How Workplace Design Impacts Employee Productivity

workplace design performance

Guest Article Written By Lee Parsons 

With the UK’s productivity persistently lagging between 10-25% behind that of France, can a workplace design consultancy provide answers where operations, HR, sales and even government have collectively failed? An unconventional proposition maybe, but when these figures stretch back over 25 years, and the comparison is with a country often viewed with disdain for its culture of strikes, long lunch breaks and collectively shutting down for the whole of August, convention may not have the answer.

The factors that impact productivity

Productivity in the workplace was a key business topic in the chancellor’s recent budget. Which got the people at OfficeGenie thinking about what really motivates employees to be productive in the office. They ran a survey of around 1,000 office employees to try to get to the heart of the issue. While the top motivations were financial, there were some other key issues that drove productivity, including workplace design.

Each of the 1,008 office workers was invited to choose their top three boosts to productivity and, unsurprisingly, the top two results in the survey confirm the old adage that money talks. Almost half (49%) of respondents chose a pay raise as their top motivator, while over a third (36%) said a financial bonus would drive them on.

This news may lead to a groan of despair for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with tight budgets that simply can’t afford to dish out pay raises to all employees. But it’s not the end of the story. The survey also highlighted other areas where a cost-free boost to productivity could be obtained with a few simple adjustments to health and wellbeing policies, flexible working and office interior design.

Flexibility is the Key

A 2012 study by the International Labour Organisation (Geneva) shows that since the 1950s, productivity per hour universally drops as hours are increased. They also found that there is a point at which the percentage drop in the level of productivity actually matches the increase in percentage of hours worked. Likewise, a survey in the US of Fortune 500 companies revealed that productivity increased by 1-3% of those companies that improved their family friendliness index ranking, supporting their workers with flexibility for family commitments.

Other strong examples of flexibility improving worker’s performance come from the Lloyds Banking Group, where 66% of line managers reported improved work rates after flexible working patterns were introduced, and early adopters, MTM Products, who have tripled production since introducing such arrangements back in 1996.

Taking Advantage of the Changing Face of the Workplace

There is great reluctance to changing working practices. CIPD’s recent HR Agility survey asked workers to identify from four groups, the type of business they were in. 31% identified the business as Family. This business type is traditional, paternalistic, and usually small. This type stated they were least likely to change their working culture. Next was Structured, with formal, structured working practices. 42% of these businesses wanted to change to either Dynamic or Results-Oriented. Dynamic is currently the lowest ranked business type, with only 11% of respondents identifying their workplace as entrepreneurial, creative and risk taking. The largest group, at 32%, was Results-Oriented, with some of these businesses identifying Dynamic as the type they wish to become.

Despite their reluctance, businesses will have to accept that the workforce is changing, and the workplace will have to change with it. The Future of Work Institute 2012report on the changing workplace highlighted four areas of change that is driving the need for flexibility:

New Technology—Communication has transformed the business landscape, allowing individuals and whole departments to work remotely, removing barriers for international collaboration and removing much of the need of a traditional workstation. Technology has also driven change in company hierarchy, with work becoming more team based rather than line managed. It has also created a meritocracy, where younger workers can achieve through skill rather than time served.

New Societal Values—Today’s workplace has become more democratic, with more two way, mature relationships, and employees being given greater independence and becoming more proactive.

Changing Demographic—Some companies are now seeing up to five generations in their workforce for the first time. Flexibility in both the workplace and working practices here is vital to accommodate different cultures across a fifty plus year age span.

Globalisation—Again, led by technology, the world has become much more accessible, and suppliers and clients will be working across all time zones. A traditional 9-5 working pattern will not flourish faced with these demands.

The Role of workplace Design

To accommodate flexible working practices an office needs to be adaptable. Part time and remote workers need to feel welcome and part of the team, so temporarily borrowing the space vacated by a vacationing or sick full time colleague is not ideal. And for those full time staff members, technology has removed the need for them to be rooted to the same spot all day, every day. Creative hubs, break-out areas, quiet zones and meeting spaces, used in conjunction with laptops, tablets and phones all help to drive this new, proactive, collaborative work-ethic that will, in turn, drive productivity. This new agile working concept has been successfully adopted by companies including BT, Google and Unilever, who value its measurable impact, not only on productivity, but also recruitment and retention of their best staff. And when delivered by a workplace design consultancy with the right expertise, agile working can also deliver up to a 20% savings of usable office space.

Although change is inevitable, successful workplace design and flexible employment practices will help businesses and their workforce embrace the great opportunities it brings. This could well be the catalyst to ending the UK’s productivity woes.

Lee Parsons is the marketing manager at Office Principles, an office interior design and workplace consultancy firm based in the UK. He enjoys attending design events all over the country and organizing seminars on new ways of working, workplace design and agile working. When he’s not busy with running these events for the company, he likes to dabble in some creative furniture designs himself in hopes of stumbling upon a new ‘must have’ invention for the industry.