Creating The Perfect Office Environment – For Office Productivity

We know that the right office environment can have a significant impact on office productivity and how staff perform in their jobs. This has been shown in numerous studies and surveys.

Workplace Productivity Studies

According to a Workplace Wellness Trend Report by Fellowes one aspect that affects employee productivity is whether their employer has incorporated health and well-being into the office environment. They found that 87% of workers wanted their workplace to be a healthy work environment which included company fitness benefits, wellness rooms, ergonomic seating and sit-stand desks. 93% of IT workers said they were more likely to stay at a company who offered healthier workplace options.

In a study by Gensler which looked at what 90,000 people thought drove productivity at work they found that “Workplace strategies that sacrifice individual focus in pursuit of collaboration will result in decreased effectiveness for both.” The study showed that “these findings are not a repudiation of collaboration, but rather an embrace of focus. When it can be achieved, good things happen.”

Gensler further explains “Concentration requires a more individualized set of options than today’s standard playbook. To enhance both collaboration and concentration, we are seeking to invent a workplace that provides a spectrum of individual choices of primary workspaces, supported by places to collaborate, socialize and learn. This new hybrid could unlock untapped value through a more equitable balance of concentration and collaboration in the workplace: a new approach that could create a fresh level of success for organizations.” Therefore it’s important when looking to design a workplace that there are a number of different work spaces available to employees to allow them to focus when required and collaborate when required in environments that are conducive to the type of work they are carrying out.

A study by Oxford Economics looked at “When the walls come down: How smart companies are rewriting the rules of the open workplace”. They surveyed over 600 executives and 600 employees “to better understand what works for employees—and what doesn’t—about open-plan layouts, and to test for disconnects between workers and their managers.” The results showed 53% of employees reported that workplace noise decreased their productivity; while only 35% of executives said that was true so productivity. From the study it’s clear that having a quiet workplace was more important t to employees than executives realised. It was also clear the majority of businesses didn’t have the office design, technology or strategies in place to deal with the problem of workplace noise. 

A multi-site, cross-sectional Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study conducted to survey employees across four worksites participating in a WorkWell KS Well Being workshop to assess levels of stress and productivity carried out by the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa and Office of Research, University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita found that higher stress scores were associated significantly with lower productivity scores.

Based on reports from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) the UK’s Health and Safety Executive published the Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain and found that there  were 822,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2020/21. This is the highest levels of stress recorded since 2000/01. In 2020/21 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases.

Tackling The Office Environment To Improve Productivity

It’s clear to see that the office setup plays an important role in how productive your employees will be. Below we look at the various ways that your office can start to create a positive environment for your staff.

Office Design

Office design and layout can play a large part in improving office productivity. A well thought out office space can make it a pleasure to come to work, unhindered by lack of space, a noisy environment or light issues which in turn has a positive effect on health and well-being and allows staff to be fully productive.

So what should you consider when thinking about how to design your office and staff productivity? There are a number of elements that when part of the office design have shown to boost health and well-being and improve productivity. These are:

Office Layout

Your office layout is important. You need to think about work processes and what staff need to allow them to get the job done and to “get away” from their desks when it comes to downtime. Ask yourself do you need individual workspaces, collaborative spaces, break out areas, kitchen and tea points, meeting rooms etc?

It’s also important not to overcrowd the workspace, there’s nothing worse than an over-crowded work environment where people feel on top of each other to make the workspace feel oppressive. Where there’s space staff will feel that there’s room to breathe and be more able to move around freely.

Natural Light

Studies have shown that natural light is vital in the office as it plays an important role in health and wellbeing. It’s therefore important that any office design makes the best use of any available natural light. Where natural light is not possible office LED lighting should be used to ensure good lighting where required.

Temperature and Ventilation

Temperature and ventilation are just as important as light but can sometimes be overlooked. We know that temperature and ventilation affect productivity.

According to British Gas “temperature is one of the biggest points of discussion in the office”. A study by Andrew Sykes found that around 2% of office hours in the UK or £13 billion a year is wasted in the constant bickering for control of the temperature. If you can find the best office temperature for your staff they are more likely to be comfortable and productive.

Noise Reduction

We know that workplace noise decreases productivity so it’s essential to think about how you design your office space to minimise noise. If you feel noise is likely to be an issue e.g. if you are planning an open plan office you can incorporate sound absorbing materials such as soundproof partitioning, movable or folding partitioning, wall panels and suspended ceilings to help absorb sound.

