Workplace design vital to output
Published: 24 January 2018 By Sally Augustin
Workplace design vital to output
Few things are more instrumental in boosting levels of employee engagement
As today’s companies wake up to the value of workers who are truly engaged in their work they should probably be paying far more attention to place design
Most of us would acknowledge that good design has a powerful influence on how people think and behave. As today’s companies wake up to the value of workers who are truly engaged in their work – a clear case of trying to encourage certain ways of thinking and behaving – they should probably be paying far more attention to place design. Few things are more instrumental in boosting – or diminishing – levels of employee engagement.
Generally, designers talk to the employees who will work in a space about their jobs and how a workplace being designed can optimise their performance. Often, the spaces that are built out don’t align with those conversations. A workplace gets designed that looks good, looks like the one the chief executive of the client firm just saw in a glossy magazine spread, or looks like it may accomplish some ill-defined objective, such as increasing collaboration.
Most workers need to be able to concentrate on the tasks at hand, and that’s difficult in a field of cubicles or in a sea of faces when the cubicles are removed and all employees are asked to sit at long tables. And those open spaces aren’t spurring useful communication. Research consistently shows that constructive, work-related collaboration doesn’t increase when work environments are made more open.
A range of workspaces can be provided for employees at a central office, and providing a smorgasbord of work locations is better than asking people to work in chaos. However, people forget things that matter every time they are asked to pack up what they’re working on and move to another place where they might be able to concentrate.
So where does that leave us when designing an engaging workplace? Here are a few ideas:
Don’t underestimate the power of colour
We’re relaxed in the presence of colours that aren’t very saturated but are relatively bright and that aren’t cluttered. Moderate visual complexity is best. That means the space should include only a few colours and patterns, and that decorative objects be carefully curated, for example.
Get outsiders to ask questions
Workers interpret their environments based on their national culture, organisational culture, professional culture and personal experiences. Want to know what your employees think about where you’re asking them to work? Get someone from outside the firm to ask them, guarantee that all responses will be anonymous and kept confidential, and listen.
Let your workers have some of the control
Workplaces that support engagement communicate that employees are valued and also give workers some control over the physical experiences they have at the office.
Consider the chipmunk test
When you’re thinking about furnishings and architectural features in workplaces and engagement, keep chipmunks in mind. Humans are comfortable in the sorts of protected seats with a view over the surrounding area that give us the same secure feeling we’d have in a comfy nest nestled in tree branches. Similar spaces are easy to introduce into modern workplaces. Tuck small meeting spaces into alcoves off hallways or floors of workspaces. Give yourself bonus points if these spaces are raised a step and a tiny bit darker than the surrounding area.
Workplace design can make higher levels of employee engagement more likely. Honest design, spaces that reflect employees’ needs and concerns, is something that employees notice, interpret and value. It can boost engagement, when given a chance. – (Copyright Harvard Business Review2014)
Sally Augustin is a practising design/environmental psychologist and a principal at Design With Science
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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