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Think Tank: Beware the comfy workplace

12 November 2012

Nearly a quarter of respondents to FM World’s latest Think Tank Poll said employers are spending too much money on the wellbeing of their employees.


But many of the respondents – 77 per cent - who said employers were not spending enough were adamant that ensuring a comfy environment produces a much more productive workforce.

To a large degree, the most effective office and workplace conditions will differ for each business: “It’s not a black and white area. Some employers go over the top, others may not do enough,” said one respondent.

A balance needs to be struck between “what is necessary and what is clearly just pandering to the head of the company’s own wants and desires”, said another.

“Everyone would like a pleasant working environment, but is it necessary to have artificial grass and picnic benches instead of carpet and normal tables and chairs?”

Beware the “gimmick factor”, said another FM. Today’s cool tables, chairs and break-out areas become “so yesterday” very quickly and the initial “Wow!” is lost.

The fancy workplace can be more of a corporate statement – “Wow, look at us! Aren’t we creative and bright?” – than a workplace that allows employees to work more productively. “These things can become a distraction and prevent staff from taking things seriously. It’s more important to provide good basic comforts and be a company that cares about its employees.”

Even an on-site coffeeshop might be an amenity too far, said a respondent: “On-site coffee shops are great until staff are spending more time there than at their place of work. And if a company can’t afford these things, it probably means that they have other priorities that may be ensuring the organisation itself survives in the long run.”

A good, caring employer gets and keeps its best people. That’s why so many companies now focus on staff wellbeing, a respondent said. And with the government’s Soft Landings campaign starting next year (for building hand-over), it will put government FM managers in the driving seat and empower them to do much to improve the workplace experience for the civil service.

But office design must be driven by solid research because trying to gain consensus from workers on what suits everyone can produce irrelevant hotel-style demands.
 
Professional thought on designing workspace means worker interactions are likely to be more productive rather than distracting. This includes grouping interactive teams together and away from quiet areas where they can be disruptive. And don’t position attention-attracting items near people’s desks in case there are distractions.

At the end of the day, productivity is about the attitudes of both employer and employees. “Company cultural and management attitudes are very much key because a great office design but poor management will equal poor employee morale.

“One of my star FMs works in a basement!”