Improving an Already-Existing Office
Surveys show that an employee's work environment directly affects individual and team performance and has a major impact on overall job satisfaction. Knowing this, the savvy business owner can improve productivity and morale by making the office as efficient and appealing as possible.
Areas most open to upgrades include: safety, comfort and productivity.
As a business owner, keeping your employees safe and healthy is your chief responsibility. Safety hazards not only put your employees at risk but also demonstrate your indifference to their health. Before you do anything else, eliminate dangerous conditions and make sure you comply with all OSHA (www.osha.gov) safety requirements. Injuries not only harm your employees; they also affect your bottom line.
Ergonomic concerns are not confined to manufacturing jobs and tasks requiring physical labor. Office employees are particularly susceptible to back stress and strain, as well as long-term issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome. To this end, make sure office furniture, chairs and workstations are designed with ergonomic features, such as adjustable seats, chair backs and shelving.
If you need help, most large office supply companies have ergonomic experts on staff. If you can't find one in your area, talk to an office furniture manufacturer and ask for guidance.
Comfortable employees are happy employees, and happy employees tend to be productive. Are work areas clean, well lit and appealing? These factors are far more important than expensive furniture and plush carpeting.
Focus on these basic areas:
- Temperature. The proper temperature depends on the nature of work performed. As a rule of thumb, ergonomic experts suggest setting the thermostat between 68-74 degrees Fahrenheit in warmer months; from 73-78 degrees Fahrenheit during colder periods. Relative humidity should run between 30 percent and 60 percent year-round.
If your employees are engaged in physical tasks, cooler temperatures make their jobs easier. If personnel work in an office environment, the temperature can be higher. Just make sure the air temperature is relatively consistent across the work area.
Too often, employees near a heat source may be comfortable while those at the other end of the room are shivering. If you can, let employees control the temperature themselves; that way you know they'll be comfortable.
- Light. Natural light "feels" good, but if this is not available, make sure artificial sources keep areas bright. Never position lighting fixtures directly behind or above workers. In addition, focus on providing appropriate lighting for the tasks performed. Harsh lighting that creates a glare on computer monitors can be irritating and may impact employee morale and performance. Inexpensive anti-glare computer screens will eliminate the problem, as will glare-reducing task lights now available on the market.
- Noise. The trend to open workstations with more occupants, larger computer monitors with bigger speakers and greater use of speakerphones and conferencing equipment has exacerbated the noise issue. Though work-generated clamor may be unavoidable, encourage employees to use headsets on conference calls or when listening to music. When the budget permits, carpeting, acoustic tiles and movable walls can help muffle too much sound.
Once you've taken care of ambient conditions, optimize the work area for productivity and efficiency. Here are a few simple changes you can make right away:
- Relocate equipment and storage. Walking from place to place is inefficient, so move equipment and supplies to locations employees can "travel" to quickly and easily. Better yet, think about eliminating some equipment altogether.
For example installing fax software on each employee's computer makes a fax machine unnecessary - a move that both saves money and avoids unnecessary movement. In terms of storage, create "mini-warehouses" of office supplies near employee clusters, periodically re-stocking those areas from central storage.
- Eliminate clutter. Items employees could need “someday" tend to get in the way today. Store the things you must keep away from the work area, and ditch items you'll probably never use again. When space is particularly tight, consider stowing occasional-use equipment and inventory in a rented storage unit.
- Improve process flow. Do products, supplies or paperwork travel through your facility in a predictable fashion? If so, reorganize the workspace to enhance that flow. For instance, if paperwork goes in and out of the administrative area several times as a job moves through your facility, consider placing the administrative area in a central location. Shift customer-liaison employees closer to production workers to improve communication flow. In short, think about how your ideal process should unfold and organize the workspace to mirror that vision.
Finally, remember that a workspace should not reflect an employee's position; it should reflect his or her role in the organization. A well-organized work environment will optimize the functions required in the job - and take staff productivity to new heights.