At SVM Global we’re always looking to learn more about how to get the best from employees. Because we offer gifting and reward solutions, we’re also keen to see how these fit into the bigger picture of the working culture. Buildings can improve overall productivity and performance by as much as 12.5 percent or reduce them by as much as 17 percent according to Carnegie Mellon's report ‘High Performance Buildings’. That’s a 30 percent swing between employee performance in the best and worst buildings! So – the work space. How has it changed, and how does it affect employees?
1906 - The first modern office, the Larkin Administration Building was made based on an open-plan factory, with a giant atrium and very few walls. Managers had access to the windows and had desks with better quality wood to 'show their status'!
1940 – 1960 Open plan ‘Mad Men’ style desks were still extremely popular. Offices were designed to position banks of people in certain areas based on communication flow, storage needs, use of equipment/ degree of privacy required – however entitlement to floorspace was also based on company role and status.
1967 – DuPont, amongst others, adopts Bürolandschaft or ‘office landscaping’ – creating a workspace that is completely open with desks grouped together in pods.
1970 - People used to private offices started to complain that they couldn’t focus, so just 3 years later, European workers' councils start to reject open-office plans, insisting that employees across the continent be granted private offices to concentrate.
1985 – Inventor Propst created a 3 walled office cubicle, which was named by The World Design Conference as the most successful design of the previous 25 years.
1987 – Confounding the support for cubicles a study compared the work of more than 600 computer programmers at 92 companies and found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but what distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed.
1989 – The tail end of the recession necessitated many businesses to close a floor, but there was a hidden secret - with the flexible cubicle designs – many companies could make the cubicles far smaller than Propst had intended.
1990 – Hot desking is suggested as the new way to connect teams. The “future office” is created by Chiat/Day advertising agency, with randomly scattered data ports, no private offices, clusters of couches and table tops, with almost no personal space apart from some small lockers. Rumour has it that one employee took to carting her things around in a child’s red wagon as people lost documents and struggled to find places to sit.
1994 – IBM take hot desking further – and experiment with ‘hotelling’ – reserving a desk, like you would a hotel room.
1998 – Whilst hotdesking was gathering interst, by 1998, around 40 million Americans were working in office cubicles that had been roughly based on Propst’s designs. The creep of smaller workspace in the cubicles than intended was said to horrify Propst.
2000 – Open plan continues to reign as office furniture is all connected, and desk shapes separate work areas in lieu of huge dividers. The rise of the flat pack and cheaper, disposable furniture sees the start of the ‘picnic’ bench desk, with large amounts of workers on one huge desk, sometimes seperated by partitions.
2006: By 2006 it is suggested that about 70% of U.S. offices now have some type of open floor plan design (IFMA)
2010: The recession has hit and according to CoreNet Global research, the average square foot per person in office dropped from 225 square feet to 176 sf between 2010 and 2012 with an aggressive focus on leased buildings, and a lasting effect on the minds of business owners who look to maximise the space they do have.
2014 – A study of 10,500 workers in Europe, North America and Asia found that over 85 per cent of employees were dissatisfied with their open plan office environment and were struggling to concentrate, losing up to 86 minutes per day to distractions, and 31 per cent had to leave their offices to complete their work due to lack of private space. Hot desking also gets poor press when a study shows 90% of people in hot-desking environments felt higher stress levels and lower productivity levels as a direct result.
2015 - Publishers Hachette step away from open plan and install 520 cubes – including one for the owner. Meanwhile Facebook goes the other way, creating a complete open plan design that fits 2800 engineers in single room!
2016 & Beyond - Open plan is still popular, and hoteling is back! However, a new world with omnipresent Wi-Fi may now make this feasible, plus, many people may choose not to come in at all - according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), the number of mobile workers globally exceeded one billion people in 2010 and is forecast to grow by 6% per annum over coming years.
The future look set to be a place where desks are replaced by homeworkers and telecommuting, and office space becomes focused on employee wellbeing – treadmill and standing desks, under desk cycles and a focus on lighting and daylight. When the shift grows to out of office working, space may be given based on their volume of in office tenancy, instead of position/ hierarchy.
What should your business do?
The debate from open plan offices with breakout rooms and meeting areas, or completely separate cubicles seemed locked in a perpetual battle! Whilst open-plan was the modern idyll for communication and a non-hierarchical structure, the studies seem to advocate the benefits of private space.
However there is an argument against private space – Millennials, the latest workforce are so used to this way of working – especially with Google and Facebook loudly investing in open plan, that it could be seen as ‘the norm’. There is also the chance that organic conversations of value are happening that make the noise and distractions worthwhile, or that by using open plan spaces, you can employ more staff.
There are many questions to be asked that only you can answer. Keeping employees happy even saves the employer financially in the long run, as a stress-free environment is conducive with positive mental health, which enables staff to work healthily and happily (13.3 million working days are lost to stress, depression and anxiety every year).
If you can’t make a full change – why not take a few side-line tips?
1. Better workplace lighting (both natural daylight and artificial light) has been linked to a 15 percent reduction in absenteeism in office environments. Other studies have reported productivity increases ranging from 2.8 to 20 percent attributed to optimum lighting levels (WGBC, ‘The Business Case for Green Building)
2. In environments with white noise, or sound masking, employees report improvements of up to 38 percent for the performance of simple tasks and 27 percent for complex tasks. (CABE, ‘The Impact of Office Design on Business Performance)
3. Studies have shown that bringing in just one plant per square metre can have a positive effect on employee performance on memory retention, with a 15% increase in productivity. (The relative benefits of green versus lean office space)
4. Rewards - The Impact of Rewards Programs on Employee Engagement study showed that “efforts to increase engagement through rewards programs were strongly correlated with the organizations’ effectiveness in fostering high levels of employee engagement and motivation. This indicates that organizations which can link engagement to total rewards practices are more likely to effectively engage and motivate employees”.
In short, whatever the office looks like in the short term – a strong culture of reward and recognition might be the clincher in keeping your employees on board for the long term, whatever happens to the desks!
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