Designing a workplace that meets the needs of a diverse workforce is a challenge. What appeals to Millennials may not appeal to Baby Boomers when it comes to a functional work environment.
In the 80s we saw the rise of the ‘cubicle farm’, which slowly but surely has faded out to the now open plan layouts that we see in offices. However, to accommodate for different working styles, whether they are generational needs or personal preferences, companies need to provide alternative working areas within an office that go beyond the employee’s desk. The overall design of an office has a major impact on employee productivity and wellbeing, so how do we take all of these factors into account when fitting out an office space?
Different generations have different needs when it comes to effective working environments, so how can we design work spaces that cater to such a widespread demographic? In recent years we have seen a shift towards open plan offices, with 70 percent of companies opting for this type of layout. However, according to research conducted in 2019 by Savills titled ‘What Workers Want’, 30% of employees find that this type of layout has a negative impact on their productivity.
Buildings, a journal published by MDPI, found that perceived productivity in open-plan offices was impacted by seven factors including: amount of interruption, noise levels, work area aesthetics, furnishing, cleanliness, ability to adapt the work area, and personal control over lighting levels.
These are factors that the Savills Project Management team take into consideration when working with a client to fit out an office space. Surveying your staff to understand what works and what can be improved upon, in addition to setting up focus groups to steer the design, is highly beneficial to the process. By understanding your peak occupancy ratio, you can release space for alternative settings rather than empty workstations.
For different industries, different layouts will benefit the employees and their overall productivity. For those working in offices where employees are constantly taking phone calls, one-person quiet rooms are beneficial to minimise the distraction to others. Whereas for creative industries where staff are frequently collaborating, less formal, flexible spaces are more appropriate for productivity, rather than staff brainstorming around a boardroom table.
Optimise the building’s attributes by creating focus areas in the darker and quieter spaces, with a variety of furniture settings from high tables, booths, lounge chairs, acoustic screens and the like.
For Millennials in particular, restrictive work environments are perceived by many to hinder their ability to work effectively, so common-use spaces are a real asset when it comes to optimising productivity. Providing a variety of work settings for different tasks, whilst being cognisant of ensuring equitable access where the office is not fully agile is key to limiting disruption to others, whilst boosting productivity.
Key findings from the ‘What Workers Want’ study by Savills indicated that within the workplace, employees place the greatest value on having the option to work in a variety of spaces, and being provided with quality IT infrastructure. The same study revealed that above all other factors, 37% of employees were dissatisfied with the provision of quiet spaces within their workplace.
New trends and updates to technology occur frequently – what once seemed like a novelty has become an integral part of daily life, and more so a part of working life. With a heavy reliance on technology, it makes sense to incorporate technology into the design of an office space. However you should note that with all technology implemented, it should be planned for change and upgrade as it quickly becomes superseded and improved.
The relationship between technology and architecture has been dubbed ‘Techiture’, with technology embedded in inanimate objects. By digitising buildings, we are able to gather data on the trends of the people who inhabit them. An article by the Kinnarps Trend Report points out that this enables architects to see how employees use the different spaces in their offices.
This is a game changer for the design and construction industry when it comes to designing workplaces that are tailored to the staff, and upgrading or reconfiguring spaces that are not well utilised.
The Wellness Factor
With the average person spending one third of their life at work, we are seeing employers placing greater value on overall employee wellness. While most employers offer their staff discounted health or mental health benefits, research shows that the physical working environment has the biggest impact on overall wellness. With many considerations to take into account, the WELL Building Standard has been established to ensure employee wellbeing is met. Seven factors are taken into account including air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.
Studies have shown that simple factors such as adequate lighting positively impacts employee mood and productivity. According to research conducted by global management software company, Ceridian, dimly lit areas have a negative impact on the brain, with employees who work in poorly lit spaces more likely to suffer from poor moods.
In developing buildings and designing fit-outs, access to daylight or views such as atriums are highly desirable. Built zones tend to be located in NLA farthest from the perimeter, whilst circadian rhythm lighting is currently cost prohibitive in many workplaces, good human centred lighting design should always be adhered to.
The Australian HR Institute says poor air quality reduces cognitive ability and leads to employees feeling fatigued and even suffering from headaches. Air quality can be easily improved by having greenery in the workplace, plus plants also help to absorb noise pollution. We are seeing nature brought indoors with the trend of vertical gardens and greenery walls taking off, with Landscape Architects becoming a key consultant in many large workplace design teams.
An alternative way to bring the outdoors in is by using natural textures and materials, which is also shown to have a positive impact on wellbeing. Using different types of timbers and incorporating natural lighting is said to make the indoor environment have a calming effect on people. Research is indicating that highly productive workplace design predominately embraces organic shapes intended to bring spaces together without visual barriers.
Working ergonomics seamlessly into the design of an office space is important not just for aesthetic reasons, but because being seated for prolonged periods of time has a negative impact on a person’s health. The comfort factor of the WELL Building Standard considers different working areas, and places value on ergonomics.
While sit-to-stand workstations may not last the test of time, as workspaces become more agile they represent current best practice when combined with other initiatives to ensure an active workforce. As the cost premium is reducing, we are seeing the ratio increase in current fit-outs. 2019 research by Savills indicates that 6% of employees prefer to work at a standing desk.
Companies are starting to introduce designated recharging or wellness spaces into their offices, with Google and the Huffington Post going as far as providing high tech sleep pods. With employees clocking up an estimated 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, providing a space where they can recharge for 20 minutes will be a benefit to how employees utilise their time overall. A wellness area should be a separate space to a staff breakout or kitchen area, where employees can de-stress, switch off their phone, or even meditate. Even small part floor workplaces can assign a small private quiet room for multiple uses, with the contents of these rooms or spaces being quite modest.
Having the correct balance of office layout mixed with technology, plus incorporating the factors that contribute to overall employee wellness helps to accommodate for the multi-generational workplace of today. Taking these combined elements into account helps to maximise the potential work spaces within an office, and in turn boosts overall employee productivity. Considering generational needs and differed working styles will lead us to being able to design workplaces of the future with maximum functionality.