Guest blog with Megan Fenney, director at HR Download Ltd

Designing for Colleagues

Megan Fenney, HR Download Ltd

There are so many ways that office design can enrich employee experience in the workplace and it is therefore becoming an increasingly important tool in talent attraction and retention as well as improving wellbeing and reducing sick days. But what more can be done?

This month I would like to introduce Megan Fenney to the blog and hope that you all enjoy the conversation I had with her which allowed me to tap into her 17 years’ experience of working in HR roles for the likes of the HM Prison Service, the NHS, Manchester Airport Group and Shell.

Toni- “As an interior designer there are many ways we can get involved with a client to help them get the best from their workforce, from finding the right location, to creating great fitness spaces within an office and even installing multi-use therapy rooms. But what I wanted to ask you as a HR professional who is used to dealing with problems in all areas of employment, is we could do more?”

Megan- “Office space is so often overlooked in business and we don’t always realise that peak performance is linked to the environment we are working within. From my experience, the two best ways to stimulate what we call ‘the zone’ (you totally know what that is when you’ve been in it) is music and smell. Music is a great way to create a relaxed working environment, it’s also a great way to inspire and motivate, so let your people play it. Having said that, headphones are a must as music appreciation is very individual and therefore staff need to feel in control of it.

“Introducing a stimulating smell that is both performance enhancing and comforting is a brilliant way to boost your workforce. Being calm is also linked to tapping into the depths of the creative mind that lives within all of us so can help with brainstorming and problem solving.”

Toni- “I haven’t considered smell… other than trying to convince people not to eat at desks! That is so interesting and you are right. I love a nice reed diffuser! My home is full of them.

“As designers we are sometimes involved in the cafe or vending offerings for a business and I feel this is a real opportunity to open up the conversation about healthy eating.”

Megan- “Any conversation around healthy eating is a bonus. It makes a huge difference to concentration levels and helping to keep people bright and alert throughout the day. The thing about the brain and its link to top performance is actually really simple and obvious, but often we ignore our needs and the needs of those around us. My laws of brain care (as I call them) are:

1. Sleep. Some offices enable this during the working day though to be honest I am not a fan of sleeping in the office as it reduces collaboration and starts office gossip which is what you’re trying to avoid.

2. Food. So our nutrients are key to ensuring we are right on it, I see so many offices with unhealthy sluggish foods in them and it’s simply contradictory to everything we scientifically understand about our bodies. As organisational leaders we need to pay attention to what we are encouraging to ensure its right for our people and what they’re capable of.

3. Water. We are essentially sacks of water, so having an office that has easy access to water for everyone is a real key ingredient to energy levels and therefore sustained focus.

4. Movement. It doesn’t need to be the gym or anything as elaborate as that. Encouraging small changes like getting rid of the board room table in favour of strong thinking zones for instance and we should all have stand up meeting room capability. Despite this being for the majority of us more inclusive and engaging, its got some strong science behind movement helping blood flow to the brain to help us stay awake, involved and at our best.

5. Talking through problems when we are just at the point of being stuck is really key to unlocking further ability to solve solutions, so collaboration break out spaces are helpful and they need to be inviting, warm and somewhere people want to go to talk through.

6. Just allowing yourself 24 hours to ponder on the problem is helpful – nothing to do with the space itself but without the six my laws of brain care are not complete.”

Toni– “ha ha that is so interesting. The Chinese have long been advocates of sleeping at their desks and sleep pods are being seen more in American offices. It is not something I have been asked for yet!

“What do you think about personality types and how introverts and extroverts may have different requirements from their office space?”

Megan– “In terms of the office space it is important to create spaces that help all the different personalities in the business. I think we are becoming a lot more aware that working doesn’t always involve a desk. Introverts sometimes get overlooked in favour of the high energy, stimulated extroverts, but they really need a quiet place to go and recharge.”

Toni– “So true and as an extrovert I guess I attract a lot of extroverts as the people I work with tend to want the busy, team focused breakout spaces.

I recently worked with a Feng Shui expert, Liz Wells from Harmonious Solutions on a project and she pushed us to include a yin space. Basically a quiet zone where individuals can take 10 minutes out. It is definitely something I am more aware of.”

Megan– “Certain industries do seem to attract a greater percentage of introverts. I have spent a lot of time working with engineers in Shell and Air Products and they could do with more quiet zones.

“Another interesting factor is colour. I get involved in a lot of training and yellow is fantastic for calming and focusing the mind. We like to have a bunch of yellow flowers in the room, yellow fruit etc. Simple little details that can really improve the information retention level of the course.”

Toni- “Fascinating and so easy to do. What about working parents – both of us are working parents so what can employers and designers make it easier?”

Megan- “Flexible working is such a hot topic at the moment and big changes are happening which is fantastic but the UK still has a long way to go.

“We create organisations at the moment that are still focused on employees being present, however many cultures are starting to let go of this and are advancing swifter into flexible working/ home working although in the UK I don’t believe we are there yet. True flexibility would enable strong knowledgeable senior leaders to stay working at those senior levels with children or dependent parents or grandparents, and that is not happening just yet.”

Toni- “We tend to look to the IT infrastructure to allow home working but in terms of office design there is the odd occasion when you do just have to bring your kids into work. From my experience the break out spaces really do then come into their own!”

Megan- “Absolutely and we still need to get better at understanding how we pay, rather than by the hour should it be by impact and productivity?”

Toni- “What do you think about managing stress at work. Mental health awareness?”

Megan- “All of this together is a really strong way to encourage strong mental health. The additional element for me is the importance of bringing the outside into the office space as much as we can. It is something I am becoming much more interested in lately, the emergence of the tree walking therapy and green space therapy, and its link to neuroscience will undoubtedly start to appear in advanced offices soon.

“For now I think ensuring there are large windows to get natural light into the building is important and if you can’t get that, then thinking about lightbulbs that emanate natural light is essential. Without natural light you need to consider how you have plants in the building, another critical element and I would suggest simple bouquets will help. These small but key elements all together will create a tranquil space for all your people to thrive.”

Toni- “Absolutely and I love the therapy rooms in offices. A recruitment firm I spoke to have a therapist in once a week and staff can just pop in and talk to an outsider which I think could be really valuable.

Wow, well thank you so much Megan for your time and valued thoughts. We have touched on so much here that would just make life that little bit easier and brighter at work. How fantastic will it be when all offices incorporate all of these points and more!”

Megan Fenney is a director at HR Download Ltd, a new HR consultancy offering tailored HR solutions and a coaching arm for those driven to rise through the ranks of corporate business. Megan is also in the process of developing her own online HR resource, a super convenient way for employers to offer compassionate employment. You can contact Megan by emailing