The open office design craze of years past turned what we know about office design on its ear and on its heels. Studies show a distinctly negative impact on productivity as a result. On the one hand, open offices breed amazing innovation. On the other, they're disruptive and propagate employee resentment, lower productivity, increase absenteeism, and result in higher turnover. So how does a savvy company achieve the best of both worlds in their office design?
Workplace productivity isn't always quantifiable, especially for workers whose jobs require more analyses and thought processes.
Ideas and project development don't have a manufacturing time. So how do you measure productivity for this? Part of it is through the employee's job satisfaction. Do they feel they're doing a good job? Sometimes, it's simply a matter of asking. If a company's employees believe they're getting the job done in an efficient manner while maintaining a happiness and well-being standard, and their output is in line with the company's mission, then they're productive. But are they productive enough? And what can employers do to facilitate that company culture and environment for their workforce?
Begin With Data
Many results about employee productivity can be found by conducting surveys and learning the pain points of their average workday. Are noise levels appropriate? If not, do they have somewhere quiet to go where they can concentrate? Are there enough seats in the areas where projects can be developed? And even, most basically, are the facilities convenient to the employees?
Change Up Amenities
Sometimes it's as simple as amenities that make life easier. While having that game room, or the soundproof music room can be a great place for employees to recharge their batteries, collaborate with colleagues, or just relax for a few minutes, they're not the only things companies can do. Not all amenities are luxuries.
Vending machines with healthy snacks can improve employee experience, too, as well as their health. It's unfortunate if someone wants an apple for a mid-afternoon snack but is forced to choose between sodium-laden pretzels or a candy bar guaranteed to give them a sugar crash in two hours.
On-site services. Are your employees leaving before the work is done due to outside life responsibilities? Perhaps an on-site childcare option can help workers who are young parents avoid an extra stop on their commute, as well as ensure if they need an extra half hour to finish a project, they won't be missing daycare closing times or relying on relatives to pick up their children. Older employees might appreciate an on-site clinic to help them avoid absenteeism for doctor's checkups. Maybe providing free food all day helps employees stay on campus at meal times that could vary throughout the day based on their busy schedules. Not all companies can afford to feed their employees, but consider working out discount deals with close-by restaurants or food trucks, and give employees the closest, healthiest options to choose from.
Improve and Automate Technology
While tech has changed the face of business today, it also comes with its downsides. When employees spend their time figuring out glitches rather than doing their jobs, productivity nosedives. Make sure all of the office tech is up-to-date and in good working order. Do as much automating of functions as possible, from meeting room software that chooses rooms and times based on employee schedules and presentation requirements, to wireless presentation hardware that talks with employee devices. The more technology you can place in the structure of your networking systems, the better. Time spent hunting down the right adaptor to plug into the conference room projection equipment is time wasted.
Reduce The Noise
The person on the left is on a conference call with coworkers in another state. The person on the right is speaking with the department leader from the marketing team about the newest campaign's data analysis. Three desks over, the phone's ringing and no one's answering, and that deadline is two hours away. There's no concentration to be found in such chaos. But could there be?
Research shows productivity drops as much as 66% in a chaotic room filled with background noise. There are options to mitigate this. Acoustics can be dampened through sound-absorbing ceiling tiles. White noise machines strategically placed throughout the workspace can overpower some distractions. Private cubbies can give employees a workstation that shuts out the hubbub.
Consider layout, too. Are there a lot of workstations located near high-traffic areas where people congregate? Consider rearranging the furniture to put those workstations closer to windows, or farther from stairs and elevators. Create barriers in a big, open room to section off some parts for conversation, and some parts for more focused work. If employees don't have an assigned workstation and are free to move about the company, provide more little cubby holes for them to work. They know their workload best, and if they have a day of head-down, concentration-heavy work, knowing where they can find peace can be a stress relief.
Bring In Natural Light and Fresh Air
Study after study has shown natural light helps employee engagement. Are the windows in your office building big enough? Are skylights an option to let in more light? Are rooms claustrophobic when they don't need to be?
Eye strain and headaches caused by fluorescent lighting contribute to absenteeism, general malaise, and overall lower productivity in employees more than nearly any other feature of the modern office. So if you have great windows but they're covered up, raise those blinds. Pull back those curtains.
Recycled air is another contributor to employee sickness and absenteeism. The spread of flu and colds through an out-of-date HVAC system can derail your company's work. Plants can also contribute to cleaner, better quality air. Greenery exchanges bad air for good, and it has the added bonus of providing employees with an atmosphere of calm and peace. Biophilic office spaces are on the rise with good reason.
But sometimes, sickness is inevitable. Giving employees adequate sick time in their benefits package will help them keep the winter colds at home. Sometimes, the best sick leave policy is, "If you're sick, leave." If your employees know they can take time to recover from an illness without stressing their company standing, they'll return healthier and more ready to work than ever.
Movement is one of the fastest ways to rejuvenate tired employees. This can be done in simple, cost-effective ways like arranging the furniture to require workers to walk around. Putting bathrooms more than a few paces from clusters of desks, leaving room for long walkways to the break room or conference rooms, and even having grounds that encourage walking from parking to the doors gets people up and moving through out the day. Outdoor spaces with work areas are good for milder weather months, and growing gardens in those places can be desirable for a ten-minute walk away from the phones and screens.
Sometimes just being able to simultaneously stand and work helps. Sit-stand desks are growing in popularity, giving people the chance to stand, stretch, and shake out tired limbs. Ergonomic chairs help with posture and minimize repetitive motion injuries. Even providing space to allow employees quiet moments to themselves, such as yoga or stretching rooms, or a place for meditation can help when they hit a mental wall.
Being mindful of the significant design changes that impact employees' wellbeing, such as incorporating biophilia, collaborate workspaces, and natural light, to the smaller and also meaningful updates like healthier food options, is the difference between a lackluster workforce and an energized one. Happy employees are more productive employees and that's good for everyone's job satisfaction.