Office furniture is designed to make workers’ life easier, not complicate it. But the lack of rigorous planning and thorough execution can turn the office space planning into a lengthy, expensive, and utterly exhausting process. Oftentimes, looking at workers’ productivity and performance levels is the easiest way to tell whether the office layout facilitates or encumbers worker efficiency.
Modern office managers have quite a few challenges on their hands. Their overall goal may sound simple: design the office space in accordance with their particular workspace, but what this really means is create a workable space that matches the company’s profile while successfully meeting the needs of all occupants. The hardest part is to reach the conclusion that there isn’t any generic, ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, especially when it comes to the increasingly mobile, tech-savvy employee of today.
The constant spatial and organizational distribution of companies, the prevalence of enabling technologies and collaboration tools, and the increased demand for more work flexibility are dramatically changing work and the workplace. The transformation is already visible: technology and ergonomics have simplified office design, have solved problems of physical connectivity, and have reduced the size and weight of office hardware. Thanks to the growing high-speed internet access and increasing data traffic, forecast to reach 81 billion/TB per month by 2015, business owners can now move to an almost paperless office, cleaning clutter, saving money, and reducing their environmental footprint.
For many companies, the shift to open-office floor plans has allowed more workforce to be accommodated in the same space. Blurring walls and building the organization around communication rather than hierarchy have worked excellently to facilitate collaboration and improve teamwork, benefiting especially work that involves problem-solving and joint analysis.
And yet, it would be wrong to assume that all workers have the same work style and are motivated by the same things. Extroverts may find it easy, and even pleasant – to solve problems amid a sea of distractions, but introverts will function at their best away from neighbors’ phone conversations. So the goal is to strike a balance between open and private by creating a multi-space for both collaborative work and focused work. This involves two different sets of furnishing solutions: on the one hand, creating communal spaces that encourage groupthink and teamwork, and on the other, including acoustically-sealed spaces where individuals can focus, clear their minds, or just have a moment of privacy in the middle of all the openness.
Aside from these new requirements, an effective space layout still needs to take into consideration:
– The profile of the company
– The type of work conducted by each department in the company
– The needs of clients that visit the office
– The extent to which furniture can facilitate interaction and the exchange of information between managers, employees, and clients
Retaining a positive and motivated workforce is crucial for a company’s success. Aside from workers’ preference for an animated or a quiet workspace, office managers have many other aspects to consider in arriving at a layout that encourages workflow. Here are ten important factors that shape the environment and determine people’s satisfaction with their workspace:
The air temperature in the office has a tremendous impact on worker productivity, and it’s not only a comfort thing. Indeed, for workers to be able to focus on their work, they should neither sweat nor freeze – the values of air temperature, humidity, and air movement must be set within the range commonly defined as the ‘comfort zone.’ Most studies have concluded that the optimal office temperature should be set between 21 and 23 degrees Celsius, with even minor deviation affecting performance, mood, and safety. Uncomfortable conditions have an even greater impact on already-stressed employees, who will do less work and make more mistakes as they experience thermal discomfort.
Indoor air quality continues to be a source of complaints and illness for many workers in modern offices. The quality of air inside offices is important not only for employees’ productivity, but also for their overall health and well-being. An ineffective ventilation system will allow the buildup of pollutants that could cause employees to develop allergies and respiratory diseases, in turn leading to higher absenteeism and low staff productivity. Focusing on improvements in ventilation, air filtration, and the elimination of pollutant sources should increase air quality and lower worker dissatisfaction.
Natural light is perhaps one of the most overlooked factors in office design that can directly impact productivity and office performance. As experts explain, the human eye is designed to work with the shifting light levels of sunlight, as opposed to the harsh fluorescent light in offices. With plenty of natural light in task areas, workers can perform tasks more efficiently and with greater accuracy; however, the benefits of good lighting extend much further. Studies have shown that exposure to natural light improves sleep, reduces eye fatigue and headaches, and has a positive impact on health and well-being.
As work changes, so do the office design and space planning. Companies are shifting towards a more complex, innovative, and network-driven way of working, while moving towards increasingly flexible, collaborative spaces. Break rooms are becoming more than just places where employees can eat their lunch, they facilitate interaction, aid creativity, and encourage spontaneity. The goal is to create casual meeting or lounge areas where workers can get some time out if they feel exhausted, but also exchange thoughts with coworkers if they feel inspired. Well-designed communal areas are, in most cases, the space where company culture is built day by day.
When it comes to small offices, especially those with an open office floor plan, individual workspaces become part of the design. It is, therefore, crucial to keep the space free of clutter, clean, and organized, for both clients who judge your business by how your headquarters look and employees who are able to focus on their tasks better. By devising a filing system that stores information in a way in which it can be profitably utilized, office managers can increase overall profitability, reduce mental overload and stress, save time, and keep information secure.
No company can ever complain of having too much space. Despite this fact, studies have shown that only 55% of offices utilize their space to a satisfactory level. In their pursue of space optimization and cost savings, few managers ask themselves whether the present layout is preventing workers from doing their job in a streamlined and effective manner. If too much time is wasted moving around the office between the printer and the conference room, if collaboration is hindered by furniture placement, or if some spaces are always empty and others always overcrowded, then the office layout is creating, not solving, problems.
For modern workers who spend more time at the office than at home, their workstations become an extension of themselves and should provide the required level of comfort and mobility. Ensuring a ‘fit’ between people and their work means equipping workstations with enough leg room, adequate task lighting, an anatomically-correct task chair that sustains a natural posture, and a work surface fitted to the worker’s body size and weight (where frequently used items are within comfortable reach). Applying ergonomics to the workplace can reduce the potential for injury, accidents, and ill health. In time, the lower injury rate translates into decreased absenteeism, improved morale, better job performance, and lower replacement worker costs.
Unwanted sound is the most frequent complaint among workers in wall-less offices. Telephones, printers, air conditioning systems, and conversations of coworkers may become a distraction for office workers and incapacitate their ability to concentrate on a given task. In the long run, exposure to noise has negative effects on productivity, mood, and overall health, leading to increased illness, lower morale, stress, fatigue, and lower job satisfaction. Semi-private meeting spaces, sound-absorbing furniture, noise-cancelling wall panels, and other acoustical products may serve to limit noise distractions’ drain on office productivity.
As portable devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones become ubiquitous in our lives, the workplace conceived for the desktop computer is becoming obsolete. Bulky and stationary furniture can no longer respond to the evolving communication needs and work styles of people. They are interacting differently with their surroundings, and their new postures should be sustained by modular furniture that provides an endless variety of configurations and forms.
For people whose work is a dreary experience, color may be used to inspire creative thinking, improve mood, and have a calming, or, on the contrary, stimulating, effect. All the big corporations are doing it, and it seems to have a positive impact on people’s mood and productivity levels. Use blue and green to spark confidence, red to increase attention to detail, black and white to achieve distinctiveness, and bright yellow or orange to create a cheery, energetic space.
Good office design solves basic problems, but truly effective office space planning goes even further. By promoting interaction without excluding privacy, furnishing the office in a way that sustains the workers’ style and needs, and making sure basic requirements of temperature, air quality, and natural light are met, you can make workers actually excited about being in your office.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.