Boost Productivity by Allowing Employees to Feel at Home at Their Desks

New research suggests that work productivity and morale could be improved by giving employees the freedom to develop the look and feel of their own office environment.

The study showed that in comparison to colleagues working in a lean environment (i.e. a spare office with cleared desks), people empowered to develop aspects of their own workspace showed average increases of 27 percent in feelings of well-being and 32 percent in productivity.

Additionally, the findings suggest that the prevailing preference for “lean space,” which is typified by a uniform approach to design, generally leads to a heightened sense of alienation among employees, discomfort in the workplace and symptoms of sick-building syndrome.

The research was supported by Ambius, a provider of plants, replica foliage and flowers for commercial environments, and developed in partnership with the University of Exeter.

“The study findings squarely challenge modern methods of space management,” said Craig Knight, principal researcher and managing director of Prism at the University of Exeter. “In particular, it confronts head on the idea that employees perform more productively in a ‘lean’ space where displays of personally or socially meaningful artifacts are forbidden.”

The research also suggests that even considerate – and potentially expensive – office design will, on its own, fall short of contributing a full sense of identity with the host organization. Managerially imposed design, which enriches the working environment, resulted in productivity increases of over 15 percent when compared to a lean space. This is quite an improvement, but is markedly less than the gains achieved by office workers empowered to develop their own space.

"The simple approach of involving office workers in the design of their own surroundings proves to deliver the best levels of organizational identification, citizenship, well-being and productivity,” said Kenneth Freeman, international technical director at Ambius. “We advise businesses to factor in these findings when organizing work space and recruiting employees to help with design.”

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