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Workplace Productivity - employee and space management

Productivity is a difficult nut to crack. There has been much discussion in FM circles around strategies to improve it, including the UK’s influential Stoddart Review. While strategies are being put in place to make workplaces more adaptable, global productivity continues to be a challenge. Workplace experts, Leesman, recently released a report based on results from more than 250,000 employees across approximately 2,200 workplaces in 67 countries. Findings showed that 43% of employees do not agree that their workplace allows them to work productively.

The demands of the new generation

One reoccurring theme in the workplace puzzle is the needs of millennials. This group, covering those born from the early 1980s to mid-1990s and who reach adulthood around the turn of the 21st century, are  generally characterised as being the most demanding. Having experienced great advancements in technology from an early age, millennials have embraced the digital world and have higher expectation for the workplace experience. A job for life is viewed as an outdated goal; this generation will move around to wherever they feel the most comfortable and valued.

Chris Alcock, director at Six Ideas, a Sydney-based workplace innovation consultancy, says Millennials are definitely driving a change in thinking that businesses must address.  “This is a generation where technology has allowed them to work anywhere, but they still want to engage and connect with people and that’s the incentive to get them to come into a building.”

Leesman suggests that due to their age, this group has the simplest requirements and therefore more focus must be placed on the 35-44 age range, who also consistently have the lowest satisfaction scores. However, as millennials will account for 75% of the workplace by 2025, changes must be made so both generations can work in harmony – with silent areas for concentration and more flexible collaborative space as required. A workplace is also a key driver in recruiting talent –managers ignoring the needs of millennials do so at their peril.

Barriers to productivity

While fashionable items like pool tables and sleep pods are beyond the means of some organisations, smaller changes can still be effective. For example, layout is a big factor in productivity. Leesman suggests that the biggest factors that prevent people from working effectively are ‘space between work settings’, ‘dividers’ and ‘noise levels’. A study from UK digital consultancy firm, Red Badger, agreed, finding that 94% of those polled believed project efficiency could increase significantly if they simply re-arranged their office seating plans to promote cross-departmental collaboration between team members. Cain Ullah, CEO, states: “In today’s economy, where skilled workers have more autonomy, these seating plans are outdated and as our research shows, are actually slowing organisations down.” Space management software can make easy work of office moves, minimising disruption and allowing analysis of proposed office configurations. In this way, organisations can experiment with layouts to find the best fit.

Remote working

The ability to work away from the office can also lead to effective change. While this can be controversial, as some managers worry that employees may not use their unsupervised time effectively, having the option to concentrate in a quiet place, reduce interruption  and eliminate a commute can reduce stress. However, many are finding that they actually want to come into the office to collaborate with colleagues. The recent Quora summit in London explored the idea that those working from home for extended periods of time can experience lonliness, which limits creativity and impairs reasoning and decision making.

Of course, on balance, one cannot solely blame one’s employer for causing distraction. Personal fortitude is a key factor. For example, smartphones have become an extension of ourselves and demand attention, and constantly checking emails can lead to increased psychological stress, according to University of British Columbia, Canada. The Leesman report argues workplaces need to be more supportive, in addition to well-designed, in order to facilitate productivity improvements. Any workplace measures must be rolled out in co-operation with the workforce, not ‘at’ the workforce – employees are, after all, people rather than a statistic.


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