When you think of office space, what comes to mind? Perhaps Dilbert and endless rows of cubicles, Milton Waddams and his red Swingline stapler from Office Space, or Dwight Schrute from The Office? While these images may bring a chuckle, the characters have garnered a cult following simply because, WE CAN RELATE.

Perceptions of office space form because of media portrayals and due to daily interaction with our own places of work. The recent meteoric rise of Mad Men on AMC into popular culture reminds us that timeless design is still prized. The cars, wardrobes, immaculate hairstyles and suits represent a time when innovation and design were interchangeable. However, what is our modern interpretation of the office? And what is the tradeoff when low-cost practicality trumps aesthetic and quality?

White-collar workers often inhabit environments that are designed through mathematical formulas; x number of people * x number of square feet * x dollars in the budget. It’s no wonder a majority of office buildings are designed like a giant square beehive. Companies build mathematical wonders, populate the honeycombs with worker-bees, and expect performance.

However, technology, globalization, and demographics are challenging companies to rethink how they do business.

Providing a flexible environment will allow employees to adapt to new ways of working, and increases competitive advantage.

But back to the red Swingline stapler. Craving a unique tool to help perform a job shouldn’t become an obsessive task. Craving a unique environment to draw in employees doesn’t require a budget-busting expense. The right combination of environment fundamentals such as a role-centric design, finishes, lighting, and worktools, can reduce the amount of time employees spend coping with their environments. Instead, employees will focus on the task at hand because their comfort, ability to utilize corporate knowledge, and proximity to team members are inherent to their surroundings.

Google wasn’t the first company to provide a facility designed specifically around the work process and employees’ needs, yet the concept is still considered radical. It doesn’t have to be. Providing the right tools and space to support and inspire your workforce can begin by asking for feedback. Host a brown-bag lunch to collect feedback. If the feedback reveals a larger problem, seek advice from a professional interior designer. Think of office space as a fluid variable that contributes to performance, just like compensation, management style, and technology.

Design is accessible, design inspires, and design can increase productivity. A well-designed work environment will keep pace with the changing needs of your workforce.