Where you work has a big impact on how productive you can be on the job. An employee's physical environment is considered the single most significant factor in determining their ability to focus. While this might be the most important factor, nearly half of employers don’t see spending additional money on a “good workplace design” as a worthwhile investment.
One of the modern trends in office design is the “open-plan.” This usually consists of long tables with rows of chairs and computers on either side or some variation of small, closely-spaced desks without enclosures. It can save space and be cheaper to set up than large individual desks or offices. The justification for this design is that it is believed to increase productivity by encouraging collaboration among employees. However, in a recent study, employees in open-plan offices actually spent 73% less time collaborating face-to-face.
Other research suggests that open-plan work environments make it difficult for employees to focus due to the lack of privacy and space. High-density rooms can result in poor design, increasing distractions and bearing a cognitive load on workers, making it more difficult to concentrate. When employees can’t concentrate, their work suffers and they also tend to communicate less as a result. If you want to keep an open office design, try providing barriers between the desks, or allow a large amount of desk space in between each person to give employees ample work space and privacy.
If you have clients coming to visit your office frequently—you have even more reason to invest in improving the look and feel of your office. It will increase your clients’ confidence in you and your brand, as well as setting a better overall tone for your meetings with them.
Designs and trends can change and evolve over time. Different people work well in different kinds of environments—some better in high-energy, collaborative environments—some better in quiet, remote office spaces. Keeping workers collaborating and increasing productivity while maintaining individual space and privacy for each employee can be a difficult balance to maintain.
I don’t think there is one magical solution for all offices; here are 10 ways that you can have a great office without committing to a wacky catch-all design plan. Some of these simple tips can encourage more productivity.
1. Good Lighting
Bad lighting can cause fatigue, eye strain, headaches, and overall irritability. Bringing in natural light can really help the atmosphere of an office.
2. Comfortable Desks
Have comfortable chairs and tables that fit each other in your office. Being uncomfortable in one’s desk chair, or feeling like the chair-to-desk size ratio is off, can be a constant impediment throughout the day; whether it be due to physical discomfort, difficulty seeing the computer, or the inability to comfortably reach one’s desk.
3. Noise Level
Depending on the kind of team you work with and how large it is, the noise level can vary in each office. If possible, offer quiet workspaces for those who prefer privacy and quiet. If you work at a noisy office and can’t avoid being around it, bring headphones and play soothing music, focus music, or white noise sounds to keep you on task.
4. Space, Storage, & Neatness
Having sufficient storage is a part of keeping your workplace orderly and neat, which helps with focus and organization. Having clutter around your office can make the wrong impression and cause employees to feel generally distracted or even anxious. There is something about a neat, clean, accessible area that promotes peace of mind.
5. Air Quality & Room Smell
A bad smell in your office can be enough to turn off potential clients or make employees feel as if they don’t want to be at work. If your communal lunch room is omitting odors throughout the office, you might want to consider having an enclosed kitchen. Depending on the kind of work environment, the smell of certain microwaved food can be very off-putting for customers and can give the impression of a lack of cleanliness.
To control air quality, have good office ventilation, lots of hinged windows or central air. If customers or employees often complain that the office feels too humid, musty, dusty, or smelly—this should not be ignored. OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of poor air quality in office environments costs employers $15 billion “due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.” Even the cleanliness of your bathroom can make a big impact.
Try these mild scents in the office or bathroom (from LifeHack.com):
• Pine – Increases alertness
• Cinnamon – Improves focus
• Lavender – Helps to relax you during a stressful work day
• Peppermint – Lifts your mood
• Citrus (any) – Wakes you up and lifts your spirits
6. Room Temperature
Not everyone in the office is going to agree on what the room temperature should be set to. At the minimum, your office should be at a regular temperature between 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit (ideally 70-73). Keep your heating, air conditioner and automatic thermostat always working properly.
7. Keep Teams Together
Keeping offices of the same teams/ divisions /goals in close vicinity is one of the most important things you can to do increase collaboration. It promotes faster communication, quicker resolutions to problems, and workers are more accountable when they have teammates around who are all focused on the same goal.
8. Style & Decor
Having an attractive office can inspire customers and employees and sets a tone for your company’s day-to-day operations. It also improves your brand image and increases client confidence. There are many different ways you can improve the atmosphere of an office; the room color, lighting, wall décor, furniture, and plants can all contribute to a nice-looking office.
Consulting a professional—even having a Feng Shui designer organize your office—might be the right thing to do if interior design is not your forte. While decorating may not seem like a top priority, you want customers to enter and leave your office feeling impressed. Why not use your office design as an opportunity to stand out in a positive way?
9. Rooms for Collaboration
If possible, have designated “hangout” areas which are inviting and comfortable. Place objects of interest to draw people into the room, i.e. coffee, snacks, and water. Create comfortable places to sit and perhaps work in a new atmosphere with other coworkers, separate from their desks.
10. Good Computers
One of the top ways to increase productivity is giving employees computers that meet all of their work needs—i.e. Fast, reliable, and with all of the software that they will need to make their job as efficient as possible. Easy and quick file-share systems, such as Dropbox, can help employees collaborate on projects and share information with ease.
After working in multiple different office environments over the course of my career, I have experienced first-hand how difficult it can be to concentrate without proper space, privacy, and quiet. The flitting movement of many people around is enough to become a distraction, let alone the noise of talking, coughing, and typing. In addition, having very little space for one’s paperwork and utensils makes it difficult to stay organized. When I was in college as an intern, the company I worked for moved my desk 3 times in the same month, to smaller and smaller desks. At one point, someone threw out my paperwork during the process! When I was finally given a cubicle, it was much easier to concentrate—but I was moved away from my work team, and had to walk very far in order to communicate with them face-to-face. Thankfully my situation improved over the years. I think that paying attention to each of the 10 tips above can help employers make more considerate choices when creating an office space.
Article by Briana J. Samman
Marketing Associate at March Construction
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