Leading Thinking

Do extravagant offices really create more engaged employees?03rd June 2016

Imagine you open a door and the first thing you see is something zooming past on a scooter. As you look around, you see huge pieces of soft furnishing in bright colours, with people spread out with papers or laptops. Peering into another door, you see an array of pool tables, video games and ping pong paraphernalia. And was that a slide in the middle of the room?

Did you accidently enter a holiday park? No, this is the office of the future.

More and more companies are doing away with minimal, clean cubicles and exploring the boundaries of office design. Whether it’s re-creating a New York Street in a hallway or building a pirate ship within the confines of the office, workplaces seem to be competing to see who can create the most outlandish and creative spaces possible.

However, is this quest for the quirky actually translating to employee performance?

From the Googleplex

The current trend of the creative office seems to stem (unsurprisingly) from Google. As early as 2005, videos, tours and pictures of the facilities have captured the move away from minimalism to a more colourful and fun office.

Many of the features were designed to support employees to perform at their best. Think fully-functional kitchens at every turn, comfortable work spaces and on-site amenities such as laundromats and fully equipped gyms to help them work harder and work longer. Since early 2015, you could even visit the place for yourself and see these feature in action (or at least a limited section of it).

However, the intention has become convoluted as companies strive to become the next Googleplex.

Where are we going wrong?

An out-there design may make your office look great on Instagram but it is vital that business owners think critically about the long-term benefits and practicality of installing certain features.

Take the slide. Initially, these provided a fast and fun route to key areas such as cafeterias or entranceways. However, they can backfire as Fredrik Öst of Swedish graphic design studio Snask explained at the Design Indaba conference.

"Everyone hates the slide because it ruins your clothes," he said, as quoted in a March 22 De Zeen article.

"If you work close to it you hear people scream constantly because it's tourists and new employees going in it all the time."

Although it can work in highly creative companies like Google, Jeremy Myerson explained that venturing into playground territory infantilises your employees and can led to lost focus and lower productivity.  Office design is a huge contributor to organisational culture and the décor and amenities you chose send a strong message to everyone who interacts with the organisation, be it employee, shareholder or client.

Above all, most offices will require hard, serious work from driven, focussed employees. A myriad of games, distractions and whimsical features signals that your company is not geared towards productivity or getting the best work out of your staff. In the worst cases, creative offices can be condescending and create negative associations among employees.

To help you revamp your office in the right way, we’ve identified the 4 Fs that led to a productive and positive office for your employees.

Function

An effective office fostered excellent work. While open-plan, fun spaces work for companies that require plenty of collaboration and human interaction, other employees will require more privacy and quiet to get their task complete.

Even Google, the master of the workplace, has its fair share of critics when it comes to practicality.

“With all the open areas for food, games, TV, tech talks, etc, it can be surprisingly hard to find a quiet, private place to think,” said a former Google employee, as quoted in a November 2013 Business Insider article.

Just as quickly as the idea popped up, open offices are quickly loosing popularity. Employees are placing a much higher value on privacy and peace than a busy, bustling office. In fact, research from the University of Sydney found that the supposed benefits of increased communication and collaboration did not overcome the disruption to work, increased disruptions and lack of privacy.

The key priority is to ensure employees have the resources and space to produce good quality work. Therefore, every purchase should be in consideration of how exactly it will affect the employees and if the benefits will outweigh potential negatives.

Form

A performance-focussed office doesn’t have to be devoid of character and atheistic enjoyment.

Choosing the right colours and décor is an important step. Different shades and tones have significant psychological effects on employees and can encourage a calm mind, a productive conversation or a positive outlook, depending on your choices.

Art can be a good way to bring colour, life and intrigue to your office. A journal article from the University of Westminster found that employees reported significantly lower cortisol levels (i.e. the stress hormone) after taking a brief trip to the art gallery during their lunch break compared to staying in a plain office.

While you probably can’t afford to replicate an entire collection in our office, the study suggests there are some benefits of looking at artwork during a break, however brief. Art can relax and stimulate workers in tandem, as The University of Toronto Scarborough's Oshin Vartanian explained.

“You have this parallel situation where you are deriving a very instinctive, pleasure and reward-oriented emotion and a more cognitive, contemplative response all at once. It can make for a powerful experience,” he said.

Flexibility

Rather than keeping everything within one confine, it pays to clearly define areas to work in a group, places to work uninterrupted and spaces to relax and socialise during a vital break. Creating these spaces can require some out-of-the-box thinking, but the results can pay off immensely.

A great example of creating a social space is Viking Direct’s Game of Thrones room. As reported in a March 29 Mashable article, the company re-purposed an empty meeting room to create a fun space to socialise and relax. Complete with props, interactive games and stain-glass windows depicting key scenes from the show, this is a great way to reward employees without going over the top or taking away from productive work.

Separation of space allows your workers to have a clear divide between individual work, team discussions, client meetings and downtime.

Fitness

As we spend more and more time sitting down at the computer, ergonomics and employee health become a much more pressing matter for businesses to address.  According to Ergonomics Info, office employees spend 95 per cent of on a computer, so it is important you take action to ensure these employees are practising good ergonomics.

This can include getting laptop stands, choosing good quality chairs and giving employees rom to stretch out and move around. Not only does this create healthier employee, it can even increase productivity by 11 per cent on average. Having employees sitting correctly and comfortably plays a major part in reducing injury risk and time away from work.

Other important factors to consider are lighting, air quality, temperature and even biophilia.A whitepaper published by Haworth defined this concept as our intrinsic need to connect with nature. Employees that worked in an office that incorporated elements such as plants, abundant natural light and views outside that 15 per cent higher wellbeing scores on average than employees that had no exposure to nature.

Choosing effective natural features, such as running water features and greenery is a good way to bring in biophilia without drastic structural changes.

Creating a pleasant and productive workplace doesn’t have to cost a fortune or require wacky designs. By making some smart choices, you can open the door to an office that assists employees in producing the best work possible.

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