Optimizing Space To Enhance Employee Productivity And Well-Being

Workplace management tech is the key to optimizing space in order to boost employee well-being and productivity. 

space planning
Adobe Stock/Prathankarnpap
By Brian Haines

More and more companies are trying to entice workers back to the office full-time, on the basis that having teams working face-to-face is essential to their mission. A recent Gallup study suggests that returning to the office full-time might be beneficial not just for businesses, but also for their employees. The study found that employees working from home full- or part-time experienced more stress and anger than those working from the office full time. In addition, human resources leaders at companies that require workers to be in the office four or five days per week saw more of a positive impact on mental health than those that require zero days in the office.

Why should organizations care whether their employees are stressed, angry or sad? Companies today understand that employee well-being impacts their business in broad and substantial ways. This realization has compelled organizations to take a more active role in addressing issues of physical and mental health by making their workplaces more inviting, comfortable and flexible.

Today, workplace management solutions are helping organizations improve employee well- being and support return-to-office initiatives by making the office feel more like home. Here’s how:

Occupant Experience

For decades prior to March 2020, the standard office space was a cubicle farm in which upper managers got window desks, while rank-and-file workers were relegated to assigned desks in the middle of the room. Employees were not allowed to work remotely, and to the extent that well being came up at all, it was normally over lunch or happy hour drinks with colleagues.

Then the pandemic took hold and employees were forced to work from home. Suddenly, every desk was a window desk; or a couch, bed or dining room table—and sometimes all of those things in the same day.

Comfort is a big reason why people fell in love with working from home. They could walk around in slippers and set their thermostat as warm or cold as they wanted. While the slippers are probably best left at home, organizations can keep their employees comfortable by maintaining high indoor air quality (IAQ). Environmental sensors can prevent issues with temperature, humidity, light, noise or particulates from becoming a deterrent to coming to the office or a drag on productivity.

Using data, analytics and trending reports, these sensors, combined with a workplace management system, can enable organizations to understand IAQ at space, floor and building levels. These systems can alert facility managers about any air quality issues in specific areas; and leverage data from occupancy sensors to maintain clean, comfortable spaces wherever occupants are hard at work.

But occupant experience isn’t just about how a space looks or feels. It’s also about who’s sharing that space with you. After all, one advantage of the office hasn’t changed—it’s where people come together to collaborate and bond with friends and colleagues working toward a common goal.

Space Efficiency

Workers are more likely to go into the office when their friends and teammates will also be there. The highest-performing office spaces foster creativity and collaboration, and desk and room booking tools make it easy for employees to see when members of their team will be in the office.

For facility managers, space management and booking solutions can help measure, monitor and report how a building is utilized. This data can correlate with environmental monitoring to reveal utilization patterns that could potentially indicate a problem with IAQ. For example, people may avoid sitting in areas that are excessively hot, humid, dark or noisy; armed with this insight, FMs can quickly address the problem.

When coupled with visitor management solutions, space planning tools can improve efficiency, productivity and reduce disruptions throughout the office. Visitor management solutions allow people to easily check in, know where they’re going and plan their day at the office. Together with space planning tools, visitor management solutions let companies easily flex and adjust their workplaces as employee and company needs change.

Employee Well-Being

Making the office experience as smooth and stress-free as possible is essential to the well- being of all occupants. Understanding the interplay between occupant experience and space efficiency gives organizations the insights to know what changes are needed to optimize how employees interact with the building. As an example, an unused conference room might be better utilized as a retreat for nursing mothers or a prayer room.

Acknowledging the needs of diverse groups in space planning also enhances employee well- being, while supporting diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. An office where people feel included, recognized for who they are and treated how they want to be treated, becomes a welcoming place that employees are happy to come to.

Furthermore, data from building access control systems can paint a picture of engagement and productivity for stakeholders. Employees who are engaged and enjoy being in the office tend to spend more time there. If data indicates that people are coming in late and leaving early, that could be a symptom of poor engagement.

Good For Employee, Good For Employer

Companies have come a long way since the pandemic in making employee well-being a priority. But, at the end of the day, those efforts must contribute to increasing revenue and reducing costs.

Smart building solutions help increase productivity, reduce sick leave, make the company a more desirable place to work, bolster security, encourage creativity and collaboration, and strengthen company culture. The impact of this technology goes beyond the employee/employer dynamic, to the cost and efficiency of operating and maintaining facilities themselves. The same sensors, meters and dashboards that help organizations address employee well being can enhance operational efficiency and equipment performance and support sustainability initiatives. This technology can also make certification and regulatory compliance less costly and more efficient by auto-generating reports and continually evaluating system performance against compliance thresholds.

By blurring the lines between work and home, the pandemic and its aftermath revealed how taking a more active role in the health and well-being of workers benefits employers. Technology plays an important role in helping employers understand and engage in this dynamic, while also delivering substantial cost savings and other benefits.

Investing in these technologies will not only pay substantial dividends now, but will also set organizations up to take advantage of the next leap in facilities technology. As technology improves, we expect buildings of the future to become increasingly autonomous, allowing for self-adjustment, self-healing and self-notification based on conditions and the needs of occupants. These autonomous buildings will transform how structures and people coexist.

Haines is a twenty five year veteran of marketing, strategy and product management of Cloud and desktop products specifically created for the building industry. He is currently the Chief Strategy Officer where he defines and communicates FM:System’s corporate strategy and provides key insights into the future of the industry and the evolving needs of the market and customer base. Brian currently serves as vice-chair for the National Institute of Building Science (NIBS) COBie Task Group (CTG) and is a board member of the IFMA Technology Council.

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