Reconsidering your surroundings can boost productivity

Picture your workspace and the building in which it’s situated. If you’re reading this at work, maybe you don’t have to “picture” anything — you can just look around. What do you see? Are you completely comfortable? Could your organization’s offices be reconfigured to boost productivity?

The thought of redesigning your offices may seem overwhelming. But, if you lease that space, the opportunity may eventually arise — perhaps even soon. And even if you have no intention of looking for new facilities anytime soon, just thinking about the nature and configuration of your surroundings can lead to some worthwhile ideas.

Closed vs. open

For many decades, most workplaces followed the same general format. Owners and executives were tucked away in their large corner offices, further secluded by a receptionist’s area. Middle managers had smaller offices, similarly secured by doors and walls. Granted, there may have been some open areas for secretarial pools or the like, but such “closed-plan” offices were commonplace.

All of this started to change circa the 1990s, when companies started to move toward “cubicle farms” — vast floors of high-walled cubes with just enough room for a desk and some shelving. But a funny thing happened as the ’90s segued into the early 21st century. Those cubicle walls started to shrink in size and the “open-plan” office was born.

In a true open-plan office, there are no cubicle walls. Everyone works in a large, exposed area — either at separate desks or sometimes with multiple employees sharing the same large table. The idea is to foster communication and collaboration — and, ideally, lose the sometimes depressing, dystopian feel of those old cubicle farms. Plus, from a business management perspective, open-plan offices are often less expensive to rent and more flexible to expanding or contracting a workforce.

Open-plan layouts were all the rage for a while. In fact, as of 2013, 70% of American employees worked in open-plan offices, according to the International Facility Management Association. But, nowadays, they’re experiencing a bit of a backlash.

For instance, a study entitled “Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices,” published in the December 2013 Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that employees in open-plan layouts were less happy with their workspaces than those with private work areas. The report also found that workers in open-plan offices largely believed that the advantages of easy interaction with their co-workers weren’t worth the higher noise levels and decreased privacy.

Going with the flow

As you look at your organization’s offices, consider which side of the closed vs. open debate you fall on. If you’re struggling with the “knowledge silos” that can inhibit the dissemination of mission-critical information and prevent people from communicating, maybe it’s time to give some version of the open-plan layout a shot.

Then again, perhaps you’ve already moved toward an open plan and the noise is driving your staff crazy! In that case, there’s no shame in looking into the idea of putting up some walls or reconfiguring certain areas to promote peace, quiet and contemplation.

What many organizations are now finding is that their ideal layout is neither closed nor open. Rather, they’re configuring floor plans that flow from collaborative to contemplative and back again.

One popularly discussed example is a Michigan-based furniture manufacturer called Steelcase. When the company recently redesigned its headquarters, it created a range of workspaces from a wide-open finance department with counters and shared tables to “Quiet Spaces” that allow one person to work — you guessed it — quietly or two or three to collaborate without disturbing others.

2 more factors to consider

There are, of course, many other factors to consider when reimagining the physical space around you. Just a couple of pertinent ones are:

  1. Generational preferences. Look at the demographics of your organization — and where those numbers are heading. As Baby Boomers retire and Generation Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980) settle into leadership or other established roles, Millennials (those born between 1981 and 2000) will gradually fill up workplaces nationwide.

Specifically, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 73.9 million Millennials will be employed in the U.S. workforce in ten years — that will be 44% of the total labor force. Workers from this group have certain preferences that an organization might better leverage in the right environment. These preferences include:

  • A desire to access their data anywhere, anytime,
  • An assumption that they can easily connect with every other co-worker, no matter where that person might be physically located, and
  • A strong need to freely engage in team collaboration in pleasant environments.

So, tomorrow’s organizations will need offices with solid technological infrastructure and a flexible layout that facilitates both mobile workers and collaborative teams.

  1. The “t” word. When discussing office space, there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room that many organizations overlook. Well, actually, the gorilla isn’t in the room because it’s working from home these days. We’re referring, of course, to the “t” word — telecommuting.

Another reason workspaces are becoming more flexible and less traditional is that so many more employees don’t even need cubicles or dedicated workspaces anymore. They’re working from home or in a coffee shop or at their local library. If your organization is already offering a telecommuting option, and could be opening this choice to more positions in the future, think about how that might affect the size and layout of your offices.

Many possibilities

Obviously, every organization’s size and culture will heavily influence how it might modify its workplace. Not every company can create a lavish, cutting-edge campus replete with nap pods and smart cars. But there are probably many ways to upgrade your facilities to evolve with changing times, technology and generations.

If you’d like some input into the possibilities, as well as other ideas on organizational effectiveness and team development, please contact us here at Performance Dimensions Group.