Disengaged Employees? Your Office Space Might be to Blame


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In today’s business environment, no company can afford a high turnover rate. With a tight labor market and competition for talent at an all-time-high, employee retention has become a mission-critical goal. Of course, the only way to retain employees is to keep them happy, and that’s where employee engagement comes in.

These days, much of the attention paid to employee engagement centers around perks, compensation, and recognition programs. That makes sense, as those are all valid avenues within which to promote engagement. Oddly, though, there’s one part of the employee engagement picture that goes almost totally unnoticed – and it can play a decisive role in the success or failure of all other employee engagement efforts – the suitability of the business’s office space.

The Power of Environment

If you’ve ever worked in a modern office environment, there’s a good chance that you’ve been in what’s called an “open floor plan” design. The business love affair with such designs goes back to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed SC Johnson headquarters, which is considered to be a triumph of office design. Unfortunately, designers that attempted to emulate the layout in the intervening years have run into a problem – cost.

Today, the overarching goal of most open office designs is to fit as many people into the available space as is possible, to reduce costs to the business. As it turns out, though, employees hate them. More often than not, open plan offices are distracting, disruptive, and anathema to morale, making them a disaster for employee engagement.

Fixing an Unworkable Office Space

The primary problem that most employees cite about open floor plans is that they’re not conducive to concentration. For example, if someone in the space needs to have a lengthy phone conversation, everyone else is simply out of luck. While that may sound like a minor inconvenience, when repeated on a daily basis, it can be an incredibly frustrating experience.

For business managers, fixing the problem means one of two things: research your mortgage options and buy a new facility, or retrofit your existing space. Either way, a functional office space should include:

  • Purpose-built quiet spaces – If private offices are impractical, it’s critical to provide employees with spaces where they can retreat into the quiet to get some work done. They should be reserved for non-group work and kept separate from conference rooms or other collaborative workspaces.
  • Designated loud spaces – To deal with the inevitability of distracting noise like loud conversations or boisterous debates, designate specific areas for them to take place. That will encourage employees to be courteous to their officemates, and allow them to complete their tasks without bringing everyone else’s work to a halt.
  • Sound-absorbing materials – Just because an office space lacks walls, doesn’t mean it can’t be retrofitted to reduce sound pollution. Soft materials like carpeting and acoustic tiles can be added to existing spaces to make a significant difference in the environment. While they won’t form an impenetrable barrier, they will make a world of difference to employees in the space.

Focused and Engaged

Providing an office environment that allows employees to concentrate on their work goes a long way towards increasing their performance, and their satisfaction with their work. That, in turn, increases employee engagement and helps to create a culture where everyone enjoys coming to work each day. The best news of all is that aside from the initial investment that may be required to retrofit existing facilities, there are no real downsides to speak of. When it comes to employee engagement efforts, it’s as close to a no-brainer as any business manager is ever likely to encounter.

Philip Piletic
I have several years of experience in marketing and startups, and regularly contribute to a number of online platforms related to technology, marketing and small business. I closely follow how Big Data, Internet of Things, Cloud and other rising technologies grew to shape our everyday lives. Currently working as managing editor for a UK tech site.


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