Author Archives: Beth Harmon-Vaughan

About Beth Harmon-Vaughan

Beth Harmon-Vaughan, FIIDA, LEED-AP, is a principal in the Phoenix office of Gensler, a global architecture, interior design and planning firm, www.gensler.com.

organized desk

Creating More Efficient Workspaces Can Increase Productivity And Reduce Costs

Bracing for austere times ahead, office leaders have two obvious places to cut back: payroll and real estate. No one would suggest that cutting staff is an easy or enjoyable thing to do, but it can be an opportunity. Space freed by reductions in payroll can be reorganized to improve workplaces, bolster worker morale and raise productivity.

Even before the recent financial crisis took hold, Gensler’s research found that 36 percent of U.S. office space is considered by the workers using it to be ineffective. This is in large measure because the nature of work is changing. Formerly the domain of so-called creative industries, collaborative meetings and group work scenarios have assumed priority over individual focus time.

Reducing office space as a cost-cutting strategy can actually create inefficiencies if you simply shrink space and continue with the same workplace model. Gensler’s recent workplace survey found that firms that provide appropriate workplaces for the type of business conducted have higher levels of employee engagement, brand equity and profit, with profit growth up to 14 percentage points greater than those with less effective work environments.

If layoffs have left you with too much space for too few people, look into whether you can unload space through subletting or simply returning it to the landlord. There can be a real negative psychological impact among employees who always are aware that there’s an empty desk next to them. At the same time, a little more breathing room can boost spirits and productivity.

Before making any plans, take a look around the office and really understand how space is being used. Observe how people are working in the office, how areas are really utilized. What’s empty? What’s overcrowded? Where have people been doing workarounds to make space effective? Look for wear patterns, improvised equipment and furnishings, over-flowing desks, unused conference rooms, etc.

When you’re ready to take action, consider these possibilities:
Make sure you’re getting the most out of your space by converting as many spaces as possible from single-use spaces into multipurpose spaces. A reception area can double as a client area, employee café, community space and optional work area. This approach will require furniture that supports multiple uses.

Wireless capability makes your office one big workspace. Anyone can go to any corner of the workplace to huddle in groups or get away from everyone for some solitary focus time.

By strategically locating amenities, you can increase the opportunities for incidental, as well as intentional, collaboration among staff members.

Branding the workplace nurtures corporate culture and improves a sense of teamwork and pride in the work produced. Color, art, graphic images and printed messages used in strategic locations can be powerful.

Improve visual connectivity among colleagues to promote collaboration and social interaction. This can be achieved in several ways: employ an open office plan, install low-panel workstations and reduce the number of closed offices.

Create space by increasing density and clustering meeting rooms. Create collaborative social zones in the space outside of those areas. This energizes public areas while reducing space taken up by circulation paths.

Place workstations and open collaborative spaces along window areas, and put offices inboard to bring light deeper into the space. Natural light in workspaces raises productivity and reduces energy costs.

Accommodate telecommuting when appropriate. You can save on real estate, energy costs and demonstrate an interest in your employees’ work-life balance. With mobile workers, be sure you have space in the office that gives them easy access to the tools they require and the people they need to connect with.

Perhaps before going all in, make small changes and monitor the results. It is important to assess your workplace layout before making any changes and to evaluate the results after implementation. Observation and surveys are effective ways to validate what’s working. Once your workplace environment changes are complete and have been occupied for a few months, verify that your design is advancing workplace goals. Consider evaluating your space every two to three years to help keep your workplace effective.

Ask where you’ve captured real estate efficiencies. Have you been able to get double and even triple use out of some spaces? Is every part of your office space being deployed in the service of supporting work activities? Are your employees more connected, informed, collaborative and productive? Ultimately, your new design should deliver improved business performance.

Creating a more efficient, collaborative and accommodating workplace is something that pays dividends even in financially distressed times. A proud organization with employees who enjoy going to work and who feel the company cares about them will work harder and more effectively no matter the state of the economy.