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BCO chief: ‘Happier Danish office workers enjoy twice the space of UK employees’

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Paul Patenall, incoming president of the British Council for Offices (BCO), says miserable Brits have a lot to learn from joyous Danish workplace design 

Denmark is celebrated as one of the happiest countries in the world. Often, like many Scandinavian countries, the country is presented as a sort of utopia.

Even in the office, Danish working life is built on the concept of arbejdsglæde. This literally translates as ‘joy at work’.

Arbejdsglæde stresses the value of an office that brings happiness to work, while maintaining the importance of balancing this with a life beyond the office’s four walls.

Broadly speaking there are three main principles which Danish architects follow – and which we can keep in mind for our own work.

Let there be light 

The long, dark winters mean that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Danish architecture prioritises access to natural daylight. This is more than an aesthetic preference; Danish regulation requires all workers to have their desks near some source of natural light. This means offices are often centred around large, open atriums and spaces have generously high ceilings, drawing the light in.

3XN's own offices

3XN’s own offices

Source: R Hjortshoj

3XN’s own offices

Here in the UK, we speak often about the benefits of daylight, for both the occupiers and, via boosted productivity, a business’s bottom line. While designing light into a workplace can be tricky, there are some great local of examples of how it’s done. Take Michael Laird Architects’ 2 Semple Street. The newly redesigned office now incorporates adjustable floorplates which maximise natural daylight throughout the space. Such innovation is inspiring – and it’s about time that more offices followed this example.

Room to breathe

The Danish emphasis on health and happiness means Danes expect a higher quality of life. This expectation saturates into the workplace and drives the demand for openness and space at work.

The result? Danish workers enjoy more than double the space of those in the UK. Offices are built to a density of 20m². In comparison, office densities in the UK average about 9.6m², and as low as 6m² in London.

We should think twice before fitting another meeting space or plonking in a ping-pong table

Sadly, our offices in the UK are unlikely to ever be as spacious as Copenhagen’s, but we can defend the space we do have. We should think twice before fitting another meeting space or plonking in a ping pong table, and instead keep areas spacious.

Keeping people moving

Healthy, happy people tend to also be mobile. It’s hard to feel arbejdsglæde if you’re inactive. For this reason, Danes value their stairways and eschew the lift.

Danish offices often centre around a beautifully designed staircase, often connecting different sides of an atrium. As part of this design, lifts are treated as a secondary means of vertical circulation, with employees encouraged to be more active throughout the day. In sum, it creates a sense of activity and life in an office.

Of course, Copenhagen’s low-rise buildings are perfectly suited to stairs. However, there is no reason why we can’t give them a more prominent roles in high-rise buildings, too. Look to King’s Cross, where Havas’ office boldly incorporates a zig-zagging stair design across its floors.

Copenhagen is a city full of superb office designs. Commercially, we may not be able to replicate them like-for-like here in the UK. But, at the very least, we can be inspired by the Danish capital and look to create our own form of abejdsglæde.

This year’s BCO Conference takes place in Copenhagen from 5 to 7 June

UN City - the new regional head office of the United Nations by 3XN

UN City - the new regional head office of the United Nations by 3XN

Source: Adam Moerk

UN City - the new regional head office of the United Nations by 3XN 

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