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Staff productivity – a matter of choice

Giving staff the right setting for the task in hand is key to productivity

Giving staff the freedom and choice to work in places that provide the right setting for the task in hand is key to productivity – but all too often our attention is competing against a multitude of distractions and interruptions…

Open plan has become the typical set-up for offices – hardly surprising, given its many advantages. Employees can communicate with each other easily, without physical and psychological barriers created by intervening walls. Team-building, creativity, transparency and collaboration all thrive. Open-plan also optimises the use of space, fitting the greatest number of people into what is available.

There are drawbacks though. Someone holding a telephone conversation can be distracted by colleagues talking to each other or who are on the phone themselves, especially if the volume of the background chatter is high. Conversely, although studies have shown a low level of sound can aid concentration, listening to music through headphones as a concentration aid can lead to impaired communications between colleagues. Additionally, some workers feel very self-conscious if there is a lull in background chatter while they are handling a call. Even the combination of typical ambient sounds – from computers, air-conditioning, printers, copiers and so forth – can add up to a stressful, productivity-harming level of noise from which there is no escape.

Even the ease of collaboration can backfire. Someone trying to concentrate on one task could face frequent interruptions from colleagues wanting answers, opinions and input on others. And after the interruption, many studies have suggested it can take up to 25 minutes to recover the original train of thought. Across the workforce as a whole, each such interruption quickly accumulates into many hours’ productivity lost.

Keeping everyone happy in an open environment is also tricky. What is too warm for some people will be too cool for others. Some might expect to eat meals at their desks where others will find the smells and sounds distracting. Extroverts may revel in engaging with everyone, while introverts shudder at the same prospect! Every worker will have a different idea of how much privacy or interaction they need to work happily.

We are not suggesting the demise of open-plan office: the advantages are genuine. But ‘work’ comprises a range of different activities and personalities, and it’s unrealistic to expect one environment to be ideal for them all. Optimising workspace demands different types of space for different tasks. Alongside open plan areas, delivering their advantages for collaborative work, should be others designed to provide privacy for making calls, holding one-to-one meetings, or simply working in a space that gives sufficient privacy for someone to deliver their best work. There is no one configuration that can deliver the perfect solution for every company – the optimum really will depend on each business’s specific needs.

So in conclusion, intelligence needs to be applied when designing a new office – a good design will ensure a wide variety of spaces are incorporated to give your team maximum flexibility and choice:

  • Give team members choices about where they can work to perform different tasks
  • Consider breakout spaces that include work benches and soft seating where staff can meet and focus on a task
  • Add functionality to meeting room areas or boardrooms by using movable walls
  • Factor in phone booths and small meeting rooms for 2 – 4 person meetings
  • Think about the needs of each team and how their use of a space will impact on teams using the adjacent space

Action Workspace’s designers are adept at analysing the widely varying needs of our clients, then coming up with solutions that optimise space and deliver maximum productivity. If you would like to find out how we could help you get the most from your office, please get in touch.

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