How workspace design impacts engagement, productivity, performance & employee retention

Posted on 21st June 2018 by CMI Workplace

Abigail Ireland, Wellbeing Consultant takes a closer look at how the physical design of workspace today can have a direct impact on employee retention and engagement.

The world’s top performing companies understand the link between workspace design and workforce effectiveness – and now, more and more organisations are falling over themselves in a race to create visually attractive and multi-functional office environments. Giants like Google and Apple are advocates of digitally enabled, collaborative and innovative workspaces that entice and retain top talent. Importantly, employee retention is high on the agenda for organisations determined to thrive in a world of constant change.

Gone are the days when organisations would attempt to squeeze everyone into the same mould and expect the same outcomes. Companies are quickly realising that employees have individual working styles and demands that, in turn, are enhanced or negatively impacted by the physical work environment.

Ineffective workplace design is a leading cause of sub-par productivity, low colleague engagement, frustration and stress. In this day and age, the majority of office-based workers are “knowledge workers” who function best in different settings depending on the type of task they are doing. This is the concept behind activity-based working. Administrative, operational, technical and strategic activities each demand a different workspace design for optimal productivity and performance. Likewise, teamwork thrives in a certain atmosphere that is not necessarily conducive to focused individual work.

As a high performance and productivity consultant, I’ve tested the impact of workspace design on my personal effectiveness and concluded that design really does play a significant role.

Below are three big reasons to pay attention to your workspace design – that is, if you want to create high performing teams…

1. Supercharge colleague engagement

Smart workspace design allows your people to choose how and where they want to work, depending on the activities they have to get through. According to research from MIT and Erasmus University, choice is a characteristic of high performing companies. Choice drives engagement, satisfaction, empowerment and happiness as workers are given the freedom to make their own decisions. All of this supports employee retention and a positive working culture.

A University of Warwick study showed that happiness led to a 12% increase in productivity, so it makes sense to grant workers the flexibility to choose how they work at their best.

An inviting office environment also makes workers feel valued and excited about coming to work each day. Breakout spaces, lounge areas, coffee spots and booths encourage collaboration and more informal interactions. This helps to strengthen working relationships and enable employees to get to know each other a little better.

Finally, companies at the cutting edge of workplace design are incorporating wellbeing features into their offerings – everything from stand up stations, treadmill desks and meditation rooms are gaining popularity.

2. Enhance creative thinking

How many times have you tried to think creatively whilst staring at a computer screen in a clinical, white-walled office? The two just don’t go together, which is why it makes sense to stimulate creativity by changing your surroundings.

Colour and design have a huge impact on productivity and performance. A study by the University of Texas confirmed that colour provokes a reaction in the brain that affects workers’ moods and productivity. Yellow and orange are known to inspire creativity and innovation whilst linking to positive emotions, optimism and enthusiasm.

Open spaces, reflection zones and fresh air encourage your brain to shift into the diffused mode – perfect for creative and innovative thinking.

3. Enable intense focus

If you’re anything like me, you will find it incredibly frustrating trying to get through work that requires a high degree of concentration whilst sitting in the middle of a noisy, open plan office.

Smart workspace design caters for this through the creation of quiet zones that allow employees to get into their own performance zones. Quiet zones are for quiet contemplation, reflection, recharge or focused individual work. These are areas free from chatter, loud phone calls, clutter and socialisation – designed entirely to allow colleagues to get on with tasks and think with minimal distraction.

A good trick is to mentally associate different working areas with different types of work – this enables your brain to make connections and be more productive in each environment. For example, allocating a quiet spot away from your usual desk so you can plough through your inbox means you can create defined boundaries for working on this activity. When you return to your desk, you can associate this location with getting tasks done rather than feeling the urge to check emails.

Balance is the key here. Everyone needs a blend of individual quiet time to get work done combined with energising, collaborative sessions with colleagues to get the creative juices going.

Wrapping Up

It makes sense and yet so many companies struggle to grasp just how much a vibrant, thriving office space can impact performance, energy, engagement and employee retention. If you want to lead the pack and reduce the risk of being left behind, it’s time to review your office environment, embrace change and get in line with the top performers.

Abigail Ireland works with executives and teams to optimise personal effectiveness and productivity. Her goal is to enable her clients to experience sustainable high performance by achieving results with more energy, more focus and less stress.


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