As businesses everywhere are tightening their belts, optimizing productivity among employees is becoming increasingly important. In addition to obvious factors like efficient management and employee incentives, the design of office space is a significant factor in increasing workplace productivity.
Architects and interior designers take many factors into consideration when designing interior spaces. They are well aware that the physical work environment has a direct psychological impact on people, affecting their behavior, emotions and thoughts. Creating a well-designed environment is just as important as building a functional one, since good design boosts creativity and productivity.
There are numerous factors that come into play when considering good office design: lighting, temperature, color, noise levels, furniture, space layout, among others. Here are a few key considerations. By selecting ergonomic chairs and workstations to maximize physical comfort, or by installing shelving and cabinets to keep the work area tidy, you can help increase employee productivity. However there is something that has a much more pronounced effect on employee function and psychology: the overall space plan. Planning an office space layout is not unlike urban planning, in that people need both public and private spaces to function adequately and productively. By applying the urban planning model to office space design, the ideal office layout should have both private and public meeting spaces, private office and more public ones (cubicles), and various passageways to allow for easy traffic flow, such as hallways and corridors.
How does this urban planning model play out in terms of office productivity? Office assistants, for example, are generally situated in spaces that are more ‘public’, often close to the main passageways so that they are more accessible to their supervisors and other staff members. In contrast, more senior management tend to have offices with doors so that they are able to hold private meetings or work in seclusion if their tasks require a deeper level of concentration. Of course, the company culture will ultimately dictate where senior management put their offices. It is a trend among some types of companies for managers and CEOs to sit in open workstations along with their staff, so as to appear more accessible. When a city is planned well, the communication channels are well-designed and accessible so that people feel a sense of community and togetherness. In the same way an office layout will dictate the sense of community that the employees feel. The office layout influences the manner in which the staff communicate with each other, the length and quality of their interactions, how they socialize, and ultimately how they learn from each other in both formal and informal ways. When planning the office design, a balance needs to be struck between the ability to interact in open spaces and the ability to work in privacy. This means it is critical to take into consideration the specific job requirements of all of the staff members when planning an office layout. Depending on an individual’s tasks, some employees will need a higher level of privacy to allow for deeper concentration while others will need to be in communication at all times. For example, a tight corner cubicle with high panels would not be suitable for people in a creative role who need to be in constant communication with their team. Sales people, on the other hand, may need to be in quieter, enclosed spaces so that they can carry on confidential phone conversations or conduct meetings in private. Either way, whether the office space is more open-concept or has more private offices, it is always a good idea to designate rooms for coffee breaks and office equipment to an area away from the main workstations. In this way the noise level will not bother other staff members.
Having access to good artificial lighting or daylight is known to increase productivity. When people work under bad lighting conditions, they can develop eyestrain, headaches and general irritability. Particularly dark spaces can have a pronounced psychological effect and depress the brain. Employees should have access to their own lighting so that they can make the necessary lighting adjustments depending on the task they are carrying out. Well-designed artificial lighting will increase functionality, however, there is no comparison to natural daylight, and this should be maximized wherever possible. Windows provide a connection to the outside world and should be used whenever the building design allows for it. Open plan layouts that employ low cubicle panels or glass panels can maximize the entry of natural light into the office. Skylights are also a good alternative when windows are not an option. Employees have difficulty working productively in noisy environments, since stress levels increase and concentration is lowered. There are many design tricks architects can employ to deal with poor acoustics. Using the correct materials in the correct location is key to achieving the proper level of sound absorption. For example, ceiling tiles should generally be applied at a low ceiling height. If the ceiling is very high, then other methods need to be applied, such as lining the walls with fabric banners or acoustical wall panels to avoid the sound bouncing off of drywall or other non-absorbent materials. To keep voices from traveling too far, it is useful to places highly-absorbent materials at mouth level throughout the office. Another effective technique in limiting a noisy environment is to create a monotone background sound known as white noise. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as through the strategic placement of fans and air conditioners, the use of water fountains or by installing a sound masking audio system. There’s no question about it – an attractive office space increases employee creativity, productivity and overall morale. Designer offices tend to attract and keep their employees longer than more unattractive ones, and good workplace design is one of the top key factors that affect job satisfaction. In fact, it has been suggested that a well-designed office can increase productivity by about 20%. Although many companies do not see investing in good workplace design as a priority (almost half), almost 9 out of 10 employees claim that the quality of their work environment directly affects their attitude toward work. It seems, then, that it would be foolish for employers not to try and find good design solutions to boost productivity – in the end it will be a worthwhile and satisfactory investment for everyone.