Lipstick on the pig?

Sep 01 2005 by John Blackwell Print This Article

If you take the survey published earlier this week by architects firm Gensler at face value, then you could be forgiven for imagining that having a nicely-designed, modern office can magically boost morale and productivity as well as making your organisations a more attractive option for potential employees.

A poor working environment damages morale, cuts productivity by a fifth and costs the British economy £135 billion every year, claimed the report, These Four Walls: The Real British Office.

What's more, six out of 10 office workers believe their office has not been designed to support their company's business objectives or their own job function.

But whilst the survey threw up some interesting observations – notably the suggestion that the working environment has been a factor in a third of us accepting or rejecting a job offer – the office environment is, in reality, only one component in a complex set of workplace interdependencies.

Today's commercial landscape is an increasingly complex mix of external factors; business volatility, labour market dynamics, environmental challenges, ICT convergence and many others, and to claim productivity enhancement on a sustainable basis, these must be treated as a whole.

Whilst enhancing office design can improve employee 'delight' about the working environment, it is decidedly transient and should be treated with considerable circumspection when linked to claims of improved productivity.

Let's face it, beyond the first day or two of using a wiz-bang new office design, how many of us actually pay any attention to the fancy chairs or bother to notice the lights changing colour? Does this new-world office design inspire passion, enthusiasm, or commitment? Does this new-world design deliver changed working practices?

By far, the biggest reason for why we actually 'come to work' is the team we work with
The old office design may have been boring but who – other than those whose business profits come from office redesign – can realistically claim that the new design has any sustained enhancement to productivity?

By far, the biggest reason (and therefore, the biggest impact) for why we actually 'come to work' is the team we work with.

At some point in our lives – be it a school sports team or a great bunch of business colleagues – every one of us will have experienced being part of a great team. The bonhomie and 'can do' attitude is there for all to see. And yet this experience transcends the physical environment – who cared about the mediocre changing rooms when the team is winning?

The challenge for companies seeking to enhance workplace effectiveness (the mantra of employee productivity meets space design) is to ensure they are creating an environment which helps to attract, recruit and retains the brightest talent and offers an environment that enables this talent to meet, greet, collaborate and to create or fix their service or product.

This is a far broader and more complex challenge than mere good space design. It demands consideration of how and why the workforce are using a particular space – what changes are needed to manage in this new working dynamic – and what are the appropriate tools to be used along the communication continuum (from face-face to electronic tools) to deliver effective, productive contribution.

Consideration must also be given to the 24-hour cycle of productivity. It is equally (nay, more) important to consider enhancing collaboration and productivity away from the office as it is to consider the office itself.

For sure, there are vast gains in productivity to be achieved from enhancing workplace effectiveness. But the word of caution is addressing one aspect in isolation will, at best, deliver isolated results that experience has shown are likely to disappoint and fail to deliver the sustainable gains demanded by today's business.

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About The Author

John Blackwell
John Blackwell

John Blackwell is a sought after global thought-leader on effective business operation. His is author of over 30 management books and a visiting fellow at three leading universities.