According to a 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey by Gensler, a global design firm that partners with clients to develop smarter workplaces, only one in four U.S. workers are in optimal workplace environments. The rest are struggling to work effectively, resulting in lost productivity, innovation, and worker engagement. This telling figure reinforces that design matters in the workplace and that it has a positive effect on the company’s competitiveness, employee satisfaction, and ultimately its bottom line.
Workplace design has changed dramatically over the past few decades. So gone are many of the traditional work spaces that are closed off and offices that serve one particular department. They are being replaced by glass walls, open space work areas, game rooms, relaxation spots, and even a reduction in the number of coffee stations to encourage face-to-face interaction and engagement with different departments.
I would have never believed that workspace design had that big of an impact on employee satisfaction, performance and company profits, but I’ve learned firsthand that it does. Across the country businesses are working with innovative design firms to reimagine their workspace to ensure that it’s pleasant, engaging and supportive of the work that needs to be done. Businesses are really embracing this concept because surveys prove that employees who are happy and work in a refreshing and engaging atmosphere are more likely to perform better. So, there are actual returns on investment for businesses by changing the office environment. But moving a few desks around, painting walls bright yellow or taking them down all together isn’t for every business. You wouldn’t design a space for sales or graphic design departments the same way you would for an accounting firm. In workplace design, the type of business matters greatly as do company goals.
As millennials emerge as the new workforce, their personal needs and wants in the workplace are being heard. The Society for Human Resource Management publishes a workplace forecast every two years based on a survey of human resource professionals on their views of key issues they feel will affect the workplace in the coming years. The 2013 survey shows that collaboration remains key to the spread and development of ideas that spur innovation. With that said, office spaces are no longer being viewed by leadership as company assets, but rather viewed as a strategic tool for growth and success. Shared, multipurpose spaces redefine boundaries and improve performance; they create opportunities for communication between individuals and different departments. Water cooler conversations are now encouraged and aren’t necessarily seen by employers as a congregating spot for office gossip anymore.
I was recently involved in the design and development of a new workspace for the Cox Inbound Sales Team in Chesapeake. I’ve developed a few tips to share that led to our office transformation that might help you in your office design:
1. Establish a budget. What are your resources for this project? A little bit can go a long way, so be thoughtful and strategic when planning where you’re spending your money. Like with every other business decision, you want to be sure you’re getting a return on your investment.
2. Create a committee. After all, this change is for your team, so get them engaged! Ask for volunteers to create and administer a survey and be the voice of the team. You’ll want to know what the employees think of the space now and what changes can be made to make their time at work better – and remember no idea is a bad idea so encourage creativity and a healthy mix of realistic and pie-in-the-sky ideas.
3. Create your plan. Now that you have a budget and ideas from your team, it’s time to map out your plan. Bringing in a consultant at this point is a great way to jumpstart your renovations. Be sure to set a timeline so you stay on track and so your employees have something to look forward to. Don’t forget to celebrate when the renovations are complete!
You want a space that’s functional, but you also want it to be fun. Be open to new ideas that support your staff through dynamic design, unique furniture, unexpected spaces and color. In our space, we completely transformed the entire floor into a more open and engaging environment. We shortened the height of our cubicles, replaced walls with glass, designed a Zen-inspired quiet space, created collaboration rooms and even transformed our break rooms, making them more open and airy (and stocking them with complimentary fresh fruit).
With these new spaces, employees are encouraged to have open discussions and move around the building during breaks. Big exterior windows bring light from the outside making employees feel less closed-in. Expansive walking paths invite employees to walk during lunch to stretch their legs and clear their minds. No longer do senior leaders have the coveted window offices rather, they work from interior spaces with a glass wall that creates visibility of the entire floor. The traditional conference room table and chairs were replaced with beanbag seating, doodle tables, bright-colored walls, toys and colored markers—all to help employees relax, engage and explore! We even have a quiet room complete with soft music, warm colored walls, comfortable seating and a water feature that allows employees a place to escape after a stressful call or busy work day.
With these changes came improvements in our productivity, employee satisfaction and increased sales. It’s amazing how something as simple as changing the wall color can make a difference in an employee’s satisfaction with his or her job, but it does. I encourage you to see what changes your budget allows and work with your teams to put together a plan. Find balance that works for your team, your company and your space and be prepared for fabulous results.
Stephanie Dewald is the vice president of the Hampton Roads Sales Center of Excellence for Cox Communications Virginia, leading one of three nationwide inbound sales teams. Stephanie joined Cox in 1999 as a manager of inbound sales and Internet tech support and has held various managerial roles in the company since then. You can reach Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.