Work and play?

Work environments today need to be dynamic. A current growing trend has seen traditional office design principles being combined with unique workplace approaches. But is it just a fad or does it really have a positive impact on performance?

More and more commercial furniture dealerships are being asked to create environments that are functional and flexible, adapting to the continuously evolving needs of office workers and enabling companies to increase productivity and profit. Oliver Turley, visiting lecturer in interior architectural design at the University of Wolverhampton explains more: “The interior design of an office certainly has an impact on users and is arguably somewhat forgotten in the design stages of buildings. The architecture is usually thought through from a prestige, financial or design statement point of view, whereas the interior, and in particular the emotional and psychological impact it has on the user can be a second thought.”

The workplace is not only a place of employee retention, but also a key branding tool for companies. Consider Google, whose California headquarters offer bike paths, gourmet cafeterias and a yoga room. The propagation of bean bags, space-hoppers and slides within office environments is encouraging more mainstream blue chip organisations to consider office enhancement. Many are combining partitioned spaces and freestanding furniture solutions to create a more flexible and dynamic workplace. But, with lava lamps and a piano in the lobby – and offices with space for pets, are Google investing wisely?

“Google offices very much reflect current research and thinking about well-designed office spaces and the psychological benefits they have for the workers and therefore the business,” says Oliver. Businesses such as Google, who pay attention to the physical office environment, are thought to be far more likely to increase staff productivity. After all, the workforce is the most valuable asset of any business.

A news report from the British Council for Offices (BCO) and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment this year has found that effective office design can affect workplace performance by up to 11%. Companies are being urged to recognise and implement this within the workplace as evidence suggests that office design influences a range of crucial performance factors such as:

  • staff attraction, motivation and
  • retention
  • staff satisfaction
  • knowledge and skills of staff
  • innovation and creativity
  • responsiveness to business and
  • technological change
  • customer attraction and retention.

Experts suggest that the most effective workplaces are those that offer a combination of different working environments. Open-plan offices utilise space more effectively, aid communication and collaboration between colleagues, but can also be full of aural and visual distractions.

“Modern, open-plan, bland, corporate office spaces that are designed to appeal to a wide range of companies are typical of the problem that is encountered in many modern offices. Because they are designed in this way, often they lack any form of identity, personality or ownership for the actual users – the office staff. Contentment, job satisfaction and productivity issues often develop,” Oliver explains. “Open-plan offices may meet the ideal of shared space and community, but many people are easily distracted and disturbed from their work by colleagues close by or a distance across the room, or, if more confidential matters are being discussed on the phone, staff feel they can be overheard.”

Oliver goes on to explain that bland, generic, ‘clear desk’ offices may also be problematic: “They deprive workers of the psychological and emotional benefits of being in a stimulating environment.  Studies have shown by incorporating colour, personalisation, division of spaces, use of different textures and styles, and relaxation areas and activities etc. that staff are happier at work and more productive.” With new suggestions that people are abandoning the office in favour of working from home, a study from BCO this year has revealed the vast majority of employees (79%) do not work from home at all, dispelling the myth that the bricks and mortar office is a thing of the past.

However, it’s a fact that the traditional definition of an office is changing, as businesses use their website to communicate their brand rather than an office building. Are offices really necessary as we move into a generation of workers reliant on mobile telephony and the internet? This presents a challenge to the workplace, as younger employees expect to work any time or place across public and private spaces.

Their perceptions mean employers need to alter office design in order to embrace this change and help to cultivate younger employees – who do not expect to stay at one company for their entire career. “Creating a stimulating and adaptive physical working environment with access to all modes of communication and working methods is crucial to enable all users within an office to access the tools they need and feel most comfortable and familiar using.” With this in mind, businesses need to invest wisely in order to provide employees with the best possible working environment, creating an office that not only reflects their company, but continues to inspire staff and impress clients.

 

Improve your workplace

Good office design is one of the best rewards an organisation can give its employees.

  • Utilise your space more efficiently – find out how often people are using existing spaces.
  • Does the environment support your employee’s process, or have they been forced to circumvent it?
  • Spatial equity – do your workers have enough space to accomplish tasks?
  • Debate issues on healthfulness, flexibility, comfort, connectivity, reliability and sense of place.
  • Decide what your goals are – make a list of the top priorities you want your redesign to address.
  • Is it time to move? Weigh the merits of a redesign versus relocation.
  • Most importantly, involve your employees in the process, and keep tweaking to continually improve upon your design over time through employee feedback. Constructing a building around the constantly changing work patterns of people can lead to high levels of motivation, commitment and productivity.

 

Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre

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enquiries@wolverhamptonbsc.com
www.wlv.ac.uk/knowledge