Where you work makes a huge difference to how you work. And this is not just in terms of what organization you work for, but also the very space you work in. In the recent past, with more companies recognizing the importance of employee engagement in driving productivity, ensuring a high retention rate, and boosting profits, there has been an upsurge in the time, money and effort invested in engagement. A global study was conducted by Steelcase across 17 countries, including USA, Canada, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China among others. And despite the increasing endeavors toward employee engagement, this study found that one-third of workers across these 17 countries, are disengaged. What is of chief interest in this study is the strong positive correlation found between employee engagement and workplace satisfaction. The more flexibility and freedom employees have to move around the office and choose where they want to station themselves to accomplish certain tasks, the higher the workplace satisfaction. Simply put: the more control an employee has over her/his office experience, the more engaged she/he is.
This is where the importance of workplace design comes into play. Effective and people-centric design can foster a sense of creativity, enhance productivity and of course help with the general well being of employees. The idea of employee engagement through innovative and stimulating design is that organizations create a space for employees that they want to work in, rather than one where they have to work. So, what is it that makes people want to work?
Imagine a workplace where you sit at your desk, literally sweating it out at work. Or a situation where you’re shivering too much to even type properly. The right temperature, healthy airflow and ventilation, and an optimum humidity level, are quite underestimated as much-needed workplace comforts. Open spaces, windows for natural light and ventilation, as well as mirrors to create an illusion of space, can all sidestep an often claustrophobic, cramped office environment. Couple optimum temperature with niches and areas for physical activity, and you are ringing true to King Julian’s famous anthem. A small corner with a Foosball table, a yoga mat, and a comfortable couch or bean bag chair can do wonders for employees who ordinarily spend the whole day sitting. These are viable options for longer work breaks where employees want to blow off some steam. And it is important to include options for group recreation and individual down time. Aside from longer breaks, short and periodic breaks matter just as much. Providing resistance bands for regular bouts of stretching can hugely help employees. Just 5 minutes of stretching for every 30 minutes of sitting will do wonders. It’s quick, non-distracting and super healthy!
No one will disagree that sometimes the brain gets tired. It’s only human. Often, pushing past mental exhaustion can be counter-productive to working efficiently. Consider the incorporation of a zone in the office which is quieter than the rest, has its own temperature control system, and gives the options of both low lighting for some meditation or a quick nap, and bright lighting for a fun reading session. You can even have a shelf with books that employees can purchase on the office account according to individual interest. Possibly even a small coffee machine. Add to that a decent set of speakers for listening to music, podcasts and audio books, and you’ve got yourself a space conducive to both intellectual stimulation and mental unwinding. These principles can be extended to the meeting room and the common areas where people eat and take their coffee breaks. With a meeting room that makes the whiteboard equally accessible to everyone seated there, and common areas with seating encircling the centre, people become more approachable to each other just by virtue of how they are sharing the physical space. Did you ever think that simple design ideas could foster teamwork and mental well being?
While team work and interaction is imperative to smooth working, productivity and a sense of well-being, too much of anything can have adverse effects on people. Every employee suffers from some level of distraction and goes through numerous interruptions throughout the work day. Often these interruptions are from fellow colleagues, who without meaning to do so may affect the work of others. Brief interruptions, of even a few seconds to a minute, can affect work to the extent that it takes around 23 minutes to get back into a focused state – one where the mind is deeply and solely absorbed in work. In this context, it is crucial to have a dedicated space that is slightly removed from the main office area. Here, a few desks can be placed at some distance from each other and people can be instructed to keep their phones on silent mode, and indulge in minimal conversation. There are some tasks in a work day that require peace and quiet, and employees should be allowed to move from their usually designated seat to this closed off area for some uninterrupted, centered work. While a zone that encourages creativity and interaction can be filled with leisure seating, a space that intends to ignite cognition should ideally possess well spaced out desks and straight backed, comfortable desk chairs.
The idea behind designing a workplace conducive to engagement and therefore productivity, is to cater to all kinds of employees, all types of work habits, and all phases and difficulty levels faced by anyone maneuvering the professional space. From recreation and unwinding to dedicated individualized work, an office should have an interconnected range of zones, each providing for different needs, personalities and work pressures. Since our workforce spends a majority of its time at the office, why not make it a place where one can laugh over a cup of coffee and seriously pore over documents. 9-5 shouldn’t be where people escape from, it should be the escape!