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Peeling back the layers of the workplace to get to the core issue of productivity

Posted on April 20, 2017 by admin

The onion metaphor is very familiar to everybody as a way of describing how the core of an issue is usually surrounded by a number of layers which we must peel back if we are to discover what lies at the heart. When it comes to the workplace, the core questions are related to cost, productivity, wellbeing and identity. We are fortunate that there is a large and growing body of evidence that not only shows us how to tackle such issues with office design and management, but also the ways they are interrelated. When we address one specific issue, there’s a good chance we’ll be addressing the others as a matter of course.

This focus will only increase as we see the growing influence of a new discipline that ties up the various strands of people, place and technology that form the 21st Century workplace. So what are the most important layers of the building to consider when we seek to solve the core conundrum of the workplace? We would suggest that these are some of the most important factors to consider, although they will always vary depending on circumstances.

The working environment

People now spend over 90 percent of their time indoors. Office workers spend around 80 percent of the working day indoors. The importance of the quality of the working environment cannot be overstated. The following all contribute in some way to increasing the productivity of staff in the office.

  • Indoor air quality
  • Acoustic comfort
  • Lighting comfort
  • Visual comfort
  • Indoor pollutants
  • Thermal comfort

The great outdoors

Biophilia is a term used to recognise our basic human desire for connecting to nature. When used in the context of a building or office fit-out, it explains the presence of rooftop gardens, nearby parklands, views of flora and fauna, green walls, green roofs and even indoor planting which integrates with an office fit-out within sections of partition walls and furniture. Not only is it known that indoor plants have a positive effect on the quality of the indoor air by filtering a range of contaminants and pollutants found indoors, but research suggests quite a number of tangible health and productivity benefits also apply.


This issue is worthy of serious consideration as part of a business owner’s deliberations regarding location. There is a significant correlation between productivity and the relationship between where the people are and where a business is located. This is true for staff productivity associated with their commute, both for active travel benefits as well as productive time use, in addition to the relative benefits of clustering, supply chain economics and economies of scale.

Flexible Working

Implementing flexible working arrangements such as agile and flexible is a means by which to improve the efficacy of office space by reducing the amount of area required for permanent staff desks. However, proponents of ABW suggest there are many more benefits to the business owner, including:

  • Staff concentrate better.
  • They are more productive.
  • They are more active during working hours.
  • They are more likely to collaborate and contribute to knowledge sharing.
  • They are more mindful of their tasks and activities.
  • They enjoy working more.

Workplace Design

In the context of productive workspaces, it is important to acknowledge the value of design and how that might contribute towards instilling a sense of pride within staff when reflecting upon and working in their office. Pride is acknowledged as a powerful motivator for staff that results in improved productivity. Another design-related element which contributes to improved productivity for staff is good office ergonomics, particularly with regard to furniture design and operation of desks, chairs and on-screen-based activities. There is also mounting evidence that issues such as the choice of colour and the configuration of various workspaces can contribute significantly to productivity increases.


Further opportunities are available for improving staff and business productivity through effective adoption and use of technology in the emerging digital realm and the establishment, measurement and monitoring of workplace health and well-being programs.


The effects on staff of business and company culture and workplace politics should not be forgotten in any discussion regarding workplace productivity within an office. In fact, the presence of issues in these areas could undermine all of the cumulative benefits discussed above.

So even though we can identify seven separate layers or of workplace productivity, are we actually any closer to answering the core question of value or what it is all worth for businesses occupying or choosing new office space? Perhaps not, but there is significant empirical evidence to suggest that productivity improvements of beyond 15 percent are possible through the cumulative benefits of many of these types of initiatives. We would also suggest that workplace productivity improvements as little as 6-10 percent may be sufficient to completely offset office rental costs and that should be enough to convince anyone to further explore the value proposition of each of these layers.