Survey Says Offices Impact Staffs

    GRAND RAPIDS — To think creatively and innovate, you have to get into the right mindset.

    Getting there requires the kind of workplace environment that, according to a recent Steelcase Inc. survey, office workers are finding increasingly important.

    Seventy-nine percent of the 1,500 respondents in the most recent Steelcase Workplace Index Survey believe that their physical comfort has a serious impact on their satisfaction level at work.

    Forty-nine percent of the respondents cited the physical workplace environment as the biggest problem in accessing co-workers when needed, interfering with day-to-day activity.

    The survey’s findings seem to sustain what office furniture manufacturers have said for years — that the design, layout and aesthetics of an office have a significant effect on worker morale and productivity.

    Employers should “just mix it up a little bit” and create an office layout and aesthetic that enables office workers to become more creative, collaborative and productive, said Pam Brenner, manager of workplace issues for Steelcase.

    “If you’re open to that kind of thing, you can really find inspiration in the environment of the work space,” Brenner said.

    “Space should meet the needs of the people you’re with and the way they work.”

    Employers can improve the comfort of office workers and jumpstart their creativity through a myriad of methods, Brenner said.

    She suggests providing an area where a person can sit alone in a comfortable “out-of-the-way corner” for a period of time to reflect or think through a problem, or to simply get away from the rat race for a few minutes.

    She told the Business Journal that dressing up work areas with live plants, artwork, music and light dimmers helps to create “a more soothing and comfortable working environment,” she said.

    Workers, when they begin to feel the stress building during the day, should take an impromptu break. A brisk walk, for example, can help you “revive your senses and focus on the task at hand.” Playful items on the desk are great stress relievers, Brenner said, that can also generate creativity and inspiration in a person or work group.

    An easily accessible common area invites informal interaction between employees and the exchange of ideas, she said.

    In the most recent Steelcase Workplace Index Survey, more than two-thirds of the respondents said “talking to people” is the most valuable source of information to support new ideas at work.

    Forty percent said their employer “does nothing” to stimulate informal interaction at work.

    “Ultimately, this impacts the business objectives and goals of the organization,” Brenner said.

    A growing number of corporations, especially during the tight labor markets of the late 1990s, became aware of the effects of a space’s layout and design on workers, Brenner added.

    She also said she believes the aesthetics of the office — since it makes a statement about the company’s culture and values — has become an increasingly important aspect in the recruitment of knowledgeable workers, as well as the retention of existing employees.

    “Space is defined as an asset when it comes to that, and one way to inspire people is to create good spaces for them to work in,” Brenner said.

    “It’s really becoming a mutual benefit.”

    In that regard, she said, employers need to avoid neglecting their workspaces, even during the difficult economic times.

    With research data showing the effects of the workplace environment on productivity, morale, retention and recruitment, employers can generate dividends through maintaining a stimulating atmosphere in the office, she said.

    “Don’t look at it as a way to tighten up costs all the time,” she said.

    “Look at it as a long-term strategy.”           

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