Want to Increase Productivity in the Office? Start It with the Right Office Design
For much of the corporate history, office design was pretty much an afterthought and was considered relatively unimportant. That all changed during more recent corporate history. More recently, productivity and social science researchers have conducted objective scientific studies of the correlation between office design and employee productivity, health and well-being.
The latest fad has been open office design – doing away with closed offices and high cubicle walls – which is thought to foster innovation and teamwork. And in fact, it does have a marked positive effect on those two key variables impacting on corporate success. However, more recent studies have shown that open office designs also have significant negative downsides. These include: they’re noisy and disruptive, they significantly lower productivity, they breed resentment among employees, increase absenteeism, and yield increased rates of turnover. Yikes. So, the key question is: is it possible to find a happy medium? Is it possible to combine the benefits of both worlds?
It turns out that the answer is Yes. Judicious use of elements of open office design, combined with judicious, well-thought-out use of elements of more closed office designs, can leverage the best of both worlds. As it turns out, the right answer is that the “one size fits all” philosophy must be replaced with a more tailored approach that carefully considers the specific nature and demands of different kinds of work and making the office design fit with each kind of work. Sort of common sense, isn’t it?
Start with a study
Before you can implement a more tailored approach, you must first clearly understand the nature and environmental requirements of various kinds of work functions. This means conducting a study. This doesn’t have to be complex. It could just be an open-ended questionnaire, plus interviews to get a clear picture of the various kinds of work and environment required.
Two ends of the design spectrum
You will probably find that there are roughly two kinds of work environments required, with the types scattered along a continuum between them. At one end of the continuum is work that is fundamentally team-driven and/or innovation-driven. Here, there is a high need for open information flow and for easy, fluid employee interaction, which requires a more open office design. People who work together on project or innovation teams should be co-located if possible, and either no-cubicle designs or low-cubicle designs should be strongly considered.
At the other end of the spectrum are types of work that require a high degree of uninterrupted concentration and focus, with a minimum of background noise. These are generally technical, analytical jobs such as accounting, engineering, computer design, data analysis and the like. Here, you should consider bringing back elements of a more closed office design, which might include formal offices, cubicles with high, sound-absorbent walls, or “cubbies” away from the din of work areas that are noisier or include a high degree of employee interaction and discussion.
Other design considerations
Beside the innovation/analysis continuum, there are other more broad-based design considerations that apply across the board. Let’s look at them.
If desks are close together in an open office, each employee must contend with people possibly dealing with an irate customer or in a heated discussion with a co-worker, so-called “loud talkers”, endlessly ringing phones, a gaggle of gossiping co-workers, and maybe a chorus of co-workers talking on the phone at the same time. Nobody can concentrate. Recent research has found that productivity levels drop as much as 66% (!) in such very noisy, chaotic areas.
Consider implementing cubicles with high, sound-absorbing partitions, and sound-absorbing acoustic ceiling tiles. Consider dividing the room with high, movable partitions or “walls”, creating sound-absorbing barriers that separate focused work areas from more conversation-driven, interactive work. Consider relocating workstations away from noisy, high-traffic areas and closer to windows away from the office hubbub. Consider creating “cubbies” for highly focused, analytical work demanding quiet.
Having employees customize their workstations with accessories helps them work more comfortably. Think about getting them ergonomic keyboard trays, footrests, anti-glare screens, and desk lamps. Offer them ergonomic furniture– adjustable chairs and standing desks. Incorporate ergonomic bar stools in the break room and kitchen area. You can even think about hiring an ergonomic expert to consult with each employee individually that will help minimize workplace injuries and maximize productivity.
Let’s face it: today’s work environment is saturated with technology. This can be a blessing – or a curse. If workplace technology is outdated, localized (not enterprise-wide), glitch-filled or even non-functional, productivity nosedives. People are consumed with fixing problems and implementing workarounds rather than using seamless workplace automation to speed day-to-day as well as customer-facing processes, give excellent glitch-free presentations, or just plug in workstations to functional power outlets. For some reason, technology tends to be an overlooked resource, which is a large mistake. Bad technology sends productivity down the drain and leads to high levels of employee frustration. So, bite the bullet, spend the required money, and fix it! Watch productivity soar.
Whether you are planning to build a new or revamping your current office, you must think about creating a professional, functional and comfy workspace that can increase overall productivity. The expert team at D2 can help you make it happen. Speak with one of our office design specialists today.