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Summerell: Manage employee workspace for maximum productivity

Aesthetic good taste can be a slippery slope in workplace policy. We have all seen environments that are visually sterile, devoid of variations or the inclusion of personal affects. Others can be so cluttered that there is no uniform or branded identity.

The next time you visit a familiar office, classroom, restaurant, church… any place of assembly, look around. You will likely see the same people in the same places. Why? The simple answer is that all of us need and choose to nest in familiar surroundings. Through familiar surroundings, we gain composure, relax, spur creativity and become more able to concentrate on tasks at hand.

Moreover, consider the road warrior - traveling ad nauseum and to a different city each day. Many keep a photograph of special people with them (or some other memento) in their travel bags. It’s usually the first thing to appear when they reach the next destination. They bring a little of their nest with them.

All employees need to nest and that dynamic is as influential to facilities performance as the corporate spaces we design, construct and furnish for. Trappings of comfort are important to employees and directly affect productivity. It is as true in corporate-suite offices as it is in manufacturing centers.

This suggests that workspace management needs to be part technological and part behavioral science. We can move, add, change, reduce and modify the work environment all we want, but employees will be most productive when they are comfortable. As a strategy, our efforts and investments in workspaces need to be balanced with a manageable policy that allows employees to exercise some self-expression. Employees need to work where they are relaxed, can focus and produce, both singularly and in collaboration with others.

Repetition is part of the answer - the ability to work in the same surroundings (most) every day. Planning for, assigning and managing space is ultimately about locating employees where they create the greatest total returns on an employer’s investment. To create optimum value, we need a holistic view that combines direct and indirect personnel costs with measured total overhead - balancing facilities quality, infrastructure and aesthetics with considerations for employee behavior and productivity. Merely having attractive workspace isn’t sufficient. We need to consider and plan for how employees will express individually in the spaces we provide while being part of a team.

Sheldon Cooper would say, “You’re in my spot.” While anecdotal and humorous in the context of a popular television series, the point should be well-taken and applied to our workplaces. Sheldon needs to feel comfortable in his surroundings, so do employees in their work-life balance and as they contribute to an employer’s business. To the extent possible and practical, employers should minimize disruptive change for employees in their surroundings while allowing them to nest, if just a little.

This does not suggest that evolutions in brick and mortar management best practices, software capabilities, and data modelling are flawed. They aren’t. But implementing technical capabilities and personal aesthetic accommodations in balance will always create better and more successful organizations. Our view should be toward a planned environment where physical space both condones and embraces productive personal behavior.

Ray Summerell is the managing partner of EIPCI, a professional practice in strategic growth, CEO and board advisory services with primary focus in business operations, real property portfolios and decision analytics. See: www.eipci.us.

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