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Google London Office. Image CC credit Marcin Wichary

How beneficial are whacky designs in a modern day office?

Every time people bring up interiors or office redesigns in print or at conferences you can bet your life it won’t be long before someone brings up “Google’s offices” or something similar. Are these whacky designs actually relevant or beneficial to a modern office? What do workers actually need from an office?

Lynne_Rushen_PolaroidTHE DESIGNER’S VIEW

“The most valuable asset of a 21st century institution (whether business or non-business) will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.” This quote from Peter Drucker’s book “Management Challenges for the 21st Century”, describes the greatest challenge facing management today. Given that fact, it is astounding that most employers have no idea how much productivity they are losing or why. With only 55 per cent of employees stating that the design of their workplace enables them to work productively there would seem to be very significant opportunities for improvement.

The difficulty lies in the limited understanding most businesses have of the factors that impact the performance of employees in their offices. Office redesigns are often lead from an aesthetic and design point of view, rather than with employee wellbeing and productivity at the forefront. Brightly coloured, modern furniture and zoned working areas look great, but often do not live up to their promise of delivering a high performing working environment.

To move forward we need to agree that in every office environment there are factors that impede the productivity and wellbeing of the employees, and only if you are able to identify and measure these influences will you be able to correct them. Adapt’s sister company, Ergo Squad, is an ergonomic/human resource consultancy which uses specialist Comfort Zone software, working closely with employees, to benchmark the current situation, identify inhibiting factors, recommend actions and quantify the benefits of investment.

There are many factors that may have an impact on employee performance.

At an individual workstation level, employee body posture and comfort have a significant impact on productivity, and also on the risk of injury. Correct adjustments of desks and chairs are fundamental, as is ensuring the correct positioning of computers, phones and other frequently used items. Good workstation ergonomics can help you stay comfortable and effective throughout the working day, minimising the risk of musculoskeletal problems, headaches and workplace stress, and reducing absenteeism/presenteeism. Increasing activity levels, either by taking the opportunity for short walks throughout the day, or by using a sit-stand workstation, also plays an important part

At an overall office level, acoustics is the area that employees most frequently say affects them. Providing a choice of working areas, tailored to specific activities is key. Collaborative working zones and various sized meeting rooms should be available for group discussions and joint working, to ensure that these activities do not disrupt the wider workforce. Most individuals require privacy for lengths of time so that they can concentrate, focus on specific tasks and complete projects to deadlines. Distractions can be a major issue in open plan areas, and the addition of acoustic ceiling and wall panels, and privacy panels between desks can often reduce the problem.

Temperature control, air quality, and lighting are all important features of the working environment, which can cause distractions if not optimised. Facilities Managers play a very important role in ensuring office layouts maximise natural light and that the HVAC systems are regularly maintained to ensure they are as effective as possible.

Understanding which factors are having the most impact on productivity and wellbeing in an office is key. Once these have been identified and corrected, sustainable cost reductions through increased engagement, increased productivity and reduced absenteeism should result.

CJ_Howden-polaroid_NEWTHE HR VIEW

I believe whacky office designs usually serve as a talking point more than anything else. However, these ‘out there’ workspaces also draw attention to the fact that it’s important to create an environment for people that’s conducive of the work they actually do. For instance, one tends to associate sexy offices with the likes of Google and Facebook. In fact, the tech realm in general receives its fair share of attention in this regard. There’s a pattern here that’s worth noting. Tech companies, by their very nature, are innovative, transformational and forward-thinking; and the spaces that they create for their staff mirrors these values. I don’t think such swanky offices necessarily make people better at their job but these environments can purport a particular work ethic and attitude that may, in a roundabout way, encourage a more effective way of working.

Regardless of the budget available, I think we can take the learning from these bigger, more grandiose companies and apply it to the more modest organisations out there. Essentially the design of a space should support the workforce and the various tasks that are undertaken under one roof. Data released by Leesman, the world’s largest measure of workplace effectiveness, has shown that the design of the workplace is important to 85 per cent of British workers, with 54 per cent believing that an office environment has a direct impact on workplace culture. Creating and maintaining a positive culture is key when aiming to motivate a workforce and improve productivity… so it’s more about creating a productive workspace, rather than just a snazzy one. On a personal note, I consider myself to be a creative person but I wouldn’t want to travel down a slide to get to the next meeting!

Leesman, has spoken to over 130,000 employees worldwide and, according to their data, only 54 per cent of employees agree the design of their workplace enables them to work productively. In short, the research suggests that employees are increasingly looking for a variety of workspaces, including social, informal areas to collaborate and communicate with colleagues, yet their employers are failing to provide them. FMs should, therefore, endeavour to create an environment that supports a variety of roles and activity profiles. Sector aside, it’s important to offer employees time to think, innovate, and create – and a workplace should be tailored to allow that to happen. It’s about asking how to get the best out of people to making them comfortable in a work setting.

When you’ve grown as rapidly as Servest has, the challenge becomes supporting more and more people in a shrinking office space. We’re reaching the point where we need to consider moving into a new office, in order to accommodate this growth, so for the first time in a long while we’re discussing the design that will assist and aid our employees. For us, collaboration is important, regardless of the divisions or roles in question. It’s essential to remember that people collaborate depending on the projects they’re working on so the space needs to reflect a range of needs. What’s more, I believe that people don’t feel as invested if they don’t have a personal space in which to work. This isn’t necessarily about allowing photographs on desks or anything like that; instead the focus should be on somehow giving employees a sense of belonging – and the space can have a big impact on that.

About Sarah OBeirne


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