How design can support Mental Health in the Workplace-Part 2

This post that explores the role of Transparency and Community has in creating a workplace that supports mental health.


A few years ago, we did a study of workplace patterns of a major Australian legal firm and found that a small but significant percentage of lawyers had minimal or no contact with their colleagues in a typical work day. They could hide out in their offices all day and avoid human contact. No wonder research shows that lawyers have one of the highest rates of depression amongst office workers. 1.

One of the strategies to address this problem for this law firm was creating a more transparent workplace. i.e. being able to see and be seen in the workplace through architectural elements like:

  • Minimising solid partitioning-even though there were offices they had lots of glass, so colleague could see colleague
  • Breaking bread together-encouraging people not to eat at their desks (including dinner!) by providing a great place to eat. Interesting stat form our study-something like 39% of the lawyers ate dinner at their desk at least once a week.
  • Atriums and connecting stairs-being able to see all parts of the business and visually connecting practice groups. This is a physical reminder that each lawyer is part of a larger community.


Cultures that have a strong sense of community have some of the longest living people in the world.  How do we create a workplace community in the age of flexible and mobile working?We can do this virtually but how about physically? Community is all about communication and developing a common culture. 

We can help enable community by creating opportunities for connections. Some examples are creating pathways that have ‘bump factor‘-places where people naturally bump into each other and can start conversations. I’ve already mentioned the importance of placemaking in Part 1. A hub centred around food and drink is another great way to help create communities. Some organisations facilitate special interest communities by creating spaces for music, gardening and even bee keeping.

With thoughtful planning we can incorporate these planning principles into a workplace design to create connections and foster communities and create a workplace that has a positive impact on mental health.


Growing without growing-how to right size your workplace

New technology means that you can grow your business without growing your headcount. Here’s four ways to make sure you right size your workplace:

Here’s how:

  • Measure how your existing space is being used
  • Develop a core and flexible space strategy
  • Plan for change

A common theme that we’ve come across lately when planning new workplaces is “growing without growing”. This means growing business profitability and revenue without growing staff numbers or even reducing staff. This is happening across all business sectors in Australia.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation means that routine tasks are no longer undertaken by people. Customers accept and embrace doing work that was previously undertaken an organisation. Most of us now accept the reality that to get almost anything done there is an on-line form or a virtual assistant to deal with. Routine tasks have been offshored for a long time now and its only going to increase.

Traditionally workplace strategists and designers asked the question how much will staff numbers grow and how do we plan for growth? Now the question is how do you plan for a workplace that will be area static or even shrink? Combined with the increase in flexible working arrangement, mobile working and economic uncertainty the difference between what you have now and what you need in the future can be significant.

How do you plan for this uncertainty when you are about to renew your lease or relocate to new premises? Here are three things to consider:

Measure how your existing space is being used

An observation study undertaken over a minimum of 2 weeks can show how people are using the workplace vs employed in an enterprise. Combined with a workstyle survey the data can provide a good indication of how many workspaces are required.

Core and Flexible space strategy

Determine what your minimum viable space requirement (core space) is and utilise co-working or flexible space for the rest.

Plan for change

Planning for change can mean flexible lease terms where you structure your lease terms incrementally take up, hand back or sublet space on a regular basis.

The real lesson is don’t just count the number of staff and multiply it by an area per person. You will almost surely get it wrong. A good Workplace Strategy that right sizes your space requirement can save you from paying for space you don’t need.

For more information about how right-size your workplace go to or call me on 0404697318