Designing A Workplace For The Five Senses


Museums are beautiful places.  I personally enjoy aimlessly walking around a museum and taking in the history that lies within it's walls.  What I cannot understand, is why anyone would design their space to feel like one?   Museums specifically put the focus on the objects they are displaying, and on nothing else. They are not spaces meant to house humans (not living ones at least).  Yet, many people insist on designing workplaces as museums.  When the majority of us spend more time in our workplaces than at home, we can ill afford to be in a place that is cold and inhuman.  What can we do to make our spaces feel more human?

One place to start is with Ilse Crawford’s concept of designing for the 5 senses—designing for the human experience.  It is just as relevant to Workplace as it is to the residential or hospitality fields.  As she states in her book A Frame For Life,At best, an office can act as host to the people that work there—creating the best emotional and physical conditions for them to do their best and an atmosphere of trust that they will do this—and as a space that facilitates co creation among staff and clients.”

Now, how can we start creating a human centered Workplace Experience by designing with the 5 senses in mind?


Are you designing your Workplace with one type of fluorescent or LED light across the entire space, or are you actually considering the type of work your teams will do in each space?  Different types of work require different lighting.  Programming in the right kind of light can make a big difference in productivity and how a space feels.


Have you considered what kind of sounds you do (or don’t) want people to hear in each specific area?  Have you ever accidentally placed desks for quiet work right next to a kitchen with a loud blender?  Designing with intention by defining what the sound levels are for each space in your Workplace will cut down on complaints and foster happiness within your team.


What’s the first thing a guest would smell when they walk into your office?  Is it the smell of freshly ground coffee?  Or is it the smell of the trash cans that weren’t emptied the night before?   Smell is typically the last thing Workplace team considers when designing a space, but it can have a major impact (good or bad).   Even just the absence of smell is not a bad thing necessarily, as smells can be polarizing.  Considering what smells are produced by your space, and where they flow to, is important either way.


Touch is such an incredible sense and it can be used for so many things in Workplace design!  Every day we touch hundreds of objects.  Each object we interact with can inform us, guide us, or even remind us of something.  The textures of objects in a room can even change the way we experience that space.  The textures of furniture  can make the room feel more warm and put us at ease. Would’nt you feel more comfortable having a difficult meeting in a room with a soft - inviting chair,  rather than a room with a hard plastic chair?  Little human-centered details can make all the difference.


Taste is one of the senses that can immediately spark joy.  When we taste something delicious, it can change our whole mood.  Employee food programs are a great way to help brighten people’s day, while improving their health as well.  Psychologically, people will cultivate a positive association with the space in which they had that delicious food memory. 

Human Centered Experiences

These are a few examples of how to apply thinking about the 5 senses to your Workplace, creating a human-centered design.  In reality, it takes time and effort to consider these things.  Considering them, however, is something your company should begin doing immediately.  When you start to design your spaces with the human experience at the center, then you will be creating great Workplace Experiences.

The Workplace Experience Job Titles You Should Retire In 2018 And What You Might Replace Them With

What’s in a name?

While it might be a popular trend for companies to say that “titles don’t matter,” unless you’re staying at that company forever - your previous title might matter  to your next employer.  However, there are a lot of titles in Workplace that simply no longer apply.  If your title is Receptionist and you run a catering program, it might be time for a change. Read below for a rundown of titles to change out to progress your Workplace team into 2018. 

Take a moment and think about where your org is headed and what your team members do. 

Take a moment and think about where your org is headed and what your team members do. 

Old title: Office Manager

New Title: Workplace Experience Manager  

 The Difference:  There are definitely office managers in the world, and they’re great.  They might run a medical office, dental office, or they may work at a larger corporation.  That said, the job specifications in forward thinking startups and other fast scaling companies does not translate to “office manager.”  Workplace Experience professionals run events, design spaces, establish norms, and help keep company culture strong. 

Old title: Facilities Manager

New Title:  Physical Ops Manage

The Difference: Facilities management is a field unto itself, and deserves more respect.  That said, when talking about FM at younger companies, the FM teams typically get handed a whole plethora of jobs that don’t fit a typical FM role.  Just a few examples; educating users on why things went wrong and how they’re getting fixed, researching and integrating new forward thinking solutions  to better improve indoor environments, and creating nationally used standards and processes (and updating them every year as the company grows 2-10x).  There’s a lot more customer facing burden out on these teams at young companies.

Old title: Receptionist

New Title: Concierge Services

The Difference:  Every company I’ve worked at or had close colleagues head off to in the past 8 years have had roles called receptionists or front desk coordinators, but does this really cover the scope of what those team members do?  No!  Today these team members manage programs from the desk.  They do all the hard work behind the programs and wind up with a plethora of odd assignments from different parts of Workplace.  It can be a great learning experience for the right person.  All the while, they’re expected to greet guests, work with vendors, and give candidates a great experience.  They’re the first and last person people interact with, and their position should be seen as vital, not just someone who “receives” people.

