Space invaders

In the experience of Paul Morrell, head of the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (Cabe), journalists generally work in some of the most poorly designed, cramped, demoralising offices.

Although there may be an element of “do as we say, not as we do” in Personnel Today urging HR professionals to take more notice of the impact of office and workplace design on productivity, it is certainly a message Cabe believes needs to get through.

It has published research highlighting the need for a better understanding of the link between good workplace design and improved business performance.

Its report, co-authored by the British Council for Offices (BCO), has argued that with workforces becoming more mobile and remote, employers need to rethink the concept of office or workspace, and what it means for productivity.

For everyone who has ever tried to work in a cramped, airless office or cringed with embarrassment when an important client has asked if they can look around, the findings will not be surprising.

Offices, the research argues, have a pivotal part to play in attracting staff, and their satisfaction, motivation and retention. They can also help to define what knowledge and skills your staff have, how innovative and creative they are and how responsive your organisation is to business and technological change.

Poorly designed workplaces can cause higher levels of employee stress and reduce productivity by as much as 25%.

Even simple things such as bad lighting or lack of daylight can be linked to 15% higher absenteeism and 20% lower productivity, it argues.

But while HR professionals may nod furiously in agreement, how can you get the money to change things and how, indeed, do you get a reluctant board to give you the green light in the first place?

When it comes to arguing the toss, HR professionals could do worse than cite the example of the Birmingham office of accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which last year was hailed by the BCO for its “best of the best” office space in the UK.

Although between £4m and £5m was spent on the new building for 1,000 staff, the figures already added up on paper because the new unit was being created by merging two existing buildings into one.

On top of that, the company has now seen revenues rise by around £5m above what it would have expected normally, an increase it has directly attributed to the better design and environment of its office space, says PWC infrastructure partner Roger Reeves.

So the building has not only effectively come free, it is now making money.

Innovations have included creating a number of lounges where workers can meet colleagues or clients to network; a centralised filing system to reduce paper build-up; spaces for quieter reflection; and open plan work “benches” where 10-12 people can sit.

“We have seen a fantastic increase in productivity although it is, of course, the people who make the difference,” says Reeves.

The company is now planning a similar development in Uxbridge and, just as in Birmingham, HR will be at the heart of the process.

“The project team just visited, but the HR team was the umbilical cord back into the building. It was they who helped give it all a sense of ownership locally,” says Reeves.

HR professionals, agrees Morrell, can be the catalyst to get the decision made, but also have a role to play in changing how the office environment is viewed: breaking down silo thinking and improving working and management methods generally.

“You will not transform a business that has bad management practices by shoving it into a bright new office,” he says.

But, conversely, if everyone is cooped up in a bad building, it is that much harder to change practices in the first place and push things forward, he adds.

Office space not to be laughed at>>

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