Designers are constantly being challenged to create activity-based, dynamic workspaces.
“The purpose of office facilities is to maximise worker productivity,” professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University in New York said recently. “Productivity, health and wellbeing, and business are intricately linked to the work environment.”
Schiavello and Humanscale recently invited Hedge, one of the world’s leading experts in ergonomics, to speak to the Australian industry about his work and the measurable impact of workspace design on productivity.
During his presentation, he spoke to a roomful of designers, facility managers, and other workplace professionals about how dynamic workplaces facilitate movement, and improve productivity.
“Overweight and obese workers are costing businesses money and it’s in our community’s interest that designers create dynamic workplaces which facilitate movement ….resulting in health and wellbeing for all office occupants,” he said.
The New Zealand government recently identified seven drivers of workplace productivity: Building leadership and management capability, creating productive workplace cultures, encouraging innovation and the use of technology, investing in people and skills, organising work, networking and collaboration, and measuring what matters.
Designers could easily draw back from this challenge, claiming it is the management of business’ responsibility to address behavioural change, but innovative design bolsters productivity and approaches such as Activity-Based Working (ABW) are gaining popularity.
A 2012 study by Leblebici in the Journal of Business, Economics and Finance showed 92 per cent of people agreed that physical environmental factors are important to them. Physical components of the working environment were defined in two categories, comfort level and office layout.
Comfort level was influenced by ventilation, heating, natural lighting, artificial lighting, decor, cleanliness and physical security. Office layout comprised informal meeting areas, formal meeting areas, quiet areas, privacy, personal storage, general storage, desk area and circulation space.
In a survey of office workers, furniture and furnishing was listed as the most effective physical workplace environmental factor which increases or decreases employee performance. Office space ranked second, as a poor arrangement of office space wastes time and energy by failing to provide the means for effective work habits.
Notwithstanding this, Leblebici proved the behavioural workplace environment has a greater effect on employee performance than the physical workplace environment.
So what are the elements of a dynamic workspace, which encourage movement?
- Wide corridors facilitate group movement, potentially creating greater interactivity and flexibility.
- Interconnecting stairs have become a noticeable trend in modern Australian offices. Usually allowing quicker connections than lifts, open staircases create greater spaciousness and encourage increased worker movement, and interaction.
- Electrical height-adjustable work surfaces (EHAWs) have achieved lower daily discomfort ratings in the afternoon, and improved productivity ratings when compared with fixed-height work surfaces (FHWs).
- Ergonomic programs. Employees require education on optimal working postures, correct workstation setup, and injury prevention. The more workplace settings there are, the greater the need for ergonomic solutions and educational programs.
- Noise abatement. A dynamic workspace requires particular attention for sound absorbing and problematic echo, reverb and noise issues. These can be effectively addressed with sound absorbing materials and products. As greater movement occurs, greater attention to noise abatement is appropriate.
- Design for disassembly. The life cycle of an office and its built components requires strategic solutions to address environmental concerns. Materials ideally are recyclable, components should be able to be reused or repurposed and all elements should be purposely considered to address their life, maintenance and eventual disposal.
- Natural light. Healthy offices are often associated with greater external connections using extensive glass panels. A visual connection to the outdoors may motivate movement to viewpoints and encourage improved eye movement, reducing eyestrain from computer-focussed work.
- Moveable work settings. Teams should be able to modify their workspaces to meet their needs, therefore reducing the cost of moves, additions and changes. Having flexible and scalable furniture allows people to alter their environment (i.e. to create greater privacy or desk area.) This fosters more efficient work habits, leading to a productivity increase.
- Choice of meeting settings. Meetings are changing. The stereotypical table are chairs setting is gone, replaced by standing bars, lounge settings, soft floor furnishings, sculptured pods and open coffee settings. Office workers can now often choose from small private settings to casual corners, formal meeting or training rooms and large board rooms.
The dynamic workspace returns the focus of office design to the people, understanding that worker productivity, health and well-being usually results in profitable business environments. We have been released from the office cubicle and introduced to the dynamic environment of workplace movement and choice. Changing technologies will likely influence the evolution of the dynamic workplace and ideally result in more productive, healthy and sustainable workplaces for our future.