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Designing productively

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The link between productivity in the workplace and design of the work environment is difficult to prove - although it seems obvious that there should be one. Many organisations spend woefully little on the work environment in comparison to expenditure on staff salaries. A recently published book titled Improving Office Productivity explores the links between productivity and the internal environment. The book is sub-titled 'A guide for facilities managers,' but architects not working in this capacity should not be put off. Increasingly designers are coming into contact with client facilities managers, and it is as well to see things from the client's perspective.

Architects will find the book a useful checklist during the briefing for buildings, particularly offices. It also serves as a useful reminder of important issues that may get neglected in design, but which have an impact on the effectiveness of a client's business.

The book is the result of a detr Partners in Innovation project. From April 1997 the researchers looked at the links between productivity in the office and the environment. The aim of the publication is to act as a step-by-step guide to improving productivity. It does this by identifying areas of potential change, their relative cost and the time it would take to see an improvement. What is interesting is that the improvement message is being delivered to facilities managers - rather than the senior directors or managers. They are really the ones in a position to balance the benefits to staff productivity against the short-term cost of changes to buildings. Often, facilities managers are too far down the decision-making hierarchy to be able to make these sorts of judgement, and their priorities do not directly include improved staff productivity, although their action or inaction may affect it. The book comes with a software toolkit to assist with identifying the areas with most effect on performance and evaluating the benefits of improving them.

The findings of this research confirm and expand on earlier studies, particularly the probe studies, as well as ones in the us, and confirms the relationship between staff satisfaction with their environment and their performance.

The researchers looked at a range of factors, including satisfaction with individual facilities, storage space, furniture and spatial layout as well as individual environmental factors such as temperature, air quality, noise and privacy. As in other studies, individual control of elements like temperature and noise, or even the perception of it, were closely linked to staff satisfaction and productivity.

Productivity initiatives may well produce 'hard' benefits which are easily measurable, such as energy savings or new income. However, it is 'soft' benefits like improved performance and increased output which are harder to quantify, especially when the increased output may be quality rather than quantity. This is always the stumbling block when arguing such cases with hard-nosed business managers who are really looking for a bottom- line improvement.

The study was carried out through evaluation of ten office buildings of a variety of sizes and configurations, all selected having recently undergone refurbishment or organisational change.

The book offers 'action recommendations'. It identifies a number of issues that could be addressed, for example office layout, and then sets out the links with productivity, giving some guidelines for planning and then suggesting a number of specific actions, their costs and speed of impact. It also looks at cost-benefit framework and implementing the changes.

Nigel Oseland and Paul Bartlett, Improving Office Productivity: A guide for business and facilities managers, Longman, 1999. £50

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