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Training and Performance

Is Your Office Killing Employee Productivity?

You step off the elevator and into a vestibule of walnut paneling, marble floors and portraits of the company founder. You think law office or hedge fund, right?

At another company, you walk into an open loft space with floor-to-ceiling glass separating the conference rooms from the collaborative workspaces. A high-tech or creative services company comes to mind.

Impressions aside, your workplace environment must support the work your employees do. Is teamwork vital? Do they need quiet space, impromptu meeting spots for collaboration, natural light, darker rooms, sound barriers?

Gone are the days of rows of desks facing the supervisor, private offices and completely open space. Just like clothing, cars and home décor, your office environment should change with the times and your company’s needs.

1. Collaborative technology

The number one thing employees expect in today’s workplace involves technology. As devices and technology have allowed us to work any time, any place, the notion of “office” has changed. Your employees, and your customers, expect to be able to share documents, presentations, spreadsheets and collateral materials seamlessly.

If that’s not a reality in your office, start investing now in the technology that will allow everyone in your company to access what they need, wherever they are, in a secure manner. Phone apps, WiFi, VPNs, cloud technology – you name it. A lack of access to the assets needed just slows down productivity.

Still not sold? Consider recent snowstorms on the East Coast that shut down some cities for days. Those companies prepared technology-wise could keep operations going, at least to some extent, while people worked at home rather than making a dangerous trek into the office.

Adequate technology also allows employees to pull up a document and work after the kids go to bed, or while in a hotel during business travel.

2. Create balance

Today’s employees want what can best be described as “balance” in their office spaces. Because technology has blurred the lines between home and office, employees expect to be more comfortable in their offices.

This doesn’t mean you need to remove the conference table and chairs and add beanbags to every meeting room. It does mean that cubes are out and private offices are out. Conversely, totally open rooms are also out. Balance is in.

This means you need more flexible work spaces such as smaller meeting rooms, shared offices or desks, and a mix of open space with moveable furniture and enclosed spaces that allow for private phone calls as well as rowdy discussions.

Maybe all you need is some white boards and tables on wheels to move as needed around the office. You can be sure you’ll need to bring in an electrician. Pretty much every office needs more power outlets, and USB and Ethernet connections.

That said, all open space, while trendy a few years back, revealed the need for a combination of quiet spaces and open spaces. After all, employees may need privacy to make phone calls or to concentrate on a project.

One company studied its employees as they moved from a traditional office setup to an open office. They found that the open floor plan decreased productivity and employee satisfaction while it increased employee stress and negative coworker relations. These findings are consistent with hundreds of other studies that found the inability to control the physical work environment damaged workers’ concentration, productivity, creative thinking and motivation.

3. Impressions count

Your office décor says something about your company. Think about it: If you walk into an office with long rows of grey metal desks under fluorescent lights, what comes to mind? The 80s movie Working Girl at best.

Even worse, the 50s movie Desk Set with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy arguing over installation of one room-sized computer. That’s not the impression you want to make if you’re trying to hire millennials.

Unfortunately, the investment of changing a physical space sometimes prevents a company from adjusting to its employees’ needs and expectations.

Take time to notice: Are your employees decamping to the nearest coffee shop for meetings? They may need more informal meeting space that prompts creativity or more space for spontaneous interaction.

Are employees who need quiet hemmed in by sales people who are always on the phone talking loudly? Does your team appear uncomfortable at their desks, with gerrymandered attempts to raise or lower desks, chairs, computers and such? An employee who fights with office equipment daily likely is getting less work done than others. You may need to invest in new, adjustable office furniture.

After your personal assessment, ask employees what they’d change about the office and bring in expert help. Office furniture companies know what’s popular and can help you find workable solutions that fit your budget.

4. The benefits of better office design

Don’t look at upgrades to your office furniture and space as a drain on the bottom line. Such investments can also help you adapt to employees with different physical needs and get more productivity from them.

Such examples include older workers who need brighter light, weekend warriors with bad backs who need standing or adjustable desks, and more. Simple and inexpensive software can be added to computers to adjust screen brightness for those with eye strain or migraines. Just three of the many programs available include F.lux, Twilight and Redshift.

There’s also software that reminds workers to stand up and stretch or simply break away from their computer to let their eyes rest. Such programs include BreakTime, CtrlWORK and TimeOut. All can lead to improved productivity, fewer missed days and health insurance claims due to repetitive injury.

Studies like one from the University of Southern California Applied Psychology Department show that office plants can help improve indoor air quality, while natural light makes people happier and more productive. Can’t afford to add windows? Consider buying light bulbs that replicate sunlight or replacing solid doors with glass doors that allow more light into interior spaces.

You may be surprised at how little investment is needed to make your employees happy and your office more productive and efficient.

Get even more tips to improve your business today. Download the free eguide: How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.

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  • Megan Moran

    Megan Moran

    Senior Human Resource Specialist

    Megan has over 9 years of HR experience in the generalist capacity. Her area of expertise lies within performance management, employee relations and training. She has been a frequent contributor to various media, speaking on human resources best practices.

    Other posts by Megan Moran