Research commissioned by the British Council for Offices reveals most employees may be tiring of hot desk-ing and remote working. Office Depot’s Paula Marshall explains why going back to the basics may be best for productivity
With the UK in the midst of a productivity crisis, staff retention remains a key focus for businesses and optimising office design to maximise wellbeing and performance is a key aim for many firms.
However, while business leaders in recent years have rushed to adopt the latest trends and innovations, including hotdesking, remote working provisions and novel design concepts, new research suggests that comfort and a sense of belonging are most important to employees. In short, it’s time for businesses to go back to basics.
The 2016 ‘what workers want’ study, commissioned by the British Council for Offices (BDO) in June, found that employees cited comfort (87 per cent), lighting (86 per cent) and temperature (85 per cent) as the factors which had the biggest influence on their workplace satisfaction. In a climate where many businesses feel under pressure to emulate the on-site arcade rooms, bold furniture choices and nap areas adopted by high-profile Silicon Valley start-ups, these findings should act as a stark reminder of the importance of doing the simple things well.
While it is well known that comfortable surroundings can maximise productivity, business leaders should consider factors such as the office climate, quality of heating or air conditioning and levels of natural light when selecting commercial property for rent. In addition, although statement art or furniture choices can improve the overall attractiveness of an office environment, these should not be selected at the detriment of employee comfort. Budgets must be allocated in a manner which balances the need for adjustable, ergonomically-designed furniture and more showy pieces which fulfil an aesthetic purpose.
Although flexible working provisions have become increasingly widespread over the past few years, it seems that this trend may be reversing, with employees moving back to the office. BDO’s research found that the ability to work from home has become significantly less appealing to workers, with just 28 per cent displaying a preference for remote working, compared to 45 per cent in 2013. While this is positive for businesses, in that having a larger continent of the workforce in the office will increase collaborative working and promote strong team relationships, adjustments must be made to facilitate this.
For example, as the number of employees working remotely increased, many businesses implemented hotdesking provisions to free up unused space. However, 60 per cent of workers now say they would like their own workspace, up from 41 per cent in 2013. In order to ensure returning workers have a sense of belonging, businesses should consider how they can best utilise the space available to provide employees with their own workstation.
The first factor which must be examined is the size of desks used – many businesses still clog up space with huge workstations, however with most employees working on laptops or slim line monitors, and having a lower reliance on paper documents, these could potentially be substituted by smaller replacements. Furthermore, in order to promote team cohesion through design, businesses may decide to implement zonal layouts, where the location of different divisions or teams in the office space is denoted by subtle splashes of colour on table legs, chairs or mouse mats.
One way to free up the space required to give employees their own static workstation is by utilising modular furniture and movable partitions to create multi-purpose communal meeting spaces. Giving employees the ability to reconfigure the office environment depending on their need for privacy, open conversation and formal or informal discussion, will minimise unused space and reduce the number of meeting rooms required. Research shows that attitudes towards the workplace have changed over the last couple of years, and having an office environment that can flex and adapt as well is essential to creating the optimum working environment.
In the quest to increase employee productivity and satisfaction through design, business leaders must cut through the noise of the latest trends and ensure that they meet the basic needs of their employees. Providing a comfortable environment and a sense of belonging must be a priority. While the creation of an innovative and aesthetically pleasing workspace is important, this should not be achieved at the detriment of employee satisfaction.
Paula Marshall is head of furniture category sales at business solutions provider Office Depot.