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From a flawed floor plan to an off-putting colour scheme, poor office design not only looks bad, but could also be costing your company. Management Insider talks to the experts to find out why making the most of your workspace also means making the most out of your business.


Anyone in need of some office design inspiration should look no further than Google. The tech giant’s New York office has a conference room set up like a tiny, brick-walled friends-style apartment, with fake subway grates and fire hydrants lining the hallways. Google’s London branch has a garden balcony, with employees volunteering to look after their own flowerbeds. In each of its office spaces around the world, where staff whizz around on scooters and relax in library pods, Google has achieved every boss’ dream: employees and clients go to work ready for a day of adventure, rather than nine-to-five boredom.

Of course, not every office can be – or needs to be – like Google’s. But their quest to create the most innovative office space is a lesson for all businesses: work environment is far too important to be overlooked. Recent global studies have consistently linked stimulating work environments to better performance from employees, as well as to attracting clients.

Local workspaces follow the global trend
This realisation is quickly gaining momentum within the Cambodian business world. Radio France Internationale’s Phnom Penh office is an example of this new design-aware business vision. Located on the top floor of Canadia Tower, it fuses a modern minimalism with traditional Cambodian elements: the cubicle dividers are made from rattan rather than plasterboard. Painted in the red and white company colours, the brightly lit office was designed by French-trained architect Vannak Sathatanak.

“I wanted staff to feel good and motivated” says Jean-François Tain, the managing director of RFI Cambodia. “It’s a quite small space but it’s charming. Our office complements our business and is part of our brand.” His experience has taught him that good office design “doesn’t depend on the money, but the architect’s talents and our imagination. We actually had a very small budget.

In the planning stage, I had a long discussion with Vannak as I wanted to get the best out of him. Luckily he’s a friend, so he was patient with me.”

It’s not just Phnom Penh that’s catching on: Siem Reap’s popular co-working space, The 1961, is famous for its sleek, colourful design, and an open-plan layout reflecting its community ethos.

Inspired workers are productive workers
“We are truly a hybrid space in which ‘office’ and ‘art’ blend seamlessly,” says co-founder Philippe Ceulen. “The art represents creativity and innovation, and we believe the aesthetics of the environment stimulate people to be efficient and productive.”

So how does The 1961’s design affect productivity?

“The secret here is full flexibility and a variety of spaces,” says Ceulen. “There’s no fixed desk space, so you can start fresh every day. People come in and out all the time and start with a clean desk, and a clear mind, to get things done. You interact with the people around you, creating a network or a community. It’s almost like team building.”

Ceulen believes design awareness is improving in Cambodia, but that “many companies or organisations don’t get to design their office space. They have to work with the space that’s available, getting in fast and at low cost.” Yet interior design shops and companies have seen a big shift in attitude in recent years.

Alain Robotang is a French-Cambodian interior designer at Display, an interior decorating concept-store, which has been open for a little more than a year. Display is an airy dome of minimalism, giving breathing space to a few brightly coloured artistic pieces, which add character to his shop floor.

“Phnom Penh is getting more design centric,” Robotang says. “I arrived here five years ago, and most of the shops were small businesses run by expats, and didn’t have any competition. Their design was just what they could do themselves, without much thought being put in. But now Cambodia is getting international faces here, like Aeon Mall for example, creating a new challenge. You can’t just do things by halves anymore.”

Beauty is important but practicality is number one
For Robotang, a professional office appearance is just as important as professional personal appearance. “The shop front or office space is the shortcut of what you are, the business card. It’s important to make a good face for the company.” Beauty, however, is not the most important thing. “Beautiful colours and furniture are not the priority,” he says. “It needs to be easy to use–beauty is nothing without practicality.”

Across town at interior design shop iChing, design projects for new apartments and office spaces are flooding in. “It’s a good business to be in right now,” says Benita Sharp, iChing’s general manager. “Before, offices were just a functional space, but now it’s becoming more about aesthetics and environments. People want to create a personal look.”

She agrees with Robotang that “good entrances with good branding are crucial. That’s the first thing clients will see. Good lighting and layouts in seating areas are essential so employees don’t feel cramped, but still have their own, comfortable space.”

“People spend so much time at work. If you sit in a white box at a grey desk – how uninspired will you feel? But with good design, people will do much better work,” she concludes. “You have to make people’s lives better in order to get good output.”

By Eve Watling | Photograph supplied (Interior Design by Display)