Amanda Schneider, LEED AP, MBA is a researcher, writer, consultant, and founder of Contract Consulting Group. She is passionate about studying the latest workplace trends to make meaningful connections for the contract furniture industry and regularly blogs about them for the Huffington Post and various other industry publications.
Suzanne Maynard is a designer, workplace strategist, consultant, and partner with Contract Consulting Group. She has spent over 10 years as an interior design studio leader, commercial interior designer, and project manager. Suzanne is passionate about what drives human behavior and keeping up with leading industry trends. Her focus is working with clients to develop workplace strategy programs that bring positive change to an organization.
Following is an excerpt from our ebook called "Make Your Work Matter: 7 Thought Leaders on Why Work Isn't Working For You and How You Can Change It." You can download the free ebook here.
The concept of going to work has evolved dramatically over the past 10 years. Visions of the 1960’s Mad Men era come to mind, as men and women packed their briefcases, filled with paper files and bologna sandwich lunches, and went to the office from the hours of 9 to 5.
Did they work the whole time? Sometimes. Did they take breaks to grab lunch? Of course.
But what they didn’t have was the ability to come and go as they please, picking up an email or conference call from their smartphone while sitting in the parking lot of their doctor’s office, or on the train home to their child’s soccer game.
See "Office Space Trends: The Rise of Flexible, Remote, & Mobile Working" for more on the popularity of remote work.
What’s more, the idea of working from home was preposterous.
The availability of video conferencing, secure VPN network access, and the always-connected smartphone has expanded the concept of work from somewhere you go to something you do.
As work has evolved from a place to an action, has the physical workplace adapted to accommodate these new trends?
How does the space you work in—be it your office, your home, or the coffee shop down the street—positively enhance your productivity and time management, ultimately allowing you to transform your work life?
To answer this question, we’re going to dive into the five critical overhauls your workplace needs in order to make physical space conducive to productivity and time management.
1. Apply Activity-Based Design in the Workforce
As office space transitions from the only place to work to an optional place to work, companies are finding ways to better utilize their physical space.
More times than not, this results in a reconfiguration of the existing space, often seen as a reduction to “right size,” or maximizing space utilization while benefiting the bottom line.
Companies are looking at the way people get work done while they are physically in the office and are designing spaces accordingly.
For example, the concept of activity-based work “is based on the premise that no employee ‘owns’ or has an assigned workstation.
Rather, the broader workspace provides employees with a variety of predetermined activity areas that allow them to conduct specific tasks including learning, focusing, collaborating, and socializing.”
As technology untethers us from a single work location, this type of work becomes possible.
However, activity-based work is most successful when planners recognize that the same employee may have completely different preferences based on their mood, project load, or individual task for any given day.
Today’s project might be conducive to one environment, while tomorrow’s task can be completed more effectively in a completely different environment.
Giving employees the ability to choose how they work best based on the task they are trying to complete has proven wildly successful, as demonstrated by a recent Steelcase workplace study that found that of more than 10,500 workers in Europe, North America, and Asia, 11 percent cited that they had activity-based work spaces in their offices.
Not surprisingly, that same 11 percent reported the greatest satisfaction and engagement with their companies.
In short, employees that have choices when they physically are in the office are happier performers.
2. Reduce Distractions to Increase Productivity
One of the most common complaints about working in an office setting is distractions. Workplace distractions can take many forms: visual, technology (IM), and even acoustical.
These complaints appear to be increasing with the prevalence of open office planning. Still, more and more companies are leaning toward the open-concept workspace, thus care needs to be taken to ensure employees can still focus.
While visual distractions are enhanced by open workspace, acoustical challenges have always impacted workplace productivity. Both can be managed by giving workers choice in where and how to work, with varying levels of activity-appropriate visual and acoustical privacy.
A baseline survey conducted by the GSA WorkPlace 20•20 program—to determine worker’s perceptions of acoustics in the workforce—found that 60 percent of surveyed individuals said they could get more done if it were quieter in their workplace.
Sometimes, creating that quiet space can be as simple as installing acoustical panels to defer noise from surrounding areas. Other times, it involves creating individual work nooks, such as focus rooms, that provide employees a haven of quiet for projects that require focus.
In their new “right sized” spaces, companies need to achieve “right design,” too.
A mix of space types—including enclosed focus rooms, huddle rooms for small meetings, etc.—or zoning the office is essential in creating a well-designed, balanced workplace that supports individual needs and collaboration.
3. Incorporate Wellness Attributes Like Natural Light and the Outdoors
Wellness within the workplace is becoming a rising focus for employers, which includes access to natural light and accessibility to the outdoors. Giving employees the option to either see or go outdoors has emotional and physiological benefits beyond what can be measured.
In a recent Landscape Forms interview with Dr. Warber, healthcare expert and PhD researcher, she explains the important shift of our view toward outdoor space:
“Outdoor space has been looked at as a passageway between buildings, which can give us small doses of rejuvenation. What is new is looking at the outdoor space not as a pass-through, but as a destination.
And in this instance, the same care we take to plan furniture layouts in our interior spaces should be given to outdoor space if we want more functionality.”
Increasing numbers of companies are designing designated spaces for employees to work outdoors. But what if your company isn’t so generous?
