Employers Should Consider Office Design To Be Part of Employee Retention Strategy

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By Genevieve Douglas  

July 29 — Employee retention strategies often focus on the corporate culture of a company, but the physical space an employer provides also plays a role in determining whether employees stay or go.

From how comfortable chairs are to how much space is allotted for each cubicle, each detail of the office layout must be considered, as even the smallest aspects of the work space mean a lot to employees on a day-to-day basis, office design professionals told Bloomberg BNA.

“A good office is almost like a good home,” Chopovsky said. In a home there are different “zones” that enable different activities, he said, and that should be the same for the office. Some spaces enable conversation, others privacy and others stress relief.

Employee retention “is a function of the culture, but the culture, space and fellow employees make up the ethos or spirit of the company,” Max Chopovsky, founder of consulting firm Chicago Creative Space, told Bloomberg BNA July 23. “We highlight the importance of the space because it is equally important to the people and the culture at any given organization,” he said.

According to Chopovsky, the office configuration shows that the employer is genuine in trying to enforce its culture since office designs are costly and usually long-term endeavors.

“A good office is almost like a good home,” Chopovsky said. In a home there are different “zones” that enable different activities, he said, and that should be the same for the office. Some spaces enable conversation, others privacy and others stress relief, he added.

“The space should never be an obstacle,” Chopovsky said. “It should just work.”

Find Out What Employees Want

To help achieve the culture an employer wants via its physical space, Chopovsky advised, the first thing to do is to observe the employee population to see what they need. “Listening to what they want and need is paramount,” he said.

While a trend today is toward open-space layouts with little privacy, Chopovsky advised against forfeiting every inch of private space. Smaller rooms for employee privacy are often the most used by employees, he said.

According to Chopovsky, traditional office design layouts feature dark interiors, but that is the opposite of what employees really want. Employers should take into account how much natural light is let in and where the windows are positioned. People work better with access to outside views, he said.

Josef Kaiser, managing director of Vitra, a design company based in Birsfelden, Switzerland, told Bloomberg BNA July 28 that spaces with an abundance of natural light keep employees energetic and productive. He also recommended that managers should have offices among the employees to remain accessible and to promote collaboration.

An Office That Promotes Health

Kaiser suggested that employers consider an office that ergonomically supports the health of employees. People should only sit during 50 percent of their workday, should be able to stand for 25 percent and should feel free to move around the other 25 percent, he said.

A space can encourage employees to be healthy by facilitating worker mobility, Kaiser said. For example, placing a printer kiosk away from employee cubicles or having a central place to deposit trash, instead of having receptacles in the employees' cubicles, encourages movement throughout the day, he said.

Chopovsky said that different generations may want different things in a work space. He noted that younger employees often see less distinction between work and play. Giving them a space to build relationships with co-workers will make for a more cohesive staff and improve productivity, he said.

According to Chopovsky, open space that might seem to be wasted can actually be the most beneficial area in an office. This open area allows employees to get together in an informal environment, he said. Adding such a space, he said, “turns out to be one of the most valuable things you can do.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com