Opinion

The workplace of the future. How much does office design matter?

This article provided by Moneypenny

We, as people and employees, are inherently affected by the environments we live and work in. Not just a hot topic of the moment, office design has always been a subject for debate, usually discussing a current trend which has evolved from a technological advancement.

As with previous generations, we find ourselves faced with adopting these cyclical trends and new designs with each passing decade. We move right the way to one extreme, and will move all the way back to the other as the generation matures. This is particularly visible in our workplace environments and how they affect our way of working.

Interestingly, it seems that we’ve never cared more about how people are affected by their surroundings at work. And that companies are willing to shoulder the responsibility of employees’ levels of productivity. The realisation is that employee productivity isn’t the sole responsibility of the employee; the onus is on the company to make sure the environment they provide is suited to the workers.

It’s true that there really hasn’t been a time where we have cared so much about just how the buildings we work in affect the very people working in them. But it isn’t arbitrary. As we have seen at Moneypenny, our new headquarters – designed specifically for employee wellbeing – has seen unplanned absence drop by over a quarter. Something no one could have predicted.

The building isn’t just attractive, but meets the most basic needs that can become a problem if not addressed. For instance a pleasant view can be taken for granted, but if denied, can have untold effects on the person’s state of mind when they are facing it throughout their working day. This is why offering all employees a view outside was a priority for us; it dictated the design of the building. With hope, we will see the workplace of the future being intelligently designed; meeting the needs of the employees and the work they do, not the other way around.

Such is the consideration, that a great number of businesses are measuring their outsourced partners by the environment they provide their workers. They will take a look around their offices to help make an informed judgement of them as outsourced business support.

So what factors affect employee performance?

A study by the Journal of Public Affairs, Administration and Management found that workers are most likely to be affected by the most basic senses first; temperature and light. Both natural light and the ability to control artificial light are simple things we take for granted, but remove the ability to control them and their effects can irritate. Also, whilst women are more likely to be affected by the temperature in an office, men are more likely to be affected by the furniture they use.

The reason why the offices featured in Top Ten compilations usually look like restaurants, libraries and leisure centres, and less like traditional office spaces is not arbitrary. Comfort is the key to a happy, productive staff. For anyone who has walked through an uncared for office with a stark aesthetic will understand just how important the look of a working environment is when they witness the morale of the workers.

Savills and the British Council for Offices published ‘What Workers Want’ in 2016, a report which found that almost half of workers in open-plan offices were dissatisfied with noise levels. People need a space for concentrations as well as communication and it seems that open plan offices are now falling out of vogue.

Decades ago the average office was made up of ‘pens’ or ‘booths’, each individual sectioned off in their own separate space. Then slowly we moved towards a more shared space and flat hierarchal layout until we reached the completely open plan office of today.

But now the tide is starting to turn back as people are discovering that in fact it is counter-productive to work in such a wide open space, where every sound, conversation and minute of the day is shared. To put bluntly, it isn’t productive. And when people aren’t productive, companies lose money.

Technology dictates the workplace evolution.

Technology has, and will, continue to determine the way people work, and workplaces need to keep up. For all of the discussion and furore about mobile technology affecting the way people work today, there is no denying the positive impact it has had, provided the business allows it. For those that have, it is reflected in the modelling of their work spaces.

Workers being able to take themselves away to a quiet part of a building and concentrate in silence is something frequently seen in offices large and small. People haven’t been chained to their desks for a long time, they can take their laptop anywhere, so smart businesses will facilitate this. Even distracting background noise, a radio playing or the reception telephone ringing, is being removed. Sometimes all that’s needed is a quiet corner and a Wi-Fi connection of get a project underway, and foolish is the company not to provide this.

This quickly becomes ingrained in the culture of a business once employees are able to dictate to some degree how and where they work in their office. A culture of freedom and trust will seldom return anything but high value and satisfied workers. Increased profits are never far behind.

Office moves towards the future.

Admittedly, very few employers can knock up Google-style headquarters kitted out with the latest office trends; sleep pods, barista centres, and leisure areas. But every business can make a few improvements to facilitate modern working. A space, any space, set aside for those who are in need of a quiet hour in which to get inside their own heads could well be as common as the meeting table in tomorrow’s office.

The same can be said for natural ventilation and lighting. The thought of Baltic air conditioning and florescent strip lighting will no doubt one day be regarded as oppressive as the working conditions in a Victorian mill.

The office of the future will not only fulfil a worker’s task-based needs, but their emotional needs too. Well-being is bounced around as a cliché these days, but its sentiment is by no means diminished. A homogenous and generic environment isn’t any good for creativity or happiness. Displaying personality and the identity of a company can help even the longest-standing employee better connect with the business. Companies looking for outsourced partners do well to pay close attention to the environment they provide their employees. It’s a good indicator of how they’ll treat your business.

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