Circling back to the ability to get work done anywhere, remote access and telecommuting benefits don’t have to apply to working only at home; employees can obtain all the benefits of working outdoors, even at the office, from the comfort of an outdoor rooftop terrace, cafe, or a picnic table near the main entrance.
Simple actions that help rethink use of the outdoors, such as outdoor walking meetings or breaks outdoors—and a culture that allows them—can make a big impact.
Additionally, there’s a new and increasingly implemented building standard that helps design for the full employee body. The WELL Building Standard uses innovative, research-based strategies to advance health, happiness, mindfulness, and productivity in our buildings and communities.
Backed by notable sources like Leonardo DiCaprio, the Clinton family, and Deepak Chopra and notable industry experts, this standard was designed with the help of architects and building and medical professionals who came together to determine the best way to make healthier buildings.
With more than 100 features that address workplace preferences and how people get work done, this design standard has paved the way for meaningful conversation about how people work their best.
4. View Technology as an Enhancement, Not an Inhibitor
We’ve touched briefly on the technology and tools that enable worker mobility and make possible this conversation of workplace flexibility. The first items that come to mind are remote access via a secured VPN, teleconferencing, and the ability to stay connected, 24/7, via smartphones.
However, with all of this technology comes an underlying burden. While having the ability to work whenever and wherever you want is wonderful from a flexibility perspective, it’s also important to be able to turn work off and focus on personal time.
Technology must be viewed as an enhancement to the ability to get work done, instead of a burden to do vastly more.
For example, research has found that adding video conferencing to a meeting reduces the average time of the meeting from 90 minutes to 30 minutes, giving employees valuable time back to their day.
In this case, the technology is an additional benefit to the current workload, creating a resource to get more work done, better.
While technology is redefining the function of office spaces, employees are seeing the change as a welcome benefit.
In fact, 81 percent of employees surveyed in a 1,003-person, Adobe-run study think state-of-the-art technology is more important to where they work than other perks or amenities.
5. Explore Flexible, Individualized Paths to Productivity
As discussed, getting work done is no longer defined by where you go; work can happen anywhere, anytime. If we are looking to maximize productivity, perhaps schedules should be dictated by your personal preferences and natural tendencies.
Perhaps you’re an early riser—why shouldn’t you be able to harvest your most productive hours and get more work done before 9 a.m., and then be done for the day a few hours before 5 p.m.?
Technology is facilitating virtual collaborative teamwork that does not require employees to be physically in the office all the time.
However, in this world of increasing team-based work, it is vital that, while we accommodate individual preferences, we still have agreed upon availability hours, so that team productivity is not inhibited by these alternative schedules.
While there are still many skeptics to the alternative work schedule concept, the idea of making a way to do rewarding work at a time that’s conducive to each individual’s schedule is becoming more accepted.
Many employees are trading in the traditional workplace environment—with the perks of employer- subsidized healthcare, hefty 401K benefits, and generous PTO—for the self-employed, consulting gigs that fall within the realms of the new working term, the “gig economy.”
The availability of websites like www. powertofly.com or www.flexjobs.com are just a few examples of opportunities for individuals to find gainful employment, both financially and personally.
Websites like www.elance. com, www.upwork.com, and www.qdesk.com offer options for individuals looking to dabble in freelance work—or potentially turn it into a full-time career—and many experts predict that the gig economy will continue to rise.
Best Buy conducted a study in which it gave a select group of employees the ability to control their own schedules and encouraged management to support their schedule and workplace choices, so long as they met deadlines and completed their tasks.
Managers were given tablets with pre-set alarms to remind them to check in on their employees throughout the day.
At the end of the study, employees given autonomy of their schedule were as reliable as those with defined hours and work arrangements, and they were happier and less stressed.
Despite all of the flexibility, physical offices will never truly go away. In fact, this statement is proved by the rising availability of coworking opportunities, or the idea of working near like-minded individuals.
The trend is becoming more prevalent, as it helps individuals who serve in freelance or consulting roles—and also full-time employees who work in-part or solely remotely—find meaningful workplace connections.
As one hilarious article in The New Yorker that scripts a fake call to a 911 operator from a work-at-home employee, even with a trend toward remote work, humans still have an inherent need to connect to other individuals.
There is one overarching theme that transgresses across all the previously mentioned topics: workplace culture and adaptation behaviors must be in favor of employees finding workplace solutions that work for them, otherwise these points fall on deaf ears.
For example, one recent research study showed that 96 percent of respondents said supporting learners online was a top priority while only 36 percent said they had the capabilities to get it done.
A culture without the proper tools is ineffective, just as the tools without a supportive culture do little good. The ideal culture is one in which leadership leads by example. In reality, we’re all too often faced with a situation where leadership speaks and then does not lead.
Implementing real workplace change involves finding the right training approach, often inclusive of a hands-on methodology, and then handling resistance with a leadership-first mentality.
There are many factors driving change in our workplaces today. But perhaps the biggest challenge is the accelerating pace of change. Not only are people working in different places, but they are also working at unique times, with a diverse toolkit that enables work to be done anywhere and anytime.
And just as we think we have figured one thing out, more change comes. We are expected to be increasingly productive in workplaces that were never designed for the way work happens today.
It is plausible that by implementing thoughtful workplace designs and creating new cultures driven by forward-thinking management teams, we have the ability to help American workers live healthier, happier, and more fulfilled lives.
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