Redefine workspace to boost productivity

Sahil Verma | Updated on October 10, 2013

Office spaces are not only about logistics, such as lighting, maintenance and security, but also about productivity and staff morale.

There’s a lot to think about when you lease and equip an office - not just budget, but energy efficiency, fire regulations, lighting, maintenance, cleaning and security. All these aspects consume time, money and energy, and they’re especially onerous for start-ups and smaller companies.

And those are just the logistics. Businesses should also think about how their workspace affects productivity, staff morale and image. The perfect match in terms of budget and facilities may have the wrong vibe or address for staff and customers.

The 21st-century office

Companies are increasingly becoming aware that work environment influences performance. As such design, advertising and Silicon Valley companies are leading the way in developing amazing offices. Type a phrase like ‘cool offices’ into a search engine and you'll see some stunning examples — offices with giant slides, bowling alleys, games rooms, and indoor ‘tree-houses’ or ‘picnic areas’ with artificial grass. Along with fostering creativity and collaboration, these offices boost corporate image and support staff recruitment.

Nevertheless, giant slides are not conducive to every work task or suitable for every sector. The most efficient and productive work environments recognise that individuals have their own working styles, and appreciate flexibility about where they work. It’s not just a matter of open-plan versus cubicle. Regardless of how cool or creative an office is, employees’ productivity may suffer if they have to work far from home or childcare provision. They may prefer a workspace closer to home.

Rise of the ‘third place’

The need to facilitate work-life balance is one reason for the rise in ‘third place’ working, that is people doing their jobs at locations others than the fixed office or home. Instead of travelling to office each day, white-collar workers are working at alternative locations for some or all of the week — it could mean taking their laptop to a convenient business centre, doing paperwork on the train, or meeting in a coffee shop. They cut down on commuting and use their time more productively.

A survey of people who regularly use third places to work, including workers in India, found that the most frequently-cited benefit of third place working is convenience (67 per cent) followed closely by access to office support and facilities (65 per cent). Other popular benefits include a change of scene (52 per cent), business-like atmosphere (48 per cent), feeling of motivation/stimulation (47 per cent) and reduced distractions (47 per cent).

Those benefits highlight the importance of convenience, but also of access to a professional environment and office facilities. For that reason, allowing staff to work at home or in coffee shops may be flexible but neither efficient nor productive.

It’s clear that there are no set formulas for designing a productive workspace. One person’s creative buzz is another person’s annoying distraction. But if you are wondering whether to redesign your workplace to boost productivity, here are a few things to consider.

Location is as important as interiors: Letting people work closer to home could boost their productivity more effectively than redesigning the office. Sixty-eight per cent of companies say that flexible working practices such as giving choice over location and hours make staff more energised and motivated.

Different tasks may be easier in different environments: For example, employees may want a quiet space for concentrating one day, and professional space to meet with customers another day. Staff benefit from access to a range of workplaces, including places to work on the move. Regus’ card-based Businessworld programme allows people to touch down at over 1,500 Regus business lounges all over the world, including over 50 centres in Tier I and II cities in India. This flexibility allows employees to choose where and how they work.

Think about noise levels: Nearly six in ten workers say background noise causes ‘major deterioration’ in their ability to concentrate. Open-plan working and cubicles are notorious for this, but it’s possible to use sound-absorbing furniture and carpeting to reduce noise.

Experiment with simple interior design aspects such as colour: Cool greens and blues are meant to induce calm and clarity, and are good for meeting spaces. Warm colours promote creativity.

Don’t be cool for the sake of it: The design of a workplace has to fit a business’s image, brand and staff. More important than giant slides may be an address that people deem professional, and a location that customers and staff can easily get to.

Be green: Use energy-efficient offices and furniture from sustainable sources, and also consider how flexible working options, such as working closer to home, can cut the environmental impact of commuting.

Consider outsourcing: Using flexible workspaces and business centres releases managers and business owners from tasks like equipping the office, dealing with health and safety requirements, and organising maintenance, reception and utilities. This lets them work more productively on core tasks. With less time and money spent on the workspace, there’s more to invest in the business.

(The author is the Chief Operating Officer at Regus, India.)

Published on October 10, 2013

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