Every day, businesses encourage their employees to be more efficient and productive. There are dozens of ways to make this happen, from implementing innovative technology to bringing in productivity experts.
In an office setting, however, how your design your workspace can have a bigger impact on productivity than just about any choice you make. Whether you have dozens of employees or work from home by yourself, setting up an efficient workspace is one of the best things you can do for both your productivity and mental well-being.
How can I make my office more efficient?
"Workplace productivity isn't about getting from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time, but rather getting the job done in the most efficient manner possible while still maintaining a level of happiness and well-being," said Jamie Fertsch, director and co-founder of Xdesk, a U.S.-based company that creates custom ergonomic desks out of environmentally friendly materials. Sometimes, she added, unexpected things can have the biggest impact on that efficiency.
To make your office more efficient, productive and innovative, you need to consider multiple parts of setup and design:
- Individual desk setup
- Overall workspace design
- Elements that impact employee well-being
- Company culture
Best office layout for productivity
Your desk and office are the first things to consider when designing a workspace. In the process of designing her firm's signature desks, Fertsch learned how much of an impact an individual's space can have on their work.
"Your personal workspace is one of the most overlooked factors that affect productivity," she said. "Whether it's rummaging through your drawers to locate an important document or having too many knickknacks, a clean and efficient desk setup is key to [workplace] success."
Some say that a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind. But staying tidy is key to staying productive. Messy workspaces are more likely to create problems than new ideas. According to research by Brother International Corporation, office employees spend the equivalent of 38 hours – nearly an entire workweek – looking for lost or misplaced items every year. The cost of that disorganization is close to $89 billion annually.
Make an effort every day to maintain a clutter-free, organized office and desk. If you have employees, stock the office with the materials they need to make that happen. Those materials may include desks with drawers and shelves, folders, file cabinets, and organizing trays. Ensure that common spaces stay clean and tidy.
Don't forget about gadgets in this. Smartphones, tablets and other tech devices can lead to a lot of wasted time. Studies have found that smartphones negatively affect daily productivity. A survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam found that, on average, office workers spend nearly five working hours a week on their mobile devices doing tasks unrelated to work. That's more than half a workday.
For Fertsch, the best way to avoid this wasted time is to find a home for gadgets and leave them there. If you have an office with many employees, create gadget-free time during meetings and group projects to help workers become used to disconnecting from their devices.
How does workspace design affect productivity?
Your individual desk can impact how you work. But what about your overall office? Can office design really drive productivity and innovation?
When you're designing a workspace for multiple employees, it's important to think about how they interact with the whole space. Consider where everything is located and how that impacts the way employees move through their day.
This doesn't mean that everything should be so conveniently placed that employees never have to move from their desks to get their work done. In fact, your workspace design should be the opposite.
Multiple studies show that breaking up your work time with mental rest periods improves your productivity, while moving around in small bursts throughout the day can lower stress levels and improve your health. The most productive offices are set up to encourage and facilitate this kind of necessary movement.
Putting the copy machine in a separate space, for example, or having a central water cooler creates reasons for employees to stand up and move. A separate kitchen or break room can also give employees a reason to get up, as well as a place to take a break without worrying about who will see them not working.
If your office has an open design, your employees may need places to focus and get work done without interruptions. If you have an open setup with cubicles or desks near each other, designate private offices or meeting spaces that employees can sign up to use when they need to work without distractions.
How does your current office design impact your employees?
Designing your office setup isn't just a matter of where you put furniture. It also includes the elements that live – sometimes literally – within that design. These elements can have a strong impact on your employees' physical and mental wellness, as well as their sense of happiness at the office, all of which directly affect their work.
The amount of natural light in your office has the biggest and most immediate impact on both your health and your work. Multiple studies have found that workers in offices with plenty of natural light are …
- Healthier overall.
- Less prone to headaches and eyestrain.
- More likely to sleep well.
- Happier about being at work.
- More productive and focused.
Smaller, more unexpected design elements can also have a big effect on productivity, like keeping plants in the office or on employees' desks. In 2014, a research team in the United Kingdom found that having plants in the office boosted productivity by up to 15%, along with increasing both workplace satisfaction and how engaged employees felt with their work.
When designing your office space, don't just focus on the big things that you need to get work done, such as a computer or desk. Consider how small design elements can impact your mood, health and general attitude about work.
What is a flexible workspace design?
One workspace design that incorporates many of these principles is the flexible workspace. Unlike traditional offices, flexible workspaces aren't organized around assigned desks or closed-door offices.
A flexible workspace is not necessarily the same as an open office; in fact, employees who work in only open spaces often find that they need more private areas for meetings, phone calls or individual work.
Instead, flexible workspaces use nontraditional designs to create multipurpose spaces that anyone can use. These may be workstations with desks, meeting spaces, open conference tables, comfortable chairs, private nooks or any other space where workers can sit (or stand) and do their job.
These are some of the benefits flexible offices provide:
- They allow employees to find the workstation they need on a given day rather than being tied to a specific desk.
- They encourage employee movement, collaboration and communication, all of which increase productivity.
- They increase efficiency by allowing businesses to occupy space with a smaller floor plan or provide space to telecommuting employees who are in the office occasionally.
- They allow customization for changing needs as a company grows.
How do you create a good workspace?
Of course, a good workspace isn't just about design. It's also about company culture, which can impact employee well-being, investment and productivity more than any single element of office setup.
"There will always be objective goals set in a workplace," said Fertsch. "But productivity can also be personal, which is why it's important to foster an office culture where employees want to give it their 100% at all times."
Your company culture is made up of the values and behaviors that inform your work and priorities, as well as your expectations, goals, ethics and mission. This culture is communicated, either deliberately or informally, by executives to managers and by managers to their teams, informing everyone in the company how they are expected to behave and work at the office. It is also communicated through the way you design your workspace.
- Do you encourage teamwork and collaboration? If so, you should have plenty of large spaces for groups to work.
- Do you expect employees to keep things strictly business at work rather than socializing? In that case, you may want everyone to have individual offices.
- Do you have strong environmental standards that you stick to, even if it makes things more expensive? Those should be reflected in your design elements, such as by keeping plants in the office and making recycling or composting easy and accessible.
As you design your physical office, think about designing your cultural office too. To create the most efficient and productive workspace for your company and employees, make conscious decisions about your values and priorities and how they will be reflected in your physical space.