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.

Breaking bad: Are you approaching change management the right way?

Maintaining business success is impossible without change.

Whether it’s advancing technologies, shifting market conditions or a stuttering economy, there are many factors that can make or break an organisation in today’s rapidly evolving commercial landscape.

However, many leaders are guilty of a common misstep when approaching a change management project. They fail to identify and eliminate negative behaviours in the workplace.

While senior executives are keen to spread best practices and streamline existing processes, these efforts are often undermined by destructive influences.

An expanding body of research is showing that the first step in any change management project should be to curtail these damaging factors before embarking on organisational improvements.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Effective change management can achieve excellent results, but CEOs may need to dig deep and uproot legacy issues that are contributing to disharmony.

This can be an ugly process, and can even highlight failings at the upper echelons of management. Behaviours such as jealousy, laziness, dishonesty and fear are not only destructive at an individual level, they can spread like wildfire through an organisation.

A recent American Management Association study showed colleagues heavily resent employees who dodge their duties. Furthermore, nearly 70 per cent of respondents claimed this laziness damaged overall performance.

What is more worrying for senior executives is that 44 per cent of respondents said it diminishes engagement in the workplace. Half said it reflected a lack of shared responsibility.

Sandi Edwards, senior vice-president for AMA Enterprise, said: “Employees understandably become resentful when they see co-workers shirking responsibility without accountability – in such a situation, organisational morale and, ultimately, performance cannot help suffering.

“A culture that tolerates ‘passing the buck’ alienates those employees who give everything to their job on a daily basis. A few shirkers can snowball until the dominant culture becomes one of risk and responsibility aversion.”

These types of working environment spell bad news for any business implementing a change management project.

Ways to stop the rot

Once you have decided to target negative influences, there are several ways of breaking bad habits and promoting a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

This may involve dealing with problem employees, revitalising out-dated processes or re-adjusting unrealistic expectations. Here are three tips for approaching change management the right way.

1. DO sweat the small stuff

Even relatively minor problems can become major headaches if left to fester, as the “broken windows” theory suggests.

This popular proposition put forward by criminologist George Kelling and political scientist James Wilson in 1982 suggested that in neighbourhoods where a single window on a building is left unrepaired, other broken windows and structural damage soon follow.

The idea is that even a small unresolved issue indicates a lack of care and attention, eventually leading to widespread apathy and escalating destructive behaviour. The premise has been supported by several studies.

Business leaders should take note. Identifying small, yet persistent problems within your organisation can drastically improve productivity, boost morale and keep workers engaged and motivated for change.

2. Separate bad apples

Every company has bad apples and if your business is big enough there could be several. As a CEO or director, the temptation may be to leave the task of dealing with disruptive employees to line managers or department heads.

However, what if the problem is company-wide or involves the line managers themselves? Coming up with a solution may require a cross-departmental strategy that is outside the scope and responsibility of individual managers.

One approach is to collect all of your bad apples into one or multiple teams and assign them new leaders. There is likely to be a few big personalities involved, so they will need to be headed by strong managers who are up to the challenge.

Channelling their negative energy towards a common goal could have surprisingly beneficial outcomes. Even if a team continues to underperform, the damage will be limited to one area and other employees won’t be affected.

3. Build an effective change management team

Who you assign to a change management team is vital. The leader of this team needs to be high in the organisation to indicate the importance associated with the task.

However, seniority is not the only factor. They must also be well respected and have a good relationship with employees who, ultimately, are the driving force behind effective change management.

Getting popular staff members on side with a change initiative can drastically improve its chance of success. But recognising these employees can be difficult for directors who have little contact with personnel outside of senior management.

CEOs and directors should take the time to do research, improve communication and be objective when building the best change management team.