Running Your Business

Counterproductive Office Design: Providing Perks Without Reducing Productivity

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Posted by May 29, 2017

Is your workplace a victim of counterproductive office design? Nearly every company wants to have the “cool” office, where fun features and collaborative workspaces rule. Great office design can be an effective way to draw in new employees and help with employee retention. But sometimes, these features go a little too far and actually reduce productivity and happiness in employees.

The Evolution of Modern Workspaces

A few years ago, some corporate interior designer got the bright idea that open spaces and aesthetically oriented work areas were somehow going to revolutionize the office as we know it. After all, the era of cubicle farms was nearing its end and people were tired of being stuffed two at a time into what amounted to tiny prison cells. After knocking down walls between employees, what was left was the collaborative office design—complete with yoga balls as chairs, well-equipped game rooms, coffee bars and mini meeting pods. This entire philosophy was extended to all areas of the corporate property, and soon bike trails, basketball courts and outdoor seating areas were added.

The Human Spaces blog advises that much of this came about as a result of millennials demanding greater flexibility and more work–life balance by combining leisure time with work time. What used to be considered unique at tech companies like Google and Facebook is now commonplace with many of the world’s most progressive companies. However, the U.S. Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey indicates that Americans (over the age of 15) spend more than five hours per day on leisure activities and around four hours per day working. U.S. society has put an emphasis on play versus work.

Does Counterproductive Office Design Need Modification?

Office design can reduce productivity in several ways. First, employees may already have trouble prioritizing and managing time. It can be tempting to spend more time hanging out in the comfortable break room than getting any real work done. Secondly, not every employee thrives in open, collaborative workspaces. Some may actually find this experience to be highly distracting. An article in Slate highlighted this problem, advising that a 1982 study of over 600 workers showed open office design resulted in lack of personal privacy, lower morale and even contributing to more employee absenteeism. It’s important to monitor these areas of employee performance in order to determine if your office design is indeed causing problems.

Better Office Design

An easy solution to better office design is to simply provide a mix of open work areas and more private workspaces. Additionally, all employees should have a desk to call their own. Employee common areas can include gaming elements, coffee bars and workout equipment, but these perks should be communicated as something to take advantage of on personal time, not during work hours. Managers should monitor their own people and determine if anyone is abusing these privileges.

Alternatives to Cool Office Design

It is possible to still have a modern and fun office design to appeal to a younger employee population. Include elements such as comfortable meeting areas, clutter-free desks with plenty of natural lighting, lush plants that oxygenate the air and relaxation areas that provide a safe space for employees to vent or refresh when needed. Include healthy snack machines, water coolers and walking areas for maintaining well-being. Give employees the skills they need to succeed and be productive through professional development and soft skills training.

By implementing just a few of the above things, it’s possible to help employees remain engaged in their work and productive throughout the day.

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