The Business Case for Office Design

by Bill Esler


Proving contract furniture projects benefit the bottom line was the mission of journalist and author Kevin Salwen. At the behest of BIFMA and the International Interior Design Association, Salwen and his colleagues identified some signature headquarter build-outs that demonstrably improved productivity for client staffs. The co-author of the IIDA/BIFMA report on workplace - Design, Leveraged - examines how smart companies use office space to boost productivity.

“For decades, businesses have viewed their work spaces as ‘overhead,’ a necessary evil of spending on desks, carpet and pricey lighting,” Salwen writes. “But now, smart companies are shifting their thinking on design: The firms doing the hard work to get it right are reaping the benefits right down to their bottom lines.”

Salwen says this applies to all firms, not just Google and Facebook. “Most of Corporate America doesn’t fill its seats with 20-something engineers eager to pull all-night hackathons,” he says.

Why is design critical? Three factors:

  • Real estate costs are rising roughly 10 percent a year
  • A scorching war for talent is underway (and expected to worsen)
  • Demand for innovation amid global competition is acute

Only one in four U.S. workers say they have optimal workplace environments, according to a 2013 survey by San Francisco architectural firm Gensler. “Design may be the single most under-leveraged tool in the business world,” says Salwen. David Radcliffe, Google’s VP real estate and workplace services, reveals his Top 5 office planning keys:

  • Coming in to work matters: “We want to create an environment where it feels like they’re missing out if they’re not there.”
  • Valuing accidental encounters: at least half of Google’s space is dedicated to “collaborative environments” – casual meeting places with a couch or a kitchen so workers bump into each other and chat. White boards and plugs for laptops are sprinkled through the office for spontaneous brainstorming.
  • Healthy eco-friendly buildings: Good health helps drive productivity and innovation, so furniture is formaldehyde-free and building materials are free of toxins. Space allows a maximum of natural light.
  • Blend local with Google: Local staff advise on locations, and interiors, using different architects. Each office “starts with a clean sheet of paper.”
  • Go urban: “We love urban cores,” says Radcliffe.

Originally published on in November of last year, this article highlights the significant link between office design and a business’ bottom line. For more information and case studies, visit Salwen’s website,