Blog: Architects help businesses drive productivity through happy workplace design

Low productivity has been a consistent issue for the British economy since the 2008 financial crisis. Between 2010 and 2015, UK productivity growth was 0.2 percent a year, far below its long-term average of 2.4 percent from 1970 to 2007. Recent research puts this at costing the UK economy £4bn in lost output.

While some organisations have tried to address this issue, productivity in the UK continues to stagnate. One often overlooked enabler of productivity is employee happiness. A recent survey by recruitment firm Robert Half suggests that a happy worker is 12 percent more productive than a miserable one. Put simply: happiness pays.

Delivering a workplace for ‘happiness’ can be applied to all stages of building fit-out. From design to construction, architects can influence key features that will facilitate workplace wellbeing, helping to sustain the loyalty of the ultimately occupying workforce and minimise staff turnover. In fact, innovative design feature save been found to boost creativity, energise productivity levels and promote workplace wellness.

Below, Simon Eastlake, developments director of serviced office provider Office Space in Town (OSiT), outlines how architects are uniquely positioned to accommodate the link between productivity and happiness at every level of the construction process.

The shell and core
At the most basic level, fundamental features of a building can be designed to promote happiness. A poorly lit office, for example, is not conducive to efficient working. Lighting that is too low or too harsh can instead induce risk of headaches, eye strain and overall workplace dissatisfaction. Simply by designing a building that maximises the use of natural light, architects can improve employee performance, lessen the chance of seasonal depression, increase natural doses of Vitamin D and has the added sustainable benefit of reducing energy consumption. Once the interior design stage has been completed, these new windows, sky lights or clerestories will help to illuminate the features of an office, where natural light is still considered to be the most aesthetically rewarding.

Category A fit out
Equipping an office with suitable lighting, electrical connectivity and air conditioning goes a long way to creating an environment that works. Architects are able to build room-features into their designs that are now considered a necessity, meeting the basic needs with effective simplicity. For example, in ensuring workers can enjoy a consistently comfortable, ambient temperature through smart heating technology or simply an allocated thermostat for each room, an architect is able to promote a sense of satisfaction in the workplace. Similarly, by installing sufficient connectivity into the fabric of the buildings can ensure not only that WiFi is accessible in all parts of the building, but that the workplace is future proofed for technological developments.

Recent moves towards Smart Buildings can offer responsive and bespoke building services in separate areas of the building to optimise illumination, climate control, air quality, physical security and sanitation via one central control hub. For example, at Office Space in Town (OSiT’s) newest building in Blackfriars, currently undergoing renovations, we are installing ‘dynamic glass’ – intelligent, electrochromic windows that automatically tint to maximize natural light and reduce heat and glare.

Category B fit out
Moving beyond the basics, working environments should be responsive and adaptive to the cultural and working habits of inhabitants. Allowing employees to choose where they work each day goes a long way in helping workers flourish: where some work well at a traditional desk, others need workspace variation to perform different tasks to the best of their abilities. It is no surprise therefore that a number of studies, namely one from Stanford, have found that employees who are offered greater flexibility in their working day are significantly more productive than the traditional 9-5 office worker. By designing for a varied office environment, with quiet spaces, lounges, and large breakout spaces, architects can give workers the power to choose how they work, enabling autonomy and the positive mental associations that come with it.

A well designed workplace can facilitate social interactions that promote positive associations with work. Creating ‘collusion points’ allows workers to interact informally, where adding a water fountain or a communal printer and open planned kitchens and dining spaces creates spontaneous chatter which connects workers.

Aesthetics play a significant role in workspace wellbeing. Simply introducing splashes of colour and some well-chosen artwork can help employees to feel that they are being invested in; facilitating a sense of belonging that goes a long way in terms of loyalty and staff-turnover.

If we’ve learnt anything from 2018, it’s that people matter. When a workforce is happy in its office environment, both physically and socially, productivity levels will rise. Informed design can help to unlock productivity potential.

Simon Eastlake is developments director at Office Space in Town