Office Space Design May Affect Worker Productivity

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By Genevieve Douglas

Physical office space can have a large impact on employee productivity, but many employers fail to create inspiring, uplifting work environments, consultants say.

Nearly half of workers in traditional office environments feel they have little to no natural light at their workplace and their workplace design and decor has “no personality,” according to survey results from marketing firm Digital Third Coast and decor company Pots, Planters and More. Uncomfortable furniture, poor lighting and nonfunctional work spaces made survey respondents more likely to feel that their work environment hurts their productivity. The research is based on responses from 1,000 U.S. employees.

“When you look at the whole picture of what people value in the office, they want natural light, comfortable seating and functional spaces,” Andy Kerns, content strategist at Digital Third Coast, told Bloomberg BNA March 1. “It’s important for business owners to look at this holistically” and consider “how is my environment influencing that?”

Pros, Cons of Open Plans

The open office space, which became popular in Silicon Valley and spread throughout the U.S., offers one solution for employee productivity. However, the design has its pros and cons.

The pros of open office spaces are that they cultivate a cohesive and collaborative culture and stymie unproductive behavior, Andrew Challenger, vice president of consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told Bloomberg BNA by email March 2. “If your co-workers can see your computer screens and hear your phone calls, you’ll be less likely to peruse Facebook, online shop, or make personal calls,” Challenger said.

The open office plan can also encourage productivity by motivating workers to come in on time and stay until close, he said. “The open office environment lends itself to a self-policing atmosphere,” he said.

A downside of an open office plan is that employees may feel like they’re in a fishbowl and always have to perform at a high level. “Ultimately, this could lead to job dissatisfaction, and possibly, high turnover,” Challenger said.

Another drawback is the physical distance of executives positioned in corner office spaces instead of the open office. “This creates a disconnect between management and staff which could negatively impact communication,” he said.

Privacy Can Go a Long Way

Companies with limited resources may not think that the physical office space is deserving of an overhaul, Kerns said. However, employers that suspect employee productivity is waning should ask their workers for suggestions for improving the working environment, he said.

There are some things an employer can’t necessarily change right away, such as blowing out a wall for more natural light. But employers can look for smaller, easier wins such as art on the walls, plants, ergonomically supported chairs or standing work stations, Kerns said.

A relaxing space for people to retreat to briefly throughout the day is also key, Kerns said. “Allowing them a place for some privacy can really boost productivity and morale.”

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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