Boosting productivity through workplace design

From de-cluttering to redesigning meeting space, we explore how companies are maximising space AND productivity

National Grid

The challenge: To dramatically boost productivity through workplace design in the Warwick head office.

The method: “A building’s just a box, but you can either treat it as a cost or as a tool to drive organisational change,” says Hilary Jeffery, workplace strategy director at National Grid’s architectural consultancy AECOM. Fortunately the company opted for the latter when anecdotal indications that workplace productivity could be improved significantly through building redesign were backed up by statistics.

“Employees were saying they couldn’t book meeting rooms because there wasn’t space, yet studies were showing the building was only 40% occupied most of the time,” says Jeffery. “The two things didn’t add up.”

The decision was taken at the end of 2010 to take a scientific approach and test the extent to which productivity was impacted by architecture. The strategy was to change the second floor (occupied by around 250 workers), and record how long it took teams to make decisions. A variety of office settings were tested – everything from new project spaces to collaborative areas. Desk space went from taking up 80% of the area to only 50%.

As well as productivity tests (still very much a subjective method), cognitive tests were also taken by 500 staff to see how the new layout affected their creativity and problem-solving.

“We’ve long known the phrase ‘happy employees make happy customers’ and we really believed a test project like this could prove that productivity and delighting customers could both be done at the same time as rationalising our buildings,” says Simon Carter, National Grid’s head of corporate property. He adds: “The ambition is for our buildings to be at the heart of our efficiency and effectiveness. We knew it would be very easy to make a more efficient estate but not necessarily a more effective one. Through the re-design we were confronting the question of what staff actually used the building for.”

Based on the results of the pilot, a full roll-out has been underway over the last few years. Property “was not influenced by HR policy” prior to this says Carter, but since then the significance of design has become clear to both departments. “HR colleagues are now much more engaged in the whole science of office design,” adds Carter. “Best of all property is now able to put a number on what good design looks like. Plenty of academics have studied this theoretically, but I don’t think any have the data we now have about the impact this has in normal work environments.”

The result: According to Jeffery and Carter the redesign has helped boost staff performance by a significant 8%, a figure that has enabled National Grid to achieve about a £10 million reduction in operating costs. It believes the impact of all the3,000 people in its Warwick headquarters working more effectively equates to £20 million-worth of increased productivity.

These aren’t the only impressive numbers. The company cites a 5% increase in productivity linked to easier access to meeting spaces alone, and an 8% rise in employee comfort and satisfaction levels. “At the same time we’ve boosted productivity we’ve actually added around 1,000 people into the same space since the project began,” says Jeffery. “We’re now seeing how the insights we’ve gained from this can be leveraged very specifically – for creating great leaders for instance.”

Check back tomorrow for a case study on Atlas Copco

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