Coping with Workspace Envy, What to do when your workspace options are limited

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have table-sized touchscreen tablets like they do at Microsoft? Or to work in colorful open spaces like Airbnb’s new headquarters in San Francisco?

For many companies, budgets are tight and options are limited — so there’s no way you can purchase funky new furniture let alone do something like put a mini-basketball court in a meeting room. Your company isn’t about to move. So what can you do?

[wcm_restrict]The worst answer is “nothing.” Study after study has shown that personalized workspace can help employee productivity and has a direct positive impact on their physical and mental health. Research done by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge in 2013 concluded that “redesigning the work environment will be key to achieving sustainable business performance improvement.”

In other words, while functional, flexible workspaces may once have been thought of a perk, they are now seen as a business necessity.

Ironically, the challenge of creating better workspace is growing just as fast as the need for finding a solution. The confluence of many factors is making it difficult for organizations to decide what, if anything, they can do.

  • Most businesses today have at least two or three generations of employees under the same roof. The ways in which Baby Boomer generation employees prefer to work is often quite different from GenXers or Millennials.
  • Many businesses have a mix of onsite employees with regular work hours and offsite/remote workers who occasionally come into the office.
  • Evidence has shown the positive impact that “human factors” like natural light and ergonomic workspace has on the human psyche.

Balancing all these factors has been tricky, and there are no hard and fast rules. With all the competing demands and plethora of workspace design trends, perhaps it’s no wonder that Gensler’s 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey noted that “U.S workers are struggling to work effectively.”

Small Changes, One Space at a Time

If your organization is unable to completely redesign its workspace to take advantage of modern trends and accommodate everyone, you might be tempted to throw in the towel. The key is to be proactive and do something or your employees might be lured to another employer who pays more attention to workspace.

That doesn’t mean you have to start tearing down walls and putting in coffee bars and overstuffed chairs. Instead, start with one space and pay attention to the fundamentals of what the employees in that area want and need to do their work better.

How do you know? Ask them. Employees know what they like and don’t like about your current workspace, they know what helps or hurts their productivity. Chances are you’ll hear that your employees:

  • Want choices. This is especially true of Millennials, but employees of all ages welcome some level of control over their own environment. For example, you may not be able to change the floor plan of your office or manufacturing environment, but perhaps you can give your employees some ergonomic choices: allow them a choice of chairs, or monitor arms and keyboard trays that make it easy to adjust the height or angle of monitors and keyboards. These kinds of small changes can make each workspace more flexible so multiple employees with different needs can use it.
  • Have diverse (and perhaps competing) needs. The work needs of people with different types of jobs are often contradictory: open spaces may help those in creative professions have beneficial interactions, but have proven too distracting for people with a need to concentrate. Again, focus on small changes that could make a big difference, like adding cubicle spaces (for privacy and noise reduction) to an open floor plan or a shared common space (for accidental encounters or group meetings) to an otherwise divided workspace.
  • Appreciate customization through accessories. Investigate inexpensive add-ons like personal task lighting, sit-stand desks and variable monitor arms to allow workspace customization and reduction of stress.

If you focus on factors you can control and make small changes, you can start down the path advised by a recent HBR report that noted successful organizations “recognize office space as not just an amortized asset but a strategic tool for growth.”[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Carol KeoghCarol Keogh, President and CEO, ESI Ergonomic Solutions. As President and Chief Executive Officer of ESI Ergonomic Solutions, Ms. Keogh oversees the production of innovative, high-quality ergonomic work tools that contribute to improving employee productivity and well-being. Named a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Ms. Keogh currently serves on the BIFMA Board of Directors.

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