Old title: Likely Does Not Currently Exist 

New Title:  Wellness Specialist

 The Difference:  Over the past decade there’s been an increase in awareness of health in the workplace.  This includes not just physical, but mental health as well.  Think beyond ergonomics and “health week.”  These future teammates will help build mindfulness programs, fitness programs, and even help develop healthy standards for internal food programs.  Remember, healthy employees are productive and happy. 

 Thanks, We’ll Keep Our Current Titles

I am of course just one person and have a particular point of view about where the future of workplace is headed. However, all these titles are is suggestions.  I would propose that if you want to create a workplace that is progressive and cares for employees (and cares for those who care for your employees) you will at least consider looking at your current org.  Think about customizing your teams titles to their actual roles and your company culture.  It might just make a difference.



Why You're Not Improving Your Workplace, And Three Things You Can Do About It

Endless amounts of research has been done on the subject of how people work in and interact with their space on a daily basis.  Many have come to consider it the differentiator between a great workplace and an average workplace.  More and more people want to know how to make their space the best, or how to make a space that attracts the best talent.  How do you compete as a smaller company with the likes of Google and Facebook?  The easiest answer for many, is to try and copy what those highly ranked companies are doing.  However, those companies have spent countless amounts of time, dollars, and research into optimizing their spaces to attract / retain top talent.  To be honest though, even they’ve gotten a lot wrong along the way.  So how can you avoid getting it wrong, or at least learn from their mistakes?  Below, I will describe three common elements to creating a great workplace, that are very easy to get wrong.

1) Open Space Planning Vs Providing A Way for Everyone to Work the Way They Want

The open space plan is one of the most controversial subjects in workplace.  Countless articles have been written in regards to the horrors of lost productivity and privacy. However, many large / succesful companies are using this method of space planning.  There’s a major caveat here though:  the succesful ones, are also providing a menu of other types of spaces for employees.


When you open your space up to increase collaboration you also have to give your employees options to work in other ways than just at a desk. The same way not everyone likes to work in a closed office, not everyone likes to work in a coffee shop.  There’s no one type of employee.  It’s important to study your employees and make calculated decisions as a company as to how your employees work together.  You can then create a menu of space (open desks for collaboration, conference rooms for meetings, libraries for seclusion, etc).  

2)  Food programs that increase productivity and encourage community vs Junk food and Energy Drinks 

The endless food and beverage offerings of large tech companies are legendary in the tech communities. “I heard they have pho every day!”  When focused in the right way, a good food program can help foster community, improve the health of your employees, and optimize your employees time.  Now before you go installing a kitchen in your office and pumping out endless pizzas, you should step back and ask yourself why you’re providing food to employees, and what kind of program you want to create?

Mmmm pizza

Mmmm pizza

Believe it or not, your food and beverage program needs clear goals and strategy.  When you reach a point of wanting to provide a service such as this to employees, it’s important to take a moment and formulate a plan.  Are you trying to get your employees to maximize their time at the office?  Are you trying to get your employees to build better relationships with their teammates and other coworkers? Do you want employees staying after hours and just socializing in the office? Once you start to answer some of these questions you can begin to look for more resources to help you implement the proper way.  

There’s no one size fits all solution.  You need to customize your programs to your company, culture, and employees.

3)  You should be Collecting and Utilizing Data to make decisions and improve your workplace.

 It’s very normal for companies who are just getting started to quickly throw desks into a space, and throw up some meeting rooms.  You’ll buy some whiteboards and maybe some couches too.  However, once you start to scale up and grow past your first 100 employees, it’s important to start making data driven decisions.  If no one’s using the couches, or that 50 person board room you thought you needed, then it’s probably time to make some changes. 

Without data - you're just in a maze with no clear direction. 

Without data - you're just in a maze with no clear direction. 


If you measure how your employees utilize their space, what foods they do / dont eat, and even how they feel about the temperature of the office - it can help you build better spaces as your company grows.  However, collecting utilization data is just the first part of the puzzle.  You also need to dedicate time and resources to actively researching best practices and how the workplace is constantly changing. 

Custom Solutions Are Key

In summary, looking at your workplace strategically is vitally important to your company as you grow.  The earlier you begin to look at your workplace as one of your greatest assets for increasing productivity and the overall retention of employees, the better prepared you will be for growth.  There’s no one size fits all solution to workplace programs.  You need to customize your programs to your company, culture, and employees - or risk falling behind the competition.