When the LinkedIn network features around a thousand managers who describe themselves as ‘Chief Happiness Officer’, you can tell that well-being has moved right up the workplace agenda.
That’s only right and proper, of course, from a moral point of view. But it also makes sense from a business perspective – happy and comfortable workers tend to be more productive. And the benefits of creating a connected workplace where people can collaborate and get on with their jobs easily go even further than that.
As workplace strategist Joelle Jach said recently: “By understanding the connection between humans and their environment, and by providing an environment that supports human needs, organisations can target cost savings as well as an engaged workforce.”
He argues that comfort and wellbeing also have a direct impact on employee retention; we all want to work somewhere that’s nice to be.
However, Jach also warns that open-office environments can cause feelings of stress and exposure that need to be addressed by workplace design.
And he also argues that while technology has made working far more flexible, social interaction is an important part of a creative and productive office life and managers are needing to take it into consideration.
So are we happy in our current working environments?
Part of that is definitely down to us, the workers. A survey of the personalities of more than 3000 UK employees found that those who had most good days at work were those who scored high for positive emotions and enthusiasm, lower on depressive tendencies and who tended to start things and finish them.
You might say: ‘Well, they would have good days, wouldn’t they?”
But the co-author of the study, Manchester University professor of organisational psychology and health Cary Cooper, says:
“The implication here is that employers should try and recruit people with these characteristics but, of course, some people who lack some of these characteristics may have key skills that are even more important.
“And, even if you do recruit with happiness traits in mind, being content at work will to a larger extent depend on the workplace culture that truly values staff,trusts them, manages them humanely and compassionately and provides them with greater balance in their lives.”
This is a real wake-up call for every business that wants to succeed and prosper.
With the cost of workspace continuing to escalate, many organisations are looking hard at their offices and meeting rooms, and examining how their workers actually use them.
They know the UK workforce is becoming more mobile, and that offering an element of flexible working – where people drop in and out of the office as appropriate – can be both cost-effective and appealing to staff.
So many corporates are taking the opportunity to re-design their existing workspace, or even moving into new purpose-built space designed by architects with wellbeing and productivity in mind.
Things have moved quite a way since companies simply installed ping-pong tables or – in one case – a slippery slide from one floor to the other.
We’re not talking about short-lived fun any more, but rather about sustainable design with mental health at its core. So first, let’s look at what office designers are having to cater for:
5 trends changing the way we use our workplaces:
- > Flexible working
- > Activity-based working
- > Video/Audio conferencing
- > Digital signage/Wayfinding
- > Business intelligence
Flexible working is perhaps the biggest of these changes, and it’s on many people’s minds – a recent survey found a third of UK workers would rather have flexible working than a pay rise.
It’s particularly popular with mercurial millennials; around 70% said they would appreciate a flexible working environment.
But while other studies have found that being able to work in different locations is empowering and satisfying, that only applies if organisations implement carefully thought-out policies.
There’s nothing satisfying or empowering about walking round the office with your laptop looking for somewhere to sit.
The most savvy companies are dealing with this with the help of workspace software that enables flexible workers to find and book the space they need online, often even before they come into the office.
Workspace management systems are now so sophisticated they can help staff select not only a desk or room, but also a quiet spot, a cool or warm area to work or specific technology they will need.
This kind of technology is also invaluable in responding to the worldwide change in activity-based working.
In previous decades, most offices had formal meeting rooms, often including a large boardroom that was seldom used.
As business imperatives have changed and costs have risen, that kind of meeting space is increasingly a thing of the past, with offices opting for bookable and flexible space where people can get together.
Informal collaborative areas have also become the norm – but as with agile working, it’s important to make sure all of these moveable feasts are easily available for consumption whenever they are needed.
Meeting space manager software is providing an answer. As with desk booking software, it shows the spaces available on graphic screens accessible and bookable from mobile devices.
Meeting space manager software integrates with Outlook, and also with occupancy sensors that can detect if a room or space is standing empty.
If no-one shows for a meeting, the meeting space manager software automatically restores it to availability so someone else can book and use it. The reduction in admin time is significant – and so is the reduction in valuable rooms standing empty.
Video/audio conferencing is a modern technological phenomenon that’s almost the norm in offices across the world today.
Companies like it because it cuts down on travel costs and promotes easy collaboration – and workers like it because they don’t waste stressful time fighting their way to meetings through heavy traffic.
The organisations that see the best uptake of VC are those that make it easy to use. Meeting space manager software is valuable in this area, because it helps staff organise and book their video conference in multi locations, automatically adjusting for any time zone differences.
The system will make sure the necessary equipment is available, and staff can book it – and even catering for the event – in a single online transaction.
Perhaps best of all, it removes a major irritation and obstacle to effective use of video conferencing. Staff can be daunted by the idea of setting up a complex VC meeting only to find a detail such as the time needs to be changes.
Meeting space manager software removes the strain completely – any changes are notified automatically to all involved in the meeting (even the caterers).
Another technology that integrates with meeting space manager software and enhances it is digital signage/wayfinding.
This is in part a response to that huge creator of frustration in the workplace – the no-show. How many times have you sat waiting in a meeting room for someone to turn up?
Advanced digital signage reduces no-shows by providing check-in and check-out, and by acting as a wayfaring guide to make sure the right people get to the right meeting – even visitors to the building.
In-room signage can also provide attendees with the ability to extend the meeting from inside the meeting room, and also provide connection to link room equipment and facilities such as HVAC.
All of these technologies are behind the rise of the final major trend in the way we run our workplaces – business intelligence.
Meeting space manager technology provides a wealth of data on which the office manager or FM professional can base sound decisions.
How is that space really being used? With data at the manager’s fingertips – available online via a mobile device – there is no longer an element of guesswork to planning the future configuration of the office.
Designing for concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity
The five important trends I’ve outlined are already having a major impact on the way we work, and on how office design is evolving.
In order to keep staff happy and efficient, it’s vital to respond to these trends successfully, consistently and on a continuous basis.
As a report by the World Green Building Council notes:
“There is a complex relationship between the office worker and his or her co-workers, the tasks they carry out and the physical environment in which this takes place.
“The way the interior of an office is configured has a profound impact on concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity – and can therefore either enable, or limit, productivity. It can also have a very direct impact on health and wellbeing, which in turn also impacts productivity. “
In other words, when we design our office spaces, we design for life. And in the future, even more than now, the organisations that care about efficiency and mental health will be linking design, productivity and wellbeing in their meeting rooms.