37% of employees in leading economies are disengaged with their work, and only one third are highly engaged [1].  What’s more, there is a direct correlation between how staff feel about their working environment, and how engaged they are. In fact, there are differences in productivity of up to 25% between comfortable and uncomfortable employees [2].

Environmental comfort factors with the biggest impact on productivity loss are, in order of importance, air quality, temperature, noise and lighting [2].

Air quality

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) refers to health symptoms suffered as a result of spending time inside a particular building. Health worsens the more time occupants spend in the building, and improves when they are away from it. This is often related to a building’s air quality and, for every 10% decrease in dissatisfaction with air quality, a productivity increase of 1.1% follows [3].

Successful air quality improvement strategies often include reducing pollutants [4], which can be achieved through solutions like ACTIVair  technology. This reduces formaldehyde levels by up to 70% by converting it into inert compounds.

Temperature

Most of us are familiar with the energy sap that comes with soaring temperatures, and this is supported by the evidence. A study of factories experiencing extreme temperature conditions found a 30% decrease in productivity [5].

Other research indicates that office conditions that are either too hot or too cold can reduce performance by 5% to 15% [6]. While individual control over temperature is an important factor here, architectural and construction solutions can also play a key role. For example, thermal boards help maintain a comfortable office temperature in winter months by providing internal drylining and insulation in one easy application.

Acoustics

The most effective offices find a balance between too much and too little noise, depending on how the space is used. Low frequency noises are particularly distracting in workspaces, and eliminating these reduces employees’ perception of interference with performance by 8% [7].

In a recent survey of office workers in the UK, ‘the ability to focus and work without interruptions’ topped the list of most important factors in the workplace environment [8].

In the workplace, all sorts of noise can contribute to distraction and lowered performance, from loud phone calls and conversations between colleagues, to the sounds of typing and printing. To limit distractions in open plan offices, high performance acoustic ceilings can be used to absorb soundwaves.

Well placed partitions and walls also stop unwanted sound from travelling from one part of the office to another.

Lighting

Daylight is a well-known mood booster, with positive consequences for health and wellbeing in settings from homes to hospitals. Unsurprisingly, then, offices that make extensive use of daylighting are linked with a 15% reduction in absenteeism [9].

Higher levels of lighting have also been found to increase productivity by anything from 2.8% to 20% [5]. In offices without large areas of glass, ceiling tiles with high light reflectance help maximise natural light.

Aesthetics

Few workplaces can compete with the facilities of Silicone Valley giants like Google and Apple. Thankfully, they don’t need to.

A recent study has found that workplaces need not offer a host of extra facilities like indoor gyms and relaxation areas filled with bean bags. Staff would rather forego these than a ‘creative modern’ space, which is three times more appealing [10]. This factor was even more important than individual work points. Employees value bright and energetic workspaces, ones that are open, flexible, and encourage collaboration.

Summary

If employers expect excellence, they must quite literally build it into the working environment. A great place to work doesn’t mean investing in massage rooms and personal chefs. Instead, it means creating a positive, comfortable environment for employees, taking into account factors from air quality to lighting. Most importantly, workplaces must be designed with the people who use them in mind.

References

[1] Steelcase Inc. and Ipsos. (2016), ‘Engagement and the Global Workplace’, Steelcase Global Report.

[2] Leaman, A. (2003), ‘Productivity Improvement’, Building in Value, Vol III. UTS, Sydney.

[3] Wargocki, P.,Lagercrantz, L., Witterseh, T., Sundell, J., Wyon, D.P., and Fanger, P. O. (2002), ‘Subjective perceptions, symptom intensity and performance: a comparison of two independent studies, both changing similarly the pollution load in an office’, Indoor Air, Vol. 12, 74-80.

[4] Loftness, V. et al. (1999), ‘Sustainable Development Alternatives for Speculative Office Buildings – A Case Study of the Soffer Tech Office Building, Final Report’, Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.

[5] Oseland, N (2001), ‘To what extent does workplace design and management affect productivity?’, Presented at the 2001 British Institute of Facilities Management annual conference.

[6] D.P. Wyon and P. Wargocki (2006), ‘Room temperature effects on office work’, Creating the Productive Workplace, Taylor & Francis, London, 181-192.

[7] Waye, K. et al. (1997), ‘Effects on Performance and Work Quality Due to Low Frequency Ventilation Noise’, Journal of Sound and Vibration, 205(4), 467-474.

[8] Oxford Economics (2016), ‘When the walls come down: How smart companies are rewriting the rules of the open workplace’.

[9] Thayer, B (1995), ‘Daylighting & Productivity at Lockheed’, Solar Today, Vol. 9, 26-29.

[10] Coster, S. and Govan, C. (2014), ‘Does Workplace Design Affect Employee Attraction?’, Hassel and Empirica.