Is Your Office Making Your Business Less Productive?
IntroductionAll successful businesses know that having highly motivated staff that work productively is critical, this helps to make a business more profitable and an employer of choice. The managers and departments hierarchy will use a vast array of tools, processes and motivational techniques to get the most out of their employees however, little attention is paid to the surroundings and atmosphere of the building in which they work. When the staff costs amount to one third of the total costs of running the business it’s an area that must be looked at carefully. There are two main office types, open-plan and the traditional layout. In addition, more people are also working from home. But is your office making your business less productive?
The open-plan officeThe open-plan office has for some years now been lorded as the modern, more productive and user-friendly choice of office layout. The theory is that the easy accessibility to your colleagues for detailed conversations and managers being able to directly see what his/ her staff are doing all help create the right environment for a productive team.
In practice though the open area creates a lot of noise, from talking and office equipment such as printers that run constantly. If high-end computers are in use, then there is a constant fan noise as they struggle to keep them cool. Noise levels increase as the number of people in the area try to talk over each other. Noise will affect people’s level of concentration and in worst cases cause some frustration. Also as the number of people and office equipment increases the area gets warmer and the air conditioning must work harder and thus gets noisier. In these large areas air heating/ cooling is the preferred method but this doesn’t allow the occupants to control the temperature to their individual needs. Feeling hot or cold creates some discomfort to occupants and can therefore inhibit good productivity.
Ventilation too must work harder under warmer conditions. In addition, if the ventilation isn’t designed properly there is more chance that viruses and germs will spread quickly around the staff, leading to a loss of working days. Even if the ventilation is designed correctly occupants sometimes wedge open doors and windows to disrupt the intended fresh air route. Poor ventilation can make the building feel stuffy and make occupants feel tired.
Lighting can also be an issue where high ceilings are preferred as the light level at desktop level is not high enough and generally there will be very little natural light in the middle of the large open area. Even with modern LED lights there is little scope for an individual to choose his/ her preferred level of lighting.
The open-plan office, in general, doesn’t give natural light to the inner areas, doesn’t allow local control of lighting or heating/ cooling and can make staff feel tired. All factors that can reduce productivity.
The traditional officeThe traditional office layout is one where staff are compartmentalised into grades and functions working together in small teams of up to about 10 people. Managers generally have their own office and each office is located off central corridors. This layout has recently been thought to create ‘stove-piping’ and tends to give little integration between departments.
Traditional office layouts however do allow staff to have more control over their own lighting levels and, with more windows, better access to natural light. Where detailed work is being undertaken, this can be a big advantage. Also with more access to windows the occupants can more easily control their own ventilation and heating levels. Ventilation to and from individual offices means that germs and viruses are contained within one area as well. Heating/cooling in smaller contained areas is better controlled to the occupant’s personal preferences.
Noise, from talking is well contained in a traditional office whilst printers can be put in their own room to keep their noise contained. With smaller volumes of air to move the air conditioning and ventilation can be smaller thus creating less noise.
Overall the traditional office is quieter, with better individual control of heating/cooling and better containment of germs and viruses. There is generally more natural light and less demand on the ventilation system which can all lead to a more productive office. Individual control of heating and cooling however can reduce the efficiency of the buildings systems i.e. heating being on whilst the windows are open.
The home workerIn general staff work from home but use office space most of the time, however some individuals will work from home all the time. With lots of possible distractions at home (TV, games, children, etc.) it takes a lot more self-discipline to get into a working area to complete work. Everyone will have a different work area that may not necessarily by what they want or need. It could be a kitchen table, a front room sofa or a small bedroom desk so assessment of an individual’s productivity is difficult to do. Some of these working areas will not be correctly laid out to provide a good seating position so this could lead to stresses and strains of the back and arms.
Not every home worker will have the resources to equip their work area how they would like so most will use an area which they aren’t totally happy with. Through the homes normal heating system the home worker will be able to adjust the temperature to their liking however, in the summer it is unlikely that they will have access to air conditioning as you would have in an office.
Ventilation will also be provided by the home’s own system or windows. Noise will generally be to the liking of the home worker be it with music on or total peace and quiet which enables good concentration levels.
SummaryThe productivity improvements put into place by managers and directors by way of business processes and motivational techniques can all be lost when the building has poor ventilation, it’s too hot or cold or is too noisy. If the staff aren’t comfortable and feel in control of their local environment, then this can lead to a loss of concentration and cause stresses that in will lead to lower productivity. Therefore, managers should look for good ventilation, enable local temperature control and control noise levels to get the most from their staff.
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