LTU Explores: Trends in Office Architecture

What is the key to remaining competitive in a recessed economic climate? Business operators understand that maximizing employee productivity significantly contributes to maintaining healthy balance sheets. However, what causes employees to boost productivity? As it turns out, the design and layout of the office space itself might have a larger impact on overall employee happiness and effectiveness than previously thought.

New Studies on Workplace Design

Office design firm Steelcase recently surveyed workers from diverse industries, job descriptions, and age demographics about the factors that influence workplace satisfaction and hence, employee productivity. Among the varied industries, job types, and age groups came a familiar refrain. Over 95 percent of the workers surveyed mentioned having “access to quiet, private places for concentrated work” is important. Yet nearly half of the workers who agreed about the importance of working in concentration friendly work environments stated that their offices, by design, don’t offer them access to that kind of space. Steelcase concluded the survey did not confirm that most respondents prefer to work alone, but instead, they prefer to collaborate in their own space.

Continuing with the theme of concentration-friendly work environments, Gensler released a report in July of 2013 that outlines the keys to creating productive workplaces. The firm found another interesting office architecture trend: allowing employees several work environment options. Gensler concluded that with the increase in the number and quality of communication tools, companies that promote flexible work hours, the opportunity to work at least part time at home, and diverse office workspaces typically have much higher employee morale. Office space design and layout, not just the business culture, has become essential to the manager seeking to build a productive environment.

According to a March 2013 Forbes online article, Harris Interactive conducted a nationwide survey that canvassed a wide cross section of 2,060 professionals. The intent of the survey was to discern the preferences and habits of American workers as it pertains to designing productive office space. Not surprisingly, Harris Interactive found that many working professionals prefer to work in quiet, private work environments. Harris Interactive released data that shows over 85 percent of the worker polled prefer to work alone to attain optimal productivity. However, the polling company also found that balance plays a significant role in determining productive office environments. Employees need quiet time to enhance productivity, but they also must spend time collaborating in more open office spaces – something for architects to consider as they lay out the floor plan for an office building.

The Results

Several common points emerged from each of the three sources that researched the relationship between office architecture and worker productivity. First, many work environments tend to over-emphasize collaborative spaces, sometimes to the detriment of their staff. Large common areas tend to become noisy and counterproductive, with most workers seeking dedicated, private space to work from. Second, with more fluid, creative, contemporary environments, collaboration doesn’t have to be forced as it does in a sea of cubicles. A roomy, quiet meeting room suffices for creating a productive work environment. Finally, impromptu meetings held in large conference rooms have become a major distraction in the work environment, since email has become the primary form of office communication. This makes the central conference room, usually a staple of office design, a bit obsolete.

The results of the studies and reports do not mean office architecture should comprise building only focus-centric workspaces. People are social animals and most people require some time to interact with other people, especially in the workplace. That said, the emphasis on creating workplace balance has changed, and should change, the way office designers and architects pursue their work. While the goal was once to maximize space efficiency and provide a few larger collaboration spaces, it’s now morphed into something a bit more employee-centric.

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