Introducing plants into the office can also offer sound barriers. From plant and moss walls to living pictures and wall plants to cabinet and container plants there’s a myriad of ways to incorporate plants into your office design. 

You should also consider which flooring you use within your office space. Choose carpet rather than hard surfaces like wood or tiles to reduce office noise rather than intensify it.

Good Storage Facilities

Ensure good storage facilities in any office design. It’s all too easy for a space to become cluttered which in itself can be against Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. However clutter can also be one of the things that make staff feel down and less productive. Good storage built into your office design will keep your office space looking clean, fresh and ensure it’s a nicer place to work.

Break Out Areas

UK law states that workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day. However many businesses now recognise the value of encouraging staff to take breaks throughout the day. In fact studies have shown that walking away from work for short periods can have a major impact on your productivity. The BBC published an article on “The tiny breaks that ease your body and reboot your brain”. The article explains that “though the breaks are tiny, they can have a disproportionately powerful impact – studies have shown that they can improve workers’ ability to concentrate, change the way they see their jobs, and even help them avoid the typical injuries that people get when they’re tied to their desks all day.”

The Fastcompany reports that Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management says “taking a break every 75 and 90 minutes is the period of time where you can concentrate and get a lot of work done.” If you work for 75-90 minutes you can take advantage of your brain’s two modes learning or focusing and consolidation. Pozen further explains “When people do a task and then take a break for 15 minutes they help their brain consolidate information and retain it better. That’s what’s happening, physiology during breaks.” This is backed up by The Energy Project which shows that “humans naturally move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes”.

It’s therefore important to factor areas into your office design where staff can move away from their desk or work area, usually known as break out areas, which act as an informal place within the office environment where staff can relax, refresh and recharge before going back to work. Depending on the size of the office, the break out space can be sectioned-off from the office with partitioning, booth style furniture, cabinet planting or shelving. You could even incorporate comfortable furniture and flooring accents to visually separate the breakout space from the rest of the office.

Bringing the Outside Inside

As human beings we are biologically drawn to nature and are hard-wired to perform better in natural settings. Where an office space or refurbishment incorporates direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment is known as “Biophilic design” (love of nature). Given that on average we spend 80% of our time indoors, usually in environments which have little or no relationship to nature, it’s easy to see why many studies have found that bringing the outside inside can have a dramatic effect on productivity.

Numerous studies have shown that incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment come with numerous benefits e.g. a study by UTS carried out in 2010 showed that when plants were introduced into workplaces there was a 58% drop in depression or dejection, a 44% decrease in anger and hostility and a 38% reduction in fatigue. Research by the University of Exeter in a paper “The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments” has also shown that by adding just one plant per square metre memory retention was improved and employees scored higher on other basic tests.

Another paper published as far back as 2014 “Are Biophilic-Designed Site Office Buildings Linked to Health Benefits and High Performing Occupants?” recognised that there is “a strong positive effect from incorporating aspects of biophilic design to boost productivity, ameliorate stress, enhance well-being, foster a collaborative work environment and promote workplace satisfaction, thus contributing towards a high performance workspace.”

As the World Health Organisation believes stress related illnesses and cardio-vascular disease are likely to be the two largest contributors to ill-health by 2020. Biophilic design may be one way forward.

The Right Equipment and Its Placement

It’s vital that office workers have easy access to the right equipment to do their jobs as and when required. There’s nothing worse than having to trek a long distance numerous times throughout the day to be able to access a departmental printer, scanner or copier etc. However this has to be balanced against minimising office noise that can be generated when equipment is sited too close to office work areas.

Partitioning or a separate space for equipment can balance distance and noise and should be considered to be part of any office design.

How Can JBH Refurbishments Help?

JBH Refurbishments have over 30 years experience in office refurbishments and fit outs. We understand how to get the best out of your office space, ensuring that the productivity of your workforce is a major factor in all design ideas.

Taking account of office layout, natural light, good storage facilities, break out areas, planting and placement of equipment, temperature, ventilation and noise reduction are all taken into account when it comes to planning your office design and implementation.  You can contact us on 0333 207 0339 or via our contact page today for a free on site consultation.

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