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Feelings about workspaces affect productivity

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Workspaces have a significant effect on productivity, but while offices have changed enormously in other respects, attitudes to the physical working environment need updating. This is the message of a new report from Futures at The Industrial Society, “The state of the office: The politics and geography of working space”.

Open plan space for most staff and private offices for senior people remains the norm. While some innovations have been welcomed, and a slightly higher preference was expressed for shared space, many employees have been resistant to “hotdesking”, and even when they use it, tend to personalise their space. Control over space is a strong issue in feeling secure and effective at work, and more women than men feel that they lack such control. While most employees said they were happy with their workplaces, the report suggests that this is often only after adaptation and rule-bending.

Particular dislikes for many staff include: the wastefulness of seldom-used private offices for senior staff in otherwise crowded organiations, large and impressive hallways for similar reasons, and cheerless staff canteens tucked out of the way.

The report maintains that working space has physical and psychological implications, and also impacts on effective interaction between staff. It also notes the time spent in adapting and personalising space before effective work proceeds.

Max Nathan, the report’s author, states: “Workspace which makes its users unhappy or uncomfortable is counterproductive. Although work patterns are changing – for example employees can work from home and can arrange their working hours to incorporate their personal commitments – corporate hierarchy hasn’t changed much and that is reflected in our buildings – the company with the prestigious lobby hiding shabby offices for staff; or the firm with cutting-edge spaces and a subterranean post room. In many cases space management decisions are taken to minimise cost and maximise control, while maintaining senior staff privileges. Very little quiet or private space is provided for most workers, while managers carve out private spaces for themselves.”

Report recommendations:

“Space sovereignty – involving users and devolving control and management of workspace – as a solution to some of the problems. It would give users: day to day direct control of the immediate and ambient environment, ongoing involvement in team management of space, a say in organisational space management and change.”

The full report is available from the Industrial Society

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