Mapping the Office Environment to Maximise Productivity
The Ultimate Employee Motivation Guide: Chapter 1
Office layout is a popular topic of debate, with varying conclusions being drawn from research – this is due to the varied nature of different workplaces. However, one ruling theme is that the traditional office layout simply doesn’t work effectively in the modern business setting. Particularly in industries involving team work, open plan office designs are seen as the way forward, creating free-flowing work space with room for creative collaboration.
Inspiration from retail
Retailers invest enormous sums of money in merchandising and store layout planning in order to optimise their place of business, both for their staff and customers. This optimisation aims to boost sales by putting products in the right place and drive productivity through creating an effective stock management framework around the store. The same methodical approach can be applied to office based environments.
Key questions: Employers should ask themselves the following questions when assessing office layout in order to inform a more efficient use of space:
- Within the team, are there any groups which regularly collaborate?
- Are frequent collaborators positioned closely to each other? Conversely, are there any employees positioned together who rarely work on the same task?
- How do the current or planned office groupings affect management’s ability to supervise the team effectively?
By planning an office layout that positions workers who frequently collaborate on the same task in close proximity, you’re increasing the strength of communication in vital cross-team channels. This, in turn, leads to a productivity boost by allowing employees instant and constant communication between each other.
Take action: Group employees together based on the frequency of their communications with each other rather than their job role.
Factories are a great example of efficient and flowing workspaces. As the raw materials move through the factory, they pass through assembly lines, where employees are grouped by their task or speciality. The groups are positioned in a specific order to ensure that work flow moves in an undisrupted line, with teams overlapping between each stage of production. Each group contributes to the product, adding value along its journey, eventually turning the raw materials into the finished product.
Image courtesy of Phil Manker
The same factory model can be applied to the office environment. There should be a visible flow of work through the office from one team to the next, with close proximity between overlapping departments. This streamlines work-flow and takes obstacles created by communication delays, such as waiting for email responses or delayed access to information from another team, out of the mix. A clear, physical workflow throughout the office also means that teams are easier to manage from a supervisor’s perspective. Faster communication means that problems are dealt with more quickly and effectively, with a greater level of accountability amongst employees.
Take action: Speak to your employees about their preferred working environment and who they work most closely with – not all essential communication channels are obvious.
In any office environment, it’s common for employees to encounter ‘blocks’ in their work flow, which require input from other team members, before the task can be continued. This is often done without the involvement of management, meaning that a business may not be fully aware of all essential communications made by their employees when completing daily tasks.
Ultimately, changes to office layout are made to benefit employees, not just the business as a whole – and their input shouldn’t be discounted in the decision making process. Each team has their own working style and preferences, and designing a space which satisfies these across the board will result in an overall productivity increase.
Image courtesy of Foundation7
Key points for employers:
- Open plan and flexible spaces improve communication between employees.
- Improved communication channels strengthen team collaboration.
- The physical layout of the office should be based on the frequency of communication between teams.