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Tailored space

The working environment is an essential element to work performance, one that can make or break a business. But should the employees fit the environment, or should the environment be tailored to suit the needs of the employees? asks Murray Hibbert, Director at Habit Action

Did you know that employees who have to hot desk can waste up to two weeks of their working year just finding somewhere to sit ? How efficient is that? Is it indicative of a process that is simply failing, or does the blame lie at the need to hot desk in the first place, because of office space constraints? How many businesses forget that their workforce is their biggest asset and accessory to profit?

Any upwardly mobile business relies on optimum performance from its employees and business processes. Developing the perfect workplace environment is a key influencer on both of those elements – but one that in the past has often been overlooked.

No two businesses are the same, yet you would be surprised how many businesses aspire to want a bit of this working environment, and a bit of that without any consideration to whether it is right for their employees and business style.

Having been in the design build industry for more than 14 years, I know that one of the smartest ways to create a working environment which ‘works’, is to uniquely tailor a space for each business.

There are several workspace approaches that have a direct impact on workplace culture and employee motivation, and it is vital to get that balance right.

The open plan office continues to be the dominant type of office layout with UK workers more likely to be in open plan offices than any other European country . This approach can foster team spirit and generate a “buzz” environment where people bounce ideas off one another. But is it conducive to the best needs of your business and your employees?

An open plan office leaves little room for privacy, while noise generated can often be distracting and unhealthy for employees needing some peace and quiet to optimise the quality of their work, sometimes leading to employee stress.

Those employees who work within private offices or cubicles tend to report it provides a sense of ‘personal office space’ and affords an element of privacy. On the flip side, it can also lead to feeling isolated from colleagues and is an environment less geared towards sharing ideas.

The shared workspace culture is one where employees are not assigned a specific desk. This can make better use of office space, but as we have already seen, research has suggested that hot desking can cause frustrations and wasted time. It can also leave employees feeling disengaged.

So-called “agile” working gives employees more control of their work arrangements, with the scope to work where they want and when they want. This frees-up workspace for the business, potentially saving costs and can also give employees more of a sense of freedom. On the downside, employees can feel isolated and disengaged, and not involved in making key decisions.

The science of establishing what constitutes the best working environment is an eclectic mix of technology, opinions and collaboration.

The aim is to establish pertinent facts about the business, how it works, what its employees think and how the perfect workplace looks for that specific client, which is what we do at Habit Action.

Following an initial research stage which involves talking to the management team and workforce, to establish a variety of elements of the business, the science comes courtesy of technology.

Data is derived by using an app, which records how often areas of the office are used over a period of time, building a clear picture of office ‘hotspots’ and areas which are underutilised.

This process has enabled us to identify that whilst open-plan desking remains predominate in the UK, only 25 per cent of the work carried out in office space is suitable for this layout. We’ve also established that 30 per cent of office space is underutilised or even completely wasted.

Identifying this type of insight gives businesses peace of mind when making decisions about the future of their workplace.

Creating the perfect designer workspace that best suits a client’s needs first requires a rigorous analysis of all aspects of the business.

The design process is very much people-driven and needs to incorporate the views not only of management and HR, but all employees, including those in IT and those on the shop floor. Those conversations are critical to fostering cultural and operational change.

The design stage can also introduce new functional areas to help nurture a vibrant, creative culture. Break-out areas can enable employees to mix and socialise or share ideas. Quiet zones can allow employees the perfect environment in which to concentrate.

That might encompass different types of furniture; perhaps even scented; it might be the creation of standing-only areas for work, or quiet areas for those times when concentration and peace are at a premium.

Created space could be used to develop breakout areas for fun staff activities such as gaming or maybe table tennis. Alternatively, innovative meeting areas could be created, such as railway carriages – both a novelty and a convenient workspace area with acoustic considerations.

Whatever it takes, the smallest changes can make a huge difference in work conditions and performance. They can improve employee attendance and wellbeing and even help to attract new talent.

By adopting an analytical approach and building a picture of company culture, workspace usage and requirements and management and employee feedback, it is possible to create amazing workspaces that inspire and help foster new workplace cultures.


About Sarah OBeirne

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