Our perspective on the Harvard Business Review’s 7 factors of great office design

By 20th June 2018 July 19th, 2018 Interior Design, Office Design Tips

We took a look at the seven factors the Harvard Business Review said it takes to make a great office design… and gave our take.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a stable in the world of information and a well-respected source many turn to when looking for insights. In 2016, they published an article on the seven factors that make up a great office design. As commercial interior designers, we couldn’t help but look at this article from our own experience having been in the industry for so many years.

In this article, HBR start off by talking about the fact that smart companies should understand that their workspaces are a business tool, and this is a message we’ve always felt strongly about. Design is very subjective but the factors that make a design great are grounded in key pillars that ensure a space works both for form and function, even if the person using the space doesn’t realise it.

Much like our own thinking, this article points out the very important consideration: “an office environment reflects and reinforces a business’s core values, through the placement of different teams and functions and design elements that reflect culture, brand, and values.”

What does that mean from a designer perspective? Ask questions, and questions, and more questions!


“The more questions you can ask, the more information can be gleaned in order to generate the best solution.” – Derek Stedman, time&space CFO



So, let’s see what HBR said are the seven factors to consider, and the questions you should be asking:

HBR talk about the importance of a business finding the sweet spot between supporting collaboration and providing space for quiet work. We agree with this, finding the right balance, one that works for your business, employees, and culture is important.

What they have done is created a continuum to give you a guide on how to look at your needs for a space before choosing a design. The continuum works by looking at each factor and thinking about things that happen on a daily basis, like team meetings, to establish which side of the continuum they should favour.

These are the seven defining factors of a physical workspace that they identified and the continuum:

Let’s unpack what they say here and the questions you should be asking to help you identify your needs beyond saying things like, “We need more collaborative meeting space”.

  1. Location – This is not the physical location of the office space but rather the location of people and workspaces in the office. The question to ask here are things like, how centralised should your workspaces be? Does a collaborative space need to be accessible to everyone or just small groups?
  2. Enclosure – This focuses on the physical elements of the space, like walls, doors or even the ceiling. The questions to ask here are things like: what boundaries need to be established for teams to function? Where or what can you put as a boundary if you have an open plan space? Hint: plants make great boundaries.
  3. Exposure – Think about how much visual or acoustic privacy your space will need to offer. The questions to ask here are things like: if your business requires a lot of meetings, will the team have the privacy they need?
  4. Technology – We live in a technology-driven world and designing your space to ensure it accommodates the technology you need is important. The questions to ask here are things like: how will technology support your use of the space? How well is your space outfitted to accommodate new tech?
  5. Temporality – This is about the longevity of your space. The questions to ask here are things like: how long do you expect a meeting to last? Does the space make them feel like they are able to linger if need be?
  6. Perspective – This is about how people perceive the space and which kind of space will work best for your team. The questions to ask here are things like: will my team thrive in a lively environment or do they need a calm one?
  7. Size – This is the square footage of the space. The questions to ask here are things like: how many people attend a meeting? What is the typical size of a team? Asking these questions is just one way to help you decide on the square footage you might need. We recommend looking into our space pairing service for a more accurate and cost-saving option.

Our final thoughts

Overall it’s a good article that gives some nice guidance and starting points on how to look at your space in a more holistic way. Though this article is quite generic and doesn’t apply to all types of workspaces, it’s also a concept that will more than likely work better for the upper end of the market as circumstances of the middle or lower end, especially in South Africa, might not be able to apply these factors. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that every client is different with different needs and wants.

Read Harvard Business Review full article here: https://hbr.org/2016/05/7-factors-of-great-office-design or watch the video here: https://hbr.org/video/5088414035001/what-great-office-design-actually-looks-like.

Before you can start creating a productive workspace you need to understand how much physical space you actually need. Not sure how much space you need for your office? Try our Space Calculator:

Try our Space Calculator

time&space team

Author time&space team

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