Solving the business productivity puzzle

While the latest Office for National Statistics figures reported the biggest jump in productivity levels in six years, the UK still has many barriers to overcome.

It is well documented that the UK has lower productivity than many of its global counterparts, consistently falling behind other leading economies in the official productivity tables.

As surprising as it might sound, office space can be a key driver of productivity and with employers increasingly opting for the flexibility of open-plan offices, the number of collaborative workspaces is on the rise.

Greg Stewart Head of Furniture at Office Depot, says that while the collaborative and lively environment that co-working spaces encourage can have a positive impact on employee interaction and creativity, not all workers are as comfortable in these environments. Some may need quiet rooms and privacy to be truly productive.

Research has shown that a professional environment and happy employees lead to higher levels of productivity and the link between office environment and job satisfaction is widely acknowledged.

With this in mind, employers should take care to ensure workers are happy in their environment and that different working styles are catered for.

By providing staff with a variety of different types of workspaces, making effective use of acoustic technologies and incorporating biophilic design, businesses can reduce distractions and help to ensure a happy and efficient workplace.

Offering different ‘zones’ within working environments enables employees to work in the conditions that best suit their working style; boosting their productivity. While open spaces and flexible layouts are conducive to collaboration, quiet spaces are required for challenging tasks and confidential conversations.

Therefore, the sound and behaviour policies for each area must be clearly communicated to ensure that employees can focus properly on their task. For example, providing phone booths where employees can take calls rather than conducting conversations in communal areas or in open-plan work spaces can minimise disturbance.

Furthermore, visual disturbances, such as activity or movement around an employee’s field of vision, can also have a significant impact on concentration and productivity. Therefore, employers should aim to balance open-plan workspaces with accessible private rooms.

Businesses can facilitate this further through the use of movable wall and office partitions which can be used to adjust spaces to accommodate larger meeting areas or individual cubicles, allowing working environments to be changed according to the needs of a specific task.

While hard surfaces such as glass and metal are often found in modern office spaces, they can reflect sound, which then bounces back into the room.

Choosing softer materials such as carpet, fabric-covered seating and a few soft furnishings in the workplace can add visual interest as well as serving to soften noise and keep sound disruption to a minimum.

Similarly, while many work spaces have plants for aesthetic reasons, they can also contribute towards a quieter workplace by absorbing sound. This return to nature, also known as ‘biophilic’ design can be particularly appealing to employees at the same time as helping to reduce noise levels. Furthermore, studies have shown that injecting some greenery in the form of indoor plants can have positive effects on productivity, as well as stimulating creativity and making the workplace look more attractive.

While there are undeniable advantages to be gained from open-plan offices, it is vital to remember that the one-size-fits-all model will not be right for everyone.

Often adopted with the aim of sparking productivity, office spaces which fail to meet the needs of employees may unintentionally have the opposite effect. By assessing the needs of individual employees and giving them the option to choose the type of space they work in, businesses can create an environment which promotes wellbeing as well as increasing productivity.