Productivity, And The Power Of Place

To boost employee engagement, facility executives focus on creating spaces that accommodate physical, cognitive, and emotional demands.

This article on employee engagement as it pertains to facility design is contributed by Steelcase, a Grand Rapids, MI-based provider of office furniture, interior architecture, and space solutions.

Leaders around the world know employee engagement is a serious, bottom line issue. Businesses need people who come to work energized, ready to tackle whatever tasks lie in front of them, and willing to generate new ideas and strategies. But the reality is there are not as many engaged employees as organizations need. In fact, according to Steelcase research, the number of disengaged workers outnumbers that of engaged workers. Solving for disengagement involves many variables, but recent research confirms the importance of the physical work environment on employee attitudes, behaviors, and ultimately employee engagement.

As facility executives seek strategies for improving workplace culture, it’s crucial they understand how creating spaces accommodating physical, cognitive, and emotional needs of employees — from administration to junior staff to executives — can directly and positively impact overall workplace culture.

employee engagement
To boost employee engagement, facility design might include a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces that offer posture choices and encourage walking to create energy.

By harnessing the Power of Place, a concept known for its focus on space design, organizations can create environments that foster and deliver greater connection, empathy, and well-being for everyone involved in the workplace experience. However, when an environment has a negative effect on employees, they can become disengaged. A study by Gallup showed that worldwide, 87% of employed people are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work, meaning they’re emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and thus, less likely to be productive. These disengaged employees can be toxic to their organizations. In the United States alone, Gallup estimates the cost of disengaged employees to be between $450 to $550 billion per year.

Conversely, Gallup found that organizations with a high degree of employee engagement are deeply focused on creating value for their organization. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.

So how can facility managers ensure workplace environments are optimally designed to foster engagement? A Steelcase/Ipsos study found that creating a resilient workplace, one that gives employees a variety of places to choose from while nurturing employees’ physical, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing, is key.

Today we understand the importance of movement throughout the day. Engaging the body in movement is essential for supporting physical and mental vigor at work. Changing posture stimulates the mind. The Steelcase Global Report shows that 96% of highly engaged workers are able to move freely and change postures throughout their day. Employees are working longer hours, so it’s critical for employers to offer a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces that offer posture choices and encourage walking to create energy.

A good deal of work today requires that people spend their day processing information, solving problems, creating new ideas, and innovating. It’s both physically and mentally demanding. It’s important for the workplace environment to help people manage the cognitive overload of their daily lives and allow them to focus or find respite in order to achieve mindfulness, and be fully present in the moment. The workplace needs to be designed to help them control their environment in order to reduce stress and help staff think better.

Neuroscientists have learned that the quantity and quality of social interactions have significant impact on our well-being. When people don’t have enough quality interactions, they become more disengaged, which makes it harder to collaborate, innovate, solve problems, and be open to change. It’s critically important to ensure that people have meaningful connections to others, and understand that, wherever they are, they are valued in the organization. Creating places that allow everyone an equal opportunity to communicate and contribute is essential to building the trust that is the currency of collaboration.

employee engagement
Facilities and furnishings should support collaboration, both face-to-face and with data.

Organizations can use physical design to foster interpersonal collaboration, ultimately leading to a more positive work environment and higher engagement.

As a result of its research around Power of Place, Steelcase developed six design principles that can be incorporated across industries to create better workplace culture:

1. Design for the human factor. Environments should minimize employees’ feeling of being alone, afraid, or uncomfortable. And employees must have the space, equipment, and support for the tasks they perform, no matter how fast changing the industry is.

2. Design spaces to evolve. With change occurring so rapidly – demographics, technologies, protocols, funding environments, and more – built-in flexibility is a lasting advantage.

3. Provide for connected care. Facilities and furnishings should support collaboration, both face-to-face and with data. The environment should enhance connections that are vital to successful outcomes and can help critical qualitative measures of success. They should also be easily scalable to accommodate unexpected influxes of workload.

4. Plan for ubiquitous learning. Spaces and furnishings should let people gather wherever they are. Ideally, teaching and learning happens throughout the space and involves everyone – staff, interns, etc.

5. Design for the intersection of people, place, and technology. The built environment needs to integrate and accommodate information technology and allow for its evolution— without displacing people as the center of attention.

6. Design for intuitive behaviors. By designing for the routine, it’s possible to decrease cognitive load, which decreases stress. Everything repetitive should be obvious – from the purpose of a room to the placement of supplies and equipment. Every space should be designed to enhance the wellbeing of employees.

An ecosystem of spaces that support the physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being of people can help organizations create a positive workplace culture leading to engaged and satisfied employees. The success of businesses depends on it.