terms of short sick leave spells in the three open-plan offices.” In other words, workers were more likely to call in sick for a day or two when they were in an open plan setting. Men seemed particularly stressed by flex plan offices (hot desking with no assigned workstations). Women took more lengthy sick leaves if they had to work in large open offices.

Too Much Noise, Too Little Control

The researchers suggest that environmental stressors inherent in open plan offices may be partially to blame. They point to the example of, “architectural features that lead to a lack of visual and acoustic privacy in combination with the functional features that are related to job characteristics such as lack of autonomy.” Sometimes, employees may become so stressed that they simply need to take time off to decompress. Or, they may have less ability to isolate themselves from other workers. That means the cold or flu going around is going to spread with ease. The more people crammed into the space, the bigger this problem is likely to get.

Keeping Workers Well = Treating Them Well

Interestingly, it’s apparently not sharing space that’s the issue. Employees in shared-room offices didn’t take a significantly different number of sick days compared to those in individual offices. Interestingly, one of the features the study used to define a shared office was this: Workstations are freely arranged in the room. For privacy reasons, sometimes screens or other divisional elements are added between workstations.

Few businesses are likely to address noise and privacy issues by putting workers back in offices—shared or otherwise. Instead, the focus is on reducing distractions and giving employees more control over workstation configuration. Our desktop panels and cubicle wall extenders can do both since we provide a range of heights and colors in materials that minimize noise and increase visual privacy.


What’s the Ceiling on Noise Abatement at Work?

At OBEX, we specialize in minimizing noise transmission in the space between desks. But this is just one part of the noise abatement puzzle. If you’ve ever worked in a building that has tile flooring or glass walls, you know that every surface in the office has an impact on how loud the environment seems. Ceilings are another critical component in sound control. Here’s an overview of how ceilings affect sound and some exciting solutions in this space.

Why the Wrong Ceilings Make Noise Worse

First, it’s important to understand a little about how sound reverberating and reflecting off of ceilings can impact the experience of workers. In areas that have exposed ceilings instead of dropped ceilings, sound waves bounce off the ceiling and are redirected back down into the workspace. The smaller the room, the more of a problem the direct reflection of sound tends to be. Noises such as phones ringing, coworkers talking, or foot traffic passing can quickly become a distraction. With a high, hard ceiling, the sound reverberates even more. People raise their voices to be heard—even though that just makes the problem worse.

Hidden Costs Abound with Sound

The loss of productivity is just one challenge posed by bad ceiling acoustics. Lynn Proctor Windle at offers another great insight into the hidden costs of this problem. She points out that phone equipment is often erroneously blamed when phone conversations are muddled and difficult to understand. In fact, if voice clarity degrades significantly in conference calls vs. individual calls, this is almost always caused by ambient noise being detected by the microphones in the teleconferencing equipment. The human ear doesn’t usually notice this sound until it is picked up and fed directly through the speakers.

Noise Abatement Solutions Don’t Have to Be Expensive

If a space is renovated and the ceiling is left open for a modern “industrial” look, it can be pretty expensive to install a complete suspended acoustical tile ceiling. However it’s possible to install panels instead that can be arranged around existing lights, HVAC, and sprinklers. You can check out an example of these “ceiling clouds” at SMG or Pinta-Acoustic. We like the innovative retrofitting approach. It reminds us a lot of our own panels. Easy to install, cheaper than tearing out what you have and rebuilding, and very attractive!


Friday Pick Me Up: Best Office Jokes #4

Friday fun means a joke with a hidden message – What? Yes, of course there’s a hidden message. We’re a company trying to sell stuff!

Manager: “Do you know anything about this fax-machine?”

Staff: “A little. What’s wrong sir?”

Manager: “Well, I sent a fax, and the recipient called back to say all she received was a blank page. I tried it again, and the same thing happened.”

Staff: “How did you load the sheet?”

Manager: “I didn’t want anyone else to read it by accident, so I folded it so only the recipient would open it and read it.”

Pretty funny, right? Oh, have you checked your office layout to see if your fax machine is conveniently located? If you have cubicles, placing the fax in a central location instead of all the way over on one wall could make your employees appreciative of the way you save them time. Think about centralizing your fax station as well as your coffee or water cooler for easy access.



Does Your Office Need Panel Extenders?

_17O9590In case you’ve been looking at your current office space and trying to decide about your newest layout, panel extenders may be on your list of options. Will they work for your space? Let’s look at a few kinds of offices and how the work station walls affect productivity.

For many offices, the work process has become much more collaborative which has translated into more low-wall cubicles and even benching systems in the workplace. Many industry experts believe the taller wall cubicles or “Dilbert cubes” are on their way out. However, low walls or no walls isn’t feasible for all workers.


Benching systems are popular in Europe;  the absence of panels allows you to cram more people into one area, which can foster creativity and collaboration but be bad for employee comfort and productivity in some cases.


Cubicles with low walls (42″ high)  allow employees to see and talk to each other while seated or standing, allowing for a lot of collaboration, team work and creativity. However, they still don’t give workers privacy (although workers do have a more clearly defined “owned” space) and acoustically offer no help at all.



Medium height cubicle walls (53″ high) is the fall back option for many offices. Employees have more privacy and can be more productive. All they have to do to reach out to a co-worker is stand up. here is still not very much acoustical privacy, however.


This brings us back to high walls, with panels 65” tall and greater. This offers the most acoustical and visual privacy. This is ideal for some workers and jobs that require some privacy, and extreme focus, but is no longer considered ideal. They can make many employees feel isolated and cut off.

A blended solution is usually the best option. Panel extenders can help you customize each cubicle or group of cubicles to provide just the right amount of privacy while still fostering teamwork and collaborative creativity.

You can even create pods of sorts, with each team having higher walls around the perimeter of their section to provide them with a sense of privacy, and lower walls between team members for ease of communication.

Panel extenders can be the answer to your new work layout. Call us and ask for advice!


Friday Pick Me Up: Best Office Jokes #3

It’s Friday, and that means Joke Time! Are you ready? Here goes…

A young businessman had just started his own firm. He rented a beautiful office and had it furnished with antiques. While sitting there, he saw a man come into the outer office. Wishing to appear a hot shot, the businessman picked up the phone and started to pretend he had a big deal working.


He threw huge figures around and made giant commitments. Finally he hung up and asked the visitor (who seemed to be amused), “Can I help you?”

The man said, “Yeah, I’ve come to activate your phone lines.”

On the more serious note, make sure the cubicles you purchase have the requisite cord channels and holes so you don’t have to wind cords everywhere when installing phones or internet connections! Most high quality or even merely good quality cubicles come standard with this feature – if the cubicles you are looking at don’t have them, steer clear – they probably are poorly made in other ways as well.