Research reveals old habits die hard in the office as businesses fail to consult employees on workplace design.

A new study released by the British Council for Offices (BCO) has revealed that the vast majority of employees (79%) do not work from home at all, dispelling the myth that the bricks and mortar office is a thing of the past.

Of particular note to employers who profess to encourage flexible working, is the fact that the poll – of 1,000 office workers across the UK, carried out by YouGov – found that employees greatly valued the social benefits of working in a communal space.

Being able to meet colleagues face to face (79%) and interactions with other employees (79%) were rated the top office perks, above access to technology including files and documents (61%) and better computer hardware and software (35%).

The research also found that 68% voted their personal workspace as a vital element of workplace design; one which 67% said had a positive impact on their ability to work efficiently. This comes as organisations increasingly opt to erode desk ownership through open plan office models.

Of particular note to employers and boards directors with responsibility for management of staff productivity and morale, noise was seen as one of the worst aspects of the office, suggesting employees are not well served by one dimensional work places with a single design model rather than a range of working environments.

Half of all respondents (50%) said fewer interruptions was one of the biggest benefits of working from home, while 48% opted for ‘quiet’ and 35% said that it was easier to concentrate. This was particularly the case for women – 42% of female respondents compared to 29% of male employees could focus better in a domestic setting.

The study revealed that employers risk alienating employees by not getting their buy-in before redesigning office space to support flexible working. Only 35% of employees had ever been consulted on the design of their office space, despite the fact that 77% said they would like to be involved.

The BCO is calling upon employers to take a democratic approach to office design by giving staff a say in the look and feel of their workplaces.

Gary Wingrove, President of the BCO and Head of Construction Programme Management at BT Group Property, said:
“We live in an age where – in theory – we can work almost anywhere. Despite this, the research suggests that employees are still inherently wedded to the office for collaboration and stimulation.

It is therefore more important than ever that businesses prioritise their staff as the ultimate end users of the workplace, and invest time and money in implementing office designs which accommodate different types of work.

In effect, offices need to become what has been referred to as ‘business hotels’, providing a range of settings to incorporate both the quiet and comfort of home with an interactive and social work space.

Whether cellular or open plan, without doubt it is those workplaces designed and fitted-out with the needs of employees in mind which provide a greater financial return on investment by improving staff morale and therefore levels of productivity and efficiency.”

The research also revealed the consequences of getting office design wrong. 77% of respondents said an unattractive workplace would make them less proud to work for an employer, and almost a third (27%) said they would have to be paid 11% to 20% more to stay in a workplace with very poor offices.

Despite a focus amongst employers on investing in technology, the majority of employees rated home comforts – the nuts and bolts of office design – most highly. 61% of those surveyed said that having a view from a window had a positive impact on their ability to work efficiently, while 60% said the same of the quality of facilities (kitchen and toilets) available. Just 40% of employees said wireless technology improved efficiency and 39% said it made no difference at all to workplace effectiveness.

The 2011 BCO Guide to Fit Out provides a checklist for improving productivity through office design, and the issues which business managers and financial directors should be aware of:

1. Quiet work zone areas or sound absorbing barriers should be introduced in open-plan offices to minimise disruption caused through noise
2. Staff should have the opportunity to participate in workplace redesign decisions
3. An inclusive design approach should be adopted to produce tangible benefits for the whole workforce as well as addressing the specific needs of individuals
4. Staff should be encouraged to use a range of designed settings and alternative workspaces should be provided for certain tasks
5. There is no one size fits all model for office design, and management and office designers need to recognise that there are a variety of equally valid work environments