Just how does our office environment affect our productivity” Robert Leigh, director of Devono, specialists in acquiring office space for businesses, explains. “Form follows function” is the phrase first coined by pre-eminent 20th century designer and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His designs epitomised just this: total functionality for the sake of its occupants while the design was merely an outfit for its purpose.
The reality is that we don’t all work in Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and office environments differ vastly all over the world. In fact, most people work in very average spaces. So, just what effect does our working environment have on our productivity at work? The effect of physical surroundings on workforce According to The Work Foundation, 73 per cent of employees are not satisfied with the work environment at their current jobs. Furthermore, 51 per cent of employees would then go on to leave their jobs because they are dissatisfied with their work environment*. This is hugely revealing. This is not a work performance issue yet can impact on it greatly. The statistics become even more interesting. Eighty-five per cent of UK office staff say that their working environment inhibits their creativity*. A further 25 per cent of employees “have serious complaints” about various office environment factors. These figures clearly demonstrate that office space not only affects productivity, but dictates it. Perhaps we are missing a wider issue here. Company directors and HR managers spend millions each year on motivation, performance improvement techniques and incentives, but do they ever stop and give enough thought to one of the most important factors that affects people’s performance, their physical environment, and accordingly assign a proportionate budget for this?
A study of IBM mobile employees found that, through careful space design, 52 per cent could work more effectively and around 66 per cent felt more satisfied with their jobs. Studies have shown that employees who are pleased with their physical work places are 31 per cent more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.
A whole organisation’s performance can be affected up to 15 per cent by design management and use of space. These figures indicate that employees will thrive on an improved workspace. Improving the workspace will not just impact on productivity within the organisation but also greatly improve its image externally. Recruitment and staff retention While not all companies can offer lunch rooms, zen zones or outside gardens, the office design plays a key role in attracting the right people to your organisation. Forty-one per cent of employees and job seekers say the office environment played a significant role in their decision to accept a position.
Striking the balance Although there is no magic solution to creating the perfect office environment, there is basic due diligence which should be taken into account when planning an office space. Architects and designers today are developing new models of working space which aim to “empower workers” by creating interaction and cross-fertilisation of ideas. The thinking behind this is to create traditional communities, social connections and professional interaction.
This also means the death of the cellular office as we know it. Workspaces producing optimum results are those which allow the office to be more of a club where people are made to interact. The Japanese concept of open plan offices, stemming back to the 1970s, is very much the successful formula of the future. ‘Magnet facilities’ – areas which will draw together all staff at some point, such tea and coffee areas and photocopiers should be set up in public areas to stimulate interaction. They are usually combined with hotdesking and flexible space systems where staff use workspaces more efficiently.
At the same time as investing in well-designed common areas intended for social interaction, employees most value their own defined personal workspace, ie, their own desk with reasonable storage facilities and a comfortable chair.
I have heard stories from Japan, where space is at a real premium, that employees stay later after work to move their workspaces out by a few inches in the hope that their colleagues won’t notice. Are the results worth the financial investment? There is a discrepancy between what designers and architects recommend and what employers do. Very few offices are actually custom-built. Around a fifth of UK offices fail to provide an adequate work environment.
This so-called ‘bad space’ can be a serious problem. Why does this happen” Simple. Cost. Most office design is based on cost minimalisation, very seldom on the work destined to be done there. The next reason is size. Small companies with limited resources dominate the UK economy and their owners hardly have the time or resources to be generous with the space they provide. It’s evident that poorly designed and managed workplaces impair employee’s physical and mental well-being. Companies that don’t put thought into well-grounded strategies in their workplace, stand the risk of losing money through productivity while relationships with employees are affected.
Essentially, the investment in more productive, comfortable workplace will ultimately be an investment in future employee productivity.