News & Research Archive

How Good Design Increases Productivity

Oct 04, 2011

Small business owners are looking everywhere to find ways to get more productivity out of smaller staff. The design of office space, in addition to efficient management processes, plays a significant role in boosting productivity in the workplace.

Many factors contribute to a productivity-boosting office design: space layout, furniture, acoustics (noise levels), lighting, temperature, chemicals used in products, and color, just to name a few. The designer or architect conceives a space or building with all of these factors in mind. The psychological impact of a well-designed environment is just as important as the functional impact. The physical work environment affects behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.

Workstations, cabinets, and shelving should be custom designed to keep things organized. And ergonomically designed furniture is important for both short and long-term comfort. But more important than these micro concerns is the macro concern of the overall space plan. Layout plays a large role in both function and psychology. Town planning has a lengthy, rich history, therefore, I look to it for inspiration in planning office space. There should be different zones for different functions: public, semi-private, and private. There should be public meeting spaces and private meeting spaces; open offices (workstations) and, if necessary, private offices; main arterials and minor arterials, and well-engineered traffic patterns for walking within the space.

Typically, assistants are located closer to the copy room or main arterials so they are accessible to numerous staff members. People who need to concentrate and focus much of the day should be in more secluded, quiet locations. Depending on the company culture, senior leadership can either sit at an open workstation amongst the general population, or in a private office with glass along the front to be perceived as easily accessible.

Layout affects how employees communicate with each other, the amount of time it takes to communicate with each other, how they learn from one another in both structured and non-structured ways, and socialize. The designer or architect must find the right balance between privacy and social interaction. Many people need some level of privacy to concentrate on their tasks while others need to work closely within a team where constant communication is critical. Like good town planning, good space planning should create a sense of community. It's important for employees to feel connected to their organization or department as a whole, to have sense of solidarity.

The job requirements of each employee must be considered when planning an office space. Each workstation or private office should be customized to suit each employee's workflow, and be reconfigurable and easy to change when another employee takes over the space. You cannot place someone in a tiny high-paneled workstation and expect to foster creativity. Technical, creative and sales people all have different functional and psychological needs. Entrances to workstations should typically not be along high-traffic corridors or adjacent to noisy areas. When there are not many private offices, it is important to provide more enclosed meeting rooms for private conversations and phone calls, as well as separate rooms for office equipment and lunch breaks, so that noisier activities can be separated from the workstations where concentration is required.

Both lighting and day-lighting increase functionality. Working in dim lighting leads to eye-strain and can cause headaches and irritability, thereby greatly reducing productivity. Providing task lighting at each desk gives employees the ability to adjust their lighting as needed for various tasks. Dark spaces can be depressing and result in underperformance. Daylight is preferable to artificial light, and should be maximized. This can be accomplished in an “open plan” with short cubicle panels or glass panels. Windows provide a connection, a view, to the outside world. Skylights can be utilized where windows are not accessible, but minimizing glare is crucial since it causes visual discomfort.

A loud environment limits employees' ability to work effectively. It lowers concentration and increases stress. The architect or designer has many tools in their design toolbox to combat poor acoustics. The materials used must have the right sound attenuation for their locations. Materials that highly absorb sound should be used at mouth level for both sitting and standing positions, so that voices do not travel. A good quality acoustical ceiling tile should be utilized at a relatively low ceiling height. When a ceiling is high, alternative acoustical materials, such as fabric banners or acoustical wall panels, must be utilized at a lower level to catch the sound before it can bounce off non-acoustical materials such as drywall or glass. "White noise", a low level of monotone background noise, assists with covering up louder, more distracting sounds. White noise can be achieved with various techniques: a sound masking audio system, the constant hum of the HVAC system, or a simple water fountain. Finding the right balance between open communication between employees and privacy is important.

The physical workplace design is one of the top three factors which affect performance and job satisfaction. Perceived "high-end" or "cool" offices attract and retain employees as well as customers. Nice office space simply increases morale and creativity. It has been estimated that productivity increases by approximately 20% due to a well-designed office space. Yet about 50% of employees think that good workplace design is not a priority for their employers while 90% of employees say their attitude about work is adversely affected by the quality of their work environment. Many companies do not feel they can justify the expense of a well-designed office space; however it is much more costly not to make the investment. An architect or designer can assess a client's needs and prioritize solutions to work with even a small budget.


Written by: Garcia Architects


Starboard TCN is posting this article on its website and blog with the approval of Garcia Architects.

Garcia Architects specializes in commercial interiors & construction management.

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