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Work Smart

These Simple Workplace Design Changes Can Help Your Company’s Bottom Line

Increased productivity and retention are good reasons to take a new look at your workplace layout.

These Simple Workplace Design Changes Can Help Your Company’s Bottom Line

[Photo: lichaoshu/iStock]

It’s no secret that a well-designed workplace is a more pleasant environment to spend work hours than one that is poorly planned and decorated. However, spiffier digs could also have an impact on your company’s financial health.

A new survey by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) found a correlation between office design and the bottom line. The survey queried 1,206 full-time U.S. employees at companies of various sizes. More than half are in managerial or professional level positions who spend most of their working time in an office leased or owned by their employer. Respondents to the survey exhibited attitudes that suggest there is a strong correlation between good office design and retention. Some of these included:

  • Sixty-three percent of respondents who are "highly satisfied" with their workplace agreed with the statement, "When I get up in the morning, I feel like going to work." Of the group "less satisfied" with their workplace, only 24% agreed with the statement.
  • Eighty percent of the highly satisfied group agreed with the statement, "In general, I like working here," while only 33% of the less-satisfied group agreed with that statement.
  • Sixty-one percent of employees highly satisfied with their workplace design agreed with the statement, "My organization is innovative." Just 21% of the less-satisfied group agreed.
  • Nearly half—47%—of the group highly satisfied with their workplace strongly agreed with the statement, "If I have my way, I will be working here a year from now." Of the less-satisfied group, only 17% strongly agreed.

"There is absolutely a correlation," says Cheryl Durst, executive vice president and CEO of the IIDA. Both anecdotal information and this "statistically rigorous study" point to the connection between well-designed workplaces and employee engagement and productivity. Some managers have actually changed their styles to work effectively in particular workplace environments.

So what should your company focus on if it wants to use workplace design as a retention tool? Here are five places to start.

Varied Work Styles

As the trend toward open floor plans has received some backlash, it’s important to address some of the concerns about work styles in design. Common complaints found in the IIDA survey were issues such as lack of privacy and noise that may make it difficult for some employees to concentrate or do their work.

You can address these concerns by providing appropriate spaces to serve employee needs, Durst says. At a recent trade show, she says dedicated spaces where employees can have private phone calls, take care of financial or other personal business, or simply find a quiet place to concentrate were a trend. These spaces ranged from phone-booth-sized units with doors for privacy to small rooms with desks or workstations.

Employee Comfort

Among the other major complaints in the survey were personal comfort. Temperature control and noise masking were key complaints, but both can be hard to control in many offices, says Michael Kruklinski, executive vice president and head of the Americas region at Siemens Real Estate.

While temperature may be difficult to regulate to everyone’s satisfaction, getting employee input on the best settings can help companies find a middle ground. Small fans or space heaters with advanced safety features may offer solutions in some settings, but safety should always be emphasized.

Lighting was also listed as a concern. LED lighting can be used to highlight certain areas, or additional lighting may be brought in to supplement interior or natural light.

Better Productivity

When designing layout, think in terms of "neighborhoods," Kruklinski says. Neighborhoods are areas where workers with similar needs are accommodated. For example, some need two or three screens and the space to accommodate them. Some engineers need large tables to work.

Kruklinski's company has been rolling out its New WoW (Way of Working) approach to address employee productivity and satisfaction in this way. "We observe the workflow and how they work, and then we try to accommodate that, specifically to match what they need, or if they have special needs," he says.

Creating logical placement of work equipment and materials can also lead to bottom-line savings in increased productivity, says Walt L. Jones III, principal of operational efficiency and management consultancy SEQ Advisory Group. By positioning work stations, collaborating groups, and equipment in logical locations, each employee can save a few seconds or minutes on various tasks. When you extrapolate that across multiple tasks and many employees, the time savings alone can be significant, he says.

Ergonomics

Beyond improving comfort, proper furniture also improved employee satisfaction in the IIDA study. (Forty percent of survey respondents were happier when they could adjust their furniture.) Standing desks, adjustable workstations, and other customized or flexible workstation options can help employees work in the best way possible.

Community And Collaboration

Kruklinski says that it’s also important to consider how office design builds community, which can also improve feelings about the workplace as well as foster collaboration. Proximity in the office can lead employees to work together or exchange ideas more closely, so placing people with varied responsibilities near each other can lead to creative collaborations, he says.

Get employee buy-in on issues like desk ratios, or how many desks are in a cluster. There’s a line between the right ratio of people to spur good work and too many, which may leave employees feeling overwhelmed.

By paying attention to a few key areas, you can improve employee engagement, productivity, and collaboration, each of which is a benefit for the company. Happier, more successful employees are more likely to stay with their companies. Good office design can support them.

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