Those of us who work in offices spend a lot of time there; around half of our waking hours, Monday to Friday, in fact. The space we work in provides the context and background to the way we do business. Logically then you’d think that giving some attention to the design and layout of office layout could make a difference to our health, wellbeing and productivity.
Of course there is no question that productivity is also affected by the people around you, or your HR system. But that office culture is also impacted by the office layout. There are a heap of studies on this topic. For example, this traditional versus open-office design study and this more recent study in Turkey both suggest that the way we choose to design our offices has serious impacts on the happiness of workers, their productivity, and ultimately, the profitability of a business.
So if you would like to design the layout of an office in a way that’s conducive to productivity (or want to make a case to the decision-makers responsible for changing your current layout), here are some things you should be aware of:
Open plan spaces
Modern day offices are largely open plan as a result a style that became popular in Germany in the 1950s and 60s. The design took off in the USA in the 1990s, and has since made its way through Europe, starting in tech start-ups before filtering through to more traditional industries such as advertising and publishing. The benefit of this kind of layout is that it’s highly conducive to collaborative working – ideal for small companies and start ups. It also facilitates socialising, team-building and quick responses to queries.
However, it does have its drawbacks. Ask anyone who’s ever worked in an open plan office, and they’ll tell you that it can actually decrease productivity – especially as the number of employees rise – due to the number of ceaseless distractions such as conversations, phone calls and so on. And, while you might think that employees are more productive when their work habits are very visible, some employees actually feel so aware of the fact they’re working in such a public space that it can cause them to work less effectively. The lack of privacy in open-plan spaces can also mean that discussions are shorter and more superficial than they otherwise might be, and in higher frequency.
There’s a clear physical impact too. Studies have shown that employees working in open plan offices tend to take 62% more sick days than those working in individual offices. That’s due to the fact that germs spread more readily when there are so many people working in one space without boundaries.
So, if you want to design your office in an open-plan fashion, keep these negative aspects in mind and ensure that employees are able to retreat to quiet spaces, or even occasionally work from home, if they prefer. This should be particularly encouraged if an employee is particularly busy and needs to work through a number of tasks without distraction, or if they feel they’re becoming unwell and don’t want to spread germs around the office.
Quiet work spaces
Quiet work spaces – such as including individual cubicles or designated silent working rooms – can be a good way to lay out your office. This design can provide particular comfort and ease for very introverted workers who thrive on independent working, channelling their energy into their work rather than anticipating conversations or other people’s moods and stresses.
The biggest bonus of quiet work spaces is that they’re designed to prevent distractions. Stemming the chatter of the office, as well as ensuring there’s nothing in a sight line to crush efficiency, can mean that more work is completed, and to a higher standard.
But, as you might expect, this also has its drawbacks. For instance, more sociable employees may struggle to work alone or in near-silence for a prolonged length of time, and it can also have a detrimental effect on team-building and the culture of being ‘in it together’. And most importantly, quiet work spaces prevent collaborative work, discouraging employees from sharing their thoughts or asking questions at the earliest opportunity.
The balance is to give employees the option of both an open-plan environment and quiet work spaces. A hot-desk model in an open-plan environment, with a number of silent working spaces, means that everyone has the best of both layouts to suit their tasks, workload and mood on any given day. Flexible working arrangements, such as having the ability to work from home, or the ability to work in a meeting room on a day when a great deal of conversation and collaboration is required, is also good idea.
Whatever works for you, there are a number of smaller but nonetheless important things to consider too. For example, there are number of benefits to filling your office space with greenery, as well as natural light . Ensure there’s also enough artificial lighting to make writing and reading easy without having to strain, but consider the fact that dim lighting fosters the kind of creativity for idea generation, whereas bright lighting is conducive to analytical, evaluative work.
As you can see, there are a number of factors to consider when you’re designing an office for productivity. To get it right, you’ll need to consider the nature of the business, the tasks that are performed, and the goals the business is hoping to achieve.