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How Does Office Layout Affect Productivity And Concentration

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Office Screens UK



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How Does Office Layout Affect Productivity And Concentration

When it comes to office management, one of the key aspects of company success is productivity. Paul J. Meyer said: ‘Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.’ Given that a study undertaken by Gallup in the USA in 2018 found that only 34% of employees were ‘engaged’ in their job (ie. working productively -  involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace), it’s little wonder that productivity is a major concern for companies all around the world.

The same Gallup study also found that ‘compared with business units in the bottom quartile, those in the top quartile of engagement realised substantially better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents, and 21% higher profitability. Engaged workers also reported better health outcomes.’ So it’s easy to see that increased engagement and productivity amongst your workforce can make a huge difference to your business in tangible, and intangible ways.

Can the relationship between layout and productivity be measured?

Relatively few studies have been conducted which directly investigate the relationship between office layout and productivity, simply because they can be very disruptive to a workplace with desks constantly shifting around. However, one such study was completed by Booking.com, Learn Adapt Build and CBRE Consulting in Amsterdam to consider the best office layout for a technology company. They considered four different layout designs:

1) The Open Plan Layout 

This is one of the most common layouts favoured in modern UK offices. Originally conceived to encourage communication and collaborative working, these layouts often include multiple large desk banks, as well as breakout areas for meetings or relaxation.

The office in this study had no desk divider screens or floor screen partitions; only a whiteboard at the end of each desk bank. Therefore, employees had no individual, private or semi-private workspaces. No soundproofing was introduced to the office, either. 

Results: Employees recorded high levels of noise in the open plan layout, which they found distracting and made concentrating difficult. In fact, when no longer required to remain in the open plan layout for the study, they immediately returned to their non-experimental desks.

2) The Zoned Open Plan Layout

Zoned open plan offices still make use of large desk banks, but instead of these being laid out uniformly in straight lines, in the zoned version for this study they angled the desk banks in a zig-zag formation and used plants, screens and other items to form subtle ‘barriers’ between each ‘zone’. This divided the office workforce into ‘teams’ based on function and department.

Also added to this layout were acoustic pods and meeting booths, offering private spaces for meetings or solo work. This style of layout was conceived to allow both collaborative and individual working.

Results: Employees in the zoned open plan layout reported 17% higher productivity than in the open plan layout. This suggested a significant improvement in employee satisfaction, enjoyment and workflow. The addition of aesthetic elements, such as planters, and acoustic elements which provided some soundproofing relief led to improved productivity and concentration.

3) The Activity Based Workspace

Activity Based Working (ABW) is a concept which gives employees the choice of a number of different workplace settings. It involves a certain ‘hot-desking’ approach, where employees are not assigned a specific desk but instead can move around the office into different ‘activity zones’ depending on the task they need to complete.

In addition to desk banks, the layout included ‘focus rooms’ (1-person cubicles with desks and screens) acoustic phone booths and a variety of different tables and spaces set up with collaboration in mind.

The idea behind this layout is to give employees a measure of control over their own work day; letting them choose the environment which suits them best for each task they are required to complete encourages productivity and concentration.

Results: The flexibility of the activity based workspace is popular with companies as it allows them to save on floor space and the cost of installing large banks of desks. However, despite the fact that this layout gave employees their free choice of where and how to work, the study participants reported 14% lower productivity in this setup than in the open plan layout. This strongly suggests that, although this style of layout is beneficial to businesses in terms of initial set up costs, in the long run it can be detrimental to their bottom line as it does not increase employee satisfaction or productivity. Participants reported that having no designated work space meant they could not always find their preferred place to work, increasing their stress levels.

4) Team Office Layout

This layout still made use of the larger desk banks, but arranged them into large ‘cubicle’ styles for each individual team using a u-shape configuration of fabric screen dividers with an upper glazed panel. Smaller, four-person desks were included, with planters dividing off these ‘zones’. Acoustic panels were hung from the ceiling to improve soundproofing - and each had a different colour to designate different team working areas.

The idea of this configuration was to limit the interaction between different teams, allowing collaboration within each unit but not within the wider office space.

Results: The team office layout, like the zoned open plan layout, was a popular choice, although productivity only increased 10% compared to the open plan layout, as opposed to the 17% achieved by the zoned open plan. Participants reported that this increase was due to the inclusion of visual aesthetics such as planters, and acoustic products which minimise noise echoing.

Privacy Room Divider Screens on Wheels

Privacy Room Divider Screens on Wheels

CARRERA™ Circular Acoustic Wall Panels

CARRERA™ Circular Acoustic Wall Panels

Which layout is best for employee productivity?

Based on the study results, the zoned open plan and team offices performed the best for a variety of reasons; but mainly as the set-up included additional products such as planters office dividers and acoustic screens, making for a more aesthetically appealing layout. In addition, care had been taken to introduce some alternative working areas such as pods or semi-private meeting spaces, giving employees a chance to get a change of scenery from their designated desk. 

Acoustic screens played a large role in the layouts which proved most popular and which achieved the highest levels of productivity. This is no coincidence. The majority of distractions derive from noise, so by investing in acoustic partitions such as screens, panels, dividers and booths, you can reduce noise and increase productivity within your team. For more information on using acoustic panels in your office, read our blog How to Reduce Noise in an Office for innovative tips and product recommendations.

Can office layout affect health as well as productivity?

As we mentioned earlier, the US Gallup study found that ‘engaged workers reported better health outcomes.’ In a world where we are still dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, and are likely to continue doing so for some time, both productivity and health are important things to consider. Productive employees typically have lower stress levels as they are engaged and focused on the job in hand - and, as we all know, stress can be a major factor when it comes to health. 

According to an article by Mohd. Razali Salleh, ‘when chronic stress goes unreleased, it suppresses the body’s immune system.’ Therefore it is realistic to suggest that stressed employees are more likely to be susceptible to infectious illnesses such as colds, seasonal flu, norovirus and of course, COVID-19. We can therefore infer that engineering an office layout that assists with productivity and concentration can help to reduce stress levels within an office environment and thereby reduce the risk of employees falling ill. However, particularly during the winter months, there are infectious illnesses aplenty which can cut swathes through your office, leading to an increase in sick days, a reduction in productivity and a hit to your bottom line.

Another study undertaken in New Zealand found that ‘ compared with individual offices, shared or open-plan office space is not beneficial to employees' health, with consistent findings of deleterious effects on staff health, wellbeing and productivity.’ With many modern offices adopting some form of open plan layout, it’s important to consider what additional measures you could put in place to mitigate the risk of mass illness amongst your workforce. 

We’ve already discussed office layout in terms of productivity and concentration, but it’s important to consider employee health, too. Any office layout can be amended to include the use of social distancing screens; transparent glass, acrylic or Perspex panels which help to block the transfer of infectious respiratory particles from person to person - particularly in close quarters like an office environment. Adding floor screens or desk dividers between employees can reduce the transmission of illness, helping to keep your workforce happy and healthy.

If you want more information about setting up your office, our team is happy to help. Reach out via our Contact Us page or call us on 01234 676767.



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