Only just over half of employees in the UK reckon their workplace design boosts productivity. But there is much that businesses can do to improve the physical environment of workers, says Chris Moriarty
Before the last budget, it was rumoured the chancellor would unveil a raft of productivity plans, yet these failed to appear.
While employees will be delighted with the new living wage and business productivity may well be buoyed by new investment allowance thresholds and a cut in corporation tax, there was little to support what are commonly considered the foundations of workplace productivity: skills, investment and infrastructure.
And even if these areas were addressed, it’s the physical environment – the workplace itself – that is ignored or taken for granted. This can be a major barrier to productivity.
Since 2010, the Leesman Index has been measuring the relationship between people and place in organisations of varying sizes, sectors and global reach. Now carrying data from more than 100,000 respondents, it has been assessing their satisfaction in 90 areas including workplace design, activities, features and facilities.
Worryingly, only 54 per cent of respondents agree their workplace design enables them to work productively. Given directors spend more on people and property than any other tangible resource, is it acceptable to write off half the investment?
Understanding how your business environment affects employees’ performance is crucial to enhancing workplace productivity. Once you’ve identified the barriers, and indeed triggers, it’s easy to address them. Three key areas include:
Employees dissatisfied with noise levels report low personal productivity levels. With open-plan workspaces now popular, it’s no surprise to find overall satisfaction with noise levels is only 30 per cent.
Businesses offering a variety of workspaces, however, appear to be bucking the trend; their noise satisfaction levels are at 45 per cent (still low, but higher than those which offer no choice).
Many business leaders view flexibility as offering an open-plan environment with a floor of desks without allocation. This may offer a choice in where to sit (by the window or coffee machine) but it does not allow employees to opt for the environment best suited to the task they need to perform. After all, one desk is the same as the other. The only bonus is that people can choose to sit away from the air con.
When asked to identify activities important to their role, respondents chose an average of 12, indicating a one-size working environment will not fit all. Higher satisfaction levels are reported by those whose workspaces vary; incidentally, they also appear happier with noise levels.
The creation of more flexible workspaces is a clear productivity trigger, but it can also become a barrier if it reduces social cohesion. People working in different areas may have fewer opportunities to come together.
Top-performing clients report high satisfaction with tea/coffee facilities, restaurants and social breakout areas; they create that feeling of togetherness and getting work done.
The so-called ‘we’ spaces are the differentiators – although they’re difficult to justify on a floor plan. ‘Me’ spaces – areas to work individually with a desk, chair and single workstation – are considered hygiene factors but integral when it comes to choice.
Workplaces should be viewed as a competitive advantage tool rather than something to house employees. Business leaders in our top 15 performing buildings report productivity scores of 74 per cent, 20 per cent higher than average.
So rather than rely on the chancellor to boost productivity, shouldn’t you be looking at how your own workspace performs?
If we want to catch up with the world’s richest nations when it comes to output per worker, we must assess whether our employees are inhibited by the physical environment they work within and make changes if they are.
Chris Moriarty is development director of Leesman