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How To Improve The Impact Of Office Design On Employee Productivity

Whilst the most direct ways of improving employee productivity are related to people management, another area to address is the design of your workplace. The impact of office design on employee productivity can make or break all of the good work being done in relation to employee morale inside your office.

For example, the fact that a number of regular tasks need quiet focus but your open plan environment prohibits this can be the underlying reason for low productivity and high stress levels amongst some of your team.

This post explores the key fundamentals that you should be aware of when trying to make your office a more productive place to work. From the layout of your desks and your seating plan to the use and purpose of different areas in the workplace, by the end of this post you should know enough about office design to change whatever is undermining the productivity efforts in your office.

These simple tweaks should be seen as the final seasoning when putting together your recipe for productivity. First, start by addressing your office layout.

Changing Your Office Layout

It’s most likely that your current office is near enough wholly open plan in layout. When it comes to offering a different type of space, at most, your most senior staff may have their own private office.

This trend took hold during the mid-20th century, when huge open plan offices transferred the principals of the factory-based production line to desk-based work. But the bosses, as a mark of their seniority and importance were still afforded a private room to work in.

The popularity of open plan layouts for offices reached its peak following their resurgence in response to the soul destroying cubicle farms of the ‘80s and ‘90s. They improved communication channels, aided co-working and fostered a feeling of togetherness. That’s why 99% of office fit-outs in the past 20 years followed this layout.

You can read more on this topic by following this link here, but, in summary, the world of office design has since realised that being wholly open plan or wholly secluded from your colleagues is harmful to productivity. It’s also detrimental to employee mental health and morale, which both harm productivity too.

The contemporary thinking is to have an office with an agile layout. That is to say, an office should allow its inhabitants to change where they work depending on their current mood, nature of the task at hand and who they’re working with to complete it.

Static open plan or private cubicle layouts cannot facilitate this. Instead, you should look to change your layout to something which offers the benefits of both and let staff flit between both environments. Here’s how:


  • Provide a general open plan area where the majority of working can be done...
  • But staff need an alternative space to work, away from the hum of the open plan area, when they need to work with quiet focus. This could be a quiet hub, small rooms or even devices like office pods.
  • There should be space for employees to work together at shared desks in order to encourage collaboration and communication.
  • Remember that noise is not the only distraction in an office. Lines of sight and what is going on in one’s peripheral vision can be hugely distracting when trying to work. Try to arrange desks so as not to encourage visual distractions or install half-height walls and desk dividers or screens.
  • That said, noise is still the biggest factor when it comes to distractions. Consult professional opinion on how to change your office layout to minimise noise distractions. This can be fixed by relocating frequent telephone users and changing their desk orientation, as well as other tactics like installing fabric covered desk screens, more soft furnishings or purposefully designed suspended ceiling grids.
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An example of noise absorbing, visual distraction lessening, desk screens.

Installing New Features In Your Office

Aside from changing the layout of your office, there are also features which can be installed into your workspace. And a couple have already been mentioned: pods and ceiling systems.

Work or meeting pods are standalone items which are placed inside a large room. They are essentially a pop-up meeting room of private offices, complete with sound proof (or near enough) construction to give users a tranquil place to think inside a busy office.

They’re ideal for creating additional rooms inside your office if you don’t have the ability or budget to alter the building fabric. See them as a scaled down meeting room.

Booth seating is another bridge between open plan and private work spaces, but is even further scaled down than a meeting or working pod. With a high back and curved sides, office booth seating minimises visual distractions for the user and does a good job of minimising sounds from the rest of the office too.

More structural changes include noise absorbing ceiling systems. These grid or hanging systems deflect and absorb routine noises generated in the office. This makes for something more readily described as a “busy hum” rather than a “distracting noise”.

There’s also an ever growing field of new technology which uses precisely aimed speakers above individual desks and workstations. These can play white noise or particular music in a bid to negate chatter from the rest of the office.

The aim of all of these is to give workers a space which minimises distractions in the hope they can work more productively.

Change How You Use The Space In Your Office

Any office designed in the not too distant past is likely to feature a breakout area. But even many of these businesses will still see it as a pure breakout area and nothing more. It’s seen as a space for use at breakfast and lunch, but not throughout the rest of the day.

In practical terms, putting aside the benefits of offering an alternative space for staff to work which were mentioned above, this means many businesses are spending good money on attractive areas of an office - only for it to be left redundant for the majority of the day.

If your breakout area uses multi-purpose furniture, such as booth seating and large collaboration tables, and is properly lit and heated, it can be a productivity-boosting space throughout the day.

The benefits of employees having a restful break during the day are plentiful. Staff are renewed and recharged for the remainder of the day, exponentially more so than if they were to eat al-desko. And they’re happier too.

All of this adds up to a more productive workforce. Something which has been brought about by having a properly designed breakout area in your office.

Once you have the people management habits in place to encourage agile working, ad-hoc meetings at shared tables and a breakout area which can be used as an alternative office space; your employee productivity will soar.

What other ways can you keep a happy workforce?

Not only does the design of your office space impact productivity there are many other factors. Within our free guide we have explored ways to keep a productive workforce and ensure wellbeing among employees:

Download Happy Workforce Guide

 

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