Six design elements for a more productive office

Modern workers and their employers are increasingly focused on getting the most out of their working day.

August 09, 2018

Everyday there’s a new article touting the latest “productivity hack,” or a Q&A with a top CEO about how he or she stays productive.

But there are limits to what an app-guided “focus” meditation can do in a space that is, itself, chaotic. Enter the role of smart office design, where employee data is used to create an environment that optimizes productivity.

“The workplace is the physical manifestation of your company’s culture and core values,” says Ed Nolan of JLL’s Workplace Strategy practice. “By better understanding the deep connection between the human experience and real estate, organizations can create more innovative workplaces that drive productivity, experience and business value.”

These are the six most important elements in an office that boost worker productivity by aiding with everything from concentration to wellness:

  • Amenities that make life easier

A rooftop pool is, without a doubt, a fun luxury, but amenities as simple as vending machines with healthy, energy-boosting snacks can improve the experience of employees navigating day-to-day workstreams. “You want to make it more convenient to be at work and reduce the need to leave the office during the day,” says Michael Jordan, who leads Productivity Strategies at JLL. “That means something different to each company, so it’s important to look at what your unique employee base will value.”

Companies with older workers, for example, might find that onsite medical services reduce the amount of time workers have to spend out of the office, navigating appointments, while younger demographics might better appreciate onsite childcare.

Access to free food all day can help employees stay flexible – adjusting mealtimes based on workflow, rather than the other way around. Not all employers can afford a cafeteria with a personal chef, but many can achieve similar benefits by bringing in food trucks, says Jordan.

  • The right mix of work spaces

In open office floorplans, activity-based work areas can help employees feel more comfortable, empowered and inspired to show up. For example, casual lounges, where unlikely collaborators can collide, lead to more innovation. Concentration areas can be just as vital, not only for heads-down work, but also for finding relaxing space to unwind.

  • Natural light and clean air

The architecture of an office building directly impacts cognitive functioning. Multiple studies show the benefits that come with big windows that let in natural light—employee productivity, engagement and satisfaction all edge up. Building infrastructure, such as the HVAC system, plays a clear role too. Poor air quality can spread the flu and colds, and a sick workforce is never a productive one.

  • Quiet zones

Noisy officemates are more than an annoyance: research from the World Green Building Council indicates background noise can lead to as much as a 66 percent drop in productivity. “The ability to concentrate is one of the top drivers of employee experience,” Jordan says. Options abound for improving acoustics, from installing sound-absorbing ceiling tiles to filling a room with soft white noise. Phone booths can help contain conference call chatter, with the added benefit of providing space for private conversations.

  • Easy-to-use workplace technology

Technology can make office life infinitely easier when it automates routine tasks, like booking a conference room. “The more you can embed tech into the DNA of your workplace, the more productive your people will be,” says Nolan.

But execution is key. When technology isn’t intuitive, employees can waste valuable time hunting for open meeting spaces or figuring out if they have the right adapter to share a presentation.

  • A smart way to collect data

Measuring the output of knowledge workers can be an elusive quest. “Productivity is a relatively simple equation when your employees make widgets—you simply look at the number of widgets they make per hour,” says Jordan. “That equation falls apart when you examine all the different types of work happening in your organization, from analyzing financials to developing business strategies.”For organizations hoping to tackle productivity problems with a workplace refresh, Jordan points to five metrics to examine: absenteeism, attrition, cognitive functioning, labor output and recruiting.

By measuring each productivity intervention against those criteria, organizations can gain data-driven insights on how their workplace is enabling or hindering productivity.

“You can’t always add more amenities,” says Jordan. “What’s key is to achieve the right combination of services that will make the most impact for your employees. And you can only do that when you put data to the problem.”

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