Well-designed, well-built workplaces mean happy workers – which is good for staff retention and recruitment, says Paul Patenall


This year’s BCO Conference is based on a word I can’t pronounce: “arbejdsglaede” (ah-bites-gleh-the). It hardly rolls off the tongue. I’ve heard the word butchered in all manner of bizarre, cadence-twisting ways since we at the British Council for Offices settled on it as the theme for  this summer’s BCO Conference in Copenhagen. Why, then, have I decided to base this year’s event around something so unpronounceable to so many? 

Well, let’s start with what it means. Arbejdsglaede is the Danish concept of finding joy at work. It is a belief that the workplace should be a place of happiness, that work should spark inspiration. As a concept, it is something that I’m sure most of us agree with or aspire to – even if, some days, a brutal commute or tight deadline can make it feel like a pipe dream. 

Arbejdsglaede is the Danish concept of finding joy at work. It is a belief that the workplace should be a place of happiness, that work should spark inspiration. As an industry, construction plays a key role in supporting this

Also read: Wellbeing: how can we ensure our buildings deliver a better quality of life?

Arbejdsglaede is also a core concept for those who design and build workplaces. We base our designs on what occupiers are aiming to achieve and, regardless of their sector, one of their main priorities is to attract and retain talent. As an industry, construction plays a key role in supporting this aim.

Happy workers stay put, and others are attracted to join them. The workplace plays a key role in creating this happiness. If the workplaces we design and build help create joy for workers, then we’ve done our job. It can be argued that as professionals, we exist to create arbejdsglaede. 

But creating arbejdsglaede is not an easy task. As an industry, we seem to think we’ve cracked it in recent years. Visit a contemporary office and you’re likely to see beanbags, possibly a slide or two, along with a whole host of irreverent design gestures. 

However, there is a risk that we stop trying. That we think a comfortable chair or cafe area or a fun (and rarely used) replacement for stairs is the trick to creating work joy. A certain identikit approach to design has emerged, leaving offices resembling adult playgrounds. Of course, this will create work joy for some – but will it work for everyone?

Arguably, we are prioritising these features over the basics of good building design. We need to listen to occupiers and their staff, then we can work out just what will create their work joy. In doing so, we may find ourselves returning to the basics. In other words, light, space and acoustics – these are the central elements of the office environment.

A visit to Copenhagen shows how workers still value these environment basics. Danish offices have been designed to maximise arbejdsglaede. They are great big spaces, often centred around an atrium that floods the workplace with natural light. These workplaces are the embodiment of work joy – and you can sense the positive impact that they have on the overwhelmingly cheery, engaged employees who work in them. 

Arbejdsglaede may not be easy to pronounce, but I believe it is a term with which our industry will become increasingly familiar. It is a reminder of our core purpose: to make people happy. To make existing staff feel that their workplace offers satisfaction and sanctuary, and to make potential employees feel inspired. If we can create workplaces that do this, then our whole industry will be positively glowing with arbejdsglaede. 

Paul Patenall is BCO conference chair and founding member and director at U+I

The BCO conference takes place in Copenhagen on 5-7 June