Having some control over the workspace can improve comfort and the ability to get work done and reduce stress. The basic nature of work itself is changing. As the ways we work change, people look for ways to cope. For most that means “tuning” where they work. People want access to what they need, when they need it, whether it is adjusting the height of a chair or controlling the brightness of lights. They also not only want some control of the workspace, they want their spaces to tell something about who they are to their coworkers.
Research shows that the work environment has a substantial effect on the productivity of workers. Their performance is directly affected by the quality and suitability of the workspace and work tools. “It is obvious,” a report by the GSA says, “that people who are constantly uncomfortable, or have to continually interrupt their work to make themselves comfortable, will be less productive than those who don’t have to deal with such distractions
A study by Systems design company, Herman Miller, asked 500 knowledge workers to rate 27 attributes of the workstation. The seven workstation attributes that all workers highly value are:
- Having an office that is comfortable to work in
- A sufficient amount of work surface area (desks, tables, file tops) in my office
- The option to place a computer in the most suitable location
- The capability to keep all of my important work within arms’ reach
- The capability to contain sounds within my office
- The capability to keep out distracting noises from outside my office
- The capability to provide visual privacy
In another study conducted for Herman Miller, Harris Interactive found that,”temperature, natural light, and privacy-the items defined as critical to productivity-were also the items all wanted more control over.”
In that study, responders also reported that having access to printers ranks ahead of security – a surprise in a security conscious environment.
People working in the same office environment can have much different reactions to the amount of privacy that they have. In one study of perceived control among 600 employees, some thought their privacy was adequate, others did not. These responses reflect not only differences in perceptions of their workspace but also in the degree of control they felt they had over their interactions with the environment.
Researchers have not only wanted to know if the employees thought that a new workspace was an improvement, some have posed questions to test the impact of training. The study used three groups, one that had no changes, a second that moved into a new workspace, and a third that moved into a new workspace and also received training on ergonomics and “new rules of behavior” that applied to the new workspace. Both of the groups that moved into new workspaces reported increased productivity, collaboration, and self-reported job control. Interestingly, the group that also received training reported an increase in job control 10 points higher than the untrained group.
They found that workers have a greater sense of control when they go through an orientation to their workstations and learn how to adjust chairs ergonomically, use work tools, and adjust lights and other items. One employee complained chronically about the workstation when others seemed satisfied with the same space. Said one researcher, “He made everyone uncomfortable with his complaints. When the facilities people checked, they learned that he didn’t have enough light. Then they found that he had a task light tucked away underneath an overhead storage unit, but he didn’t know where it was or how to use it.”
Giving workers choices can make them more comfortable and feel more in control of their work and workplace. There are a number of things that can provide control; simple things like letter trays, shelving, paper trays, storage bins, storage towers, mobile pedestals and seating, pedestals with cushions on top, mobile and adjustable lighting, personal air control, coat hooks, options to increase privacy, a place to securely store personal belongings, and areas to display personal items.
Insurance giant Cigna Insurance moved a substantial portion of its workforce in to flexible office arrangements that encourage people to “work wherever work occurs.” The company reported
- High satisfaction among both managers and employees
- Fifty percent reduction in employee turnover
- Return on investment of 75 percent over five years
- Six percent gain in worker productivity
- Reports of improved communication, time management, and collaboration
- Self-reported improvements in work/life balance
- Substantial reduction in its real estate portfolio
Companies that see the workplace as an asset that can be used to optimize performance and improve satisfaction will gain competitive advantages. The advantage begins by giving the workers some control of how they work, how they organize work, how they interact with colleagues, and how they maintain their comfort.