How to boost productivity through better office design

When measuring the benefits of energy efficient building upgrades, many companies only consider the savings. While a reduction in costs may be considerable, there are far more business advantages to better design.

Some of the biggest organisations in the world are beginning to concentrate more on the layout and sustainability of their offices, including technology giant Google.

Anne Less, e-team innovation program manager at the firm, said the importance of eco-friendly measures in the workplace can’t be overstated.

“Energy efficiency is a huge focus for Google – both in our productivity and our operations – and we’ve found that it aligns with our goals for healthy workplaces,” she said in an interview with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).

“There is a strong correlation between workplace satisfaction and temperature, and similarly with Googlers’ self-reported productivity.”

According to the RMI, Google makes decisions on office design throughout the entire real estate lifecycle, right from concept to construction and beyond.

The business also often weighs factors such as user experience and worker health alongside traditional issues such as cost and energy usage. As such, Google aims to create innovative plans that make the best use of natural light, are more sustainable and ensure staff aren’t exposed to harmful materials.

These measures mean Google now only uses half the US average for energy in its test building, with the company stating its hopes that other enterprises will begin to understand how such investments can bear fruit.

Going green in Australia

A new report by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) stated that staff costs typically account for approximately 90 per cent of operating expenditure for organisations.

This means that even a moderate improvement in productivity at the workforce level can have significant financial implications for employers. In Australia, businesses waste $7 billion a year on absenteeism and poor health.

Romilly Madew, chief executive of Green Building Council Australia, said the report – which her organisation sponsored – will help companies in the country appreciate the value of environmentally-friendly designs.

“Operating from sustainable office space is increasingly recognised as a strategic business decision that is not only environmentally and economically-sound, but can also enhance a company’s biggest asset and expense – its people,” she added.

Peter Hilderson, head of energy and sustainability services for the Asia-Pacific region at Jones Lang LaSalle, said there is a “sweet spot” where financials, people and buildings overlap. In other words, enterprises can achieve mutual benefits by creating office spaces that not only help their bottom line, but boost productivity among employees.

“Organisations that invest the time and apply the necessary rigour to implementing this framework will unlock the benefits of these inter-relationships and reap the rewards,” he stated.

Taking the next steps

The WGBC report outlined a number of areas where businesses can examine their existing building design and make improvements.

If your organisation is looking to upgrade to a more sustainable future, these changes could be a good place to start.

Air quality: Enhancing indoor air quality has been shown to improve productivity anywhere between 8 and 11 per cent. High ventilation rates and low concentrations of CO2 are important factors in achieving better air quality.

Active design and exercise: The health benefits of exercise should be encouraged, including access to gyms, bike storage and green space. The WGBC said people who cycle to work are much less likely to take sick days.

Lighting and nature: A growing body of research shows that green space and nature both have a positive impact on health, particularly mental wellbeing. Office layouts that prioritise access to windows and natural light, therefore, are tied to a boost in productivity.

Temperature: The WGBC said it is difficult to separate the benefits of air quality and room temperature, as they are often closely linked. However, providing staff with control over their thermal comfort is thought to produce productivity gains somewhere in the single figures.

Amenities and location: This is becoming an increasingly important part of modern offices, particularly in relation to childcare. Businesses that have provided these services on-site experienced a significant financial gain through reduced absenteeism.

Noise: Employees typically highlight loud office environments as a severe impediment to productivity in knowledge-based jobs. In fact, there can be a 66 per cent drop in performance due to distracting sounds, according to one study cited by the WGBC.

Interior layout: Recent research has suggested that creating a number of different task-oriented workspaces is the key to making workers more productive. This means providing separate areas where staff can socialise, brainstorm or work on their own.