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The Psychology Of Office Space

May 22, 2008
Working practices and office design

Working practices are most commonly decided by management initiatives. Employers establish what is needed to be done and managers direct workers how they can best perform their tasks. Not anymore.

The world of social networking, wireless communication and ubiquitous internet access is allowing employees to work from home, share ideas and better influence their firm's direction.

This societal change is stimulating research into how office space, design office design and new IT systems affect workers, and the results are surprising.

A report by the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (CABE) and the British Council for Offices (BCO) has revealed office interior design affects staff satisfaction, motivation and retention.

Furthermore, it affects productivity, responsiveness to technological change and their knowledge and innovation levels.

Paul Morrell, CABE commissioner and president of the BCO, explained: "Those employers who ignore the evidence of office design as an enabler of staff satisfaction and performance risk the loss of key staff and ultimately business success."

The report, Impact of Office Design on Business Performance, found the workplace is responsible for 24 per cent of job satisfaction and this can affect staff performance by five per cent for individuals and 11 per cent for team workers.

The Calgary Herald reported researchers at the city's university found open spaces help workers feel better. However, it was having co-workers nearby that pushed productivity. Tim Welsh, assistant professor in kinesiology, noted how important it was for people managing office moves to consider design.

"If they're looking to maximise idea generation, communication and just a general feeling of social well-being, then open-concept offices would be the better way to go."

The end of 'cubedom'

Writing from across the US border, Edward Marshall, in the Portland Journal has predicted the end of 'cubedom' and the partitioned working space. He claims by giving employees individual boxes to work from, "a premium is put on efficiency rather than relationships" and relationships are then reduced to "transactions".

This, he claims, hampers teamwork as soon after meeting, members of newly formed groups then disappear to their own semi-closed areas.

Mr Marshall describes the current move to openness as a quiet movement to "tear down the walls that exist between us".

The solution, in his opinion is "having the physical office design serve the work culture, rather than having the work culture be a reaction to a design done by the facilities department".

Much of this move to open systems can be attributed to workers bringing their outside experience to the workplace.

Thousands of businesses have banned employees using social networking sites as they are thought to affect productivity. Employment law firm, Peninsula has claimed 69 per cent outlawed using the sites despite 12 per cent of bosses checking their own pages during work, onrec.com has reported.

How an office communicates

Despite this, some companies are adopting similar tools to those found online, hoping to enable their staff to better communicate and feed ideas into the business.

This 'network society' is providing employers with real challenges - if they adopt more social practices do they also re-jig their office design to suit new, open thinking?

Property company, Savills, thinks so. Its research, What Workers Want...and What it Means for Property, found "understanding the needs of workers has never been more important".

"Immediate workspace conditions were rated the most important by over 82 per cent of respondents i.e. comfort of work area, lighting and temperature."

So when considering their corporate relocation strategy and organizing who will be managing office moves, senior managers have much to consider. Help in moving offices,
getting the office moves on time and budget are only three of the factors they will need to get right.

The key to their firm's long term success could be its next office design, and how it understands the psychological result of new open attitudes to working and collaboration.
About the Author
Shivani Gurtu-Louth - Operations Manager of Devono Property Limited. Devono are the only commercial property agents in London to exclusively represent tenants looking for office space in London to rent. Our aim is to secure the best commercial property at the best price. For interviews, quotes, images or comments contact: Shivani Gurtu-Louth Devono Operations Manager Tel(DDI): +44 (0)20 7096 9911 E-mail: sg@devono.com
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