Employees account for largest expenditure in any organisation and hence the slightest improvement in workplace condition that enhances employee retention and well-being has a great impact on productivity and results in tangible savings.
Workplaces should offer a conducive environment for everyone to function.
Let's discuss some key attributes and design principles for efficient workplace design.
Our workforce and working style have seen steady evolution over years. Technology and access to information, need for ideation in groups, collaborative work culture, day-night shift in several trades and profession, and flexible and varying needs of the workforce have brought about a shift in defining workspaces to be flexible, collaborative and vibrant with a combination of multi-use, multifunctional spaces.
Take, for example, the NRDC San Francisco office of 19,000 sq ft, recently certified as LEED Gold standard in LEED V4 ID+C category, which consists of two floors that house roughly 90 staff members. The space layout demonstrates a breakaway from traditional workplace design wherein, the lobby space duplicates as workspace for employees and office spaces can duplicate as collaborative work spaces and breakout areas.
Early on, a major project goal was to preserve as much historical integrity of the space as possible.
By recycling and salvaging materials, much of the previous renovation was maintained, existing elements of beauty were embraced, and waste creation was mitigated, thereby reducing the environmental impact associated with new construction. These features are amply demonstrated in ceilings, exposed concrete columns and electrical infrastructure.
Be collaborative but respect privacy
Work culture has evolved over the years and need for impromptu meetings between two or more colleagues is normative. In many offices, demand for meeting rooms and collaborative workplaces exceeds demand for personal workstations. Efficient workplace designs accommodate the need for collaboration in term of collaborative workspaces, spaces with duplicate functions, breakout areas and meeting spaces to suit variable needs.
Be functional, be flexible
Traditional workplace design forces employees to occupy the same workstation every day. Although it offers a sense of security and belongingness, studies have proven that flexibility in choice of workstations enhances employee engagement and productivity.
It also helps best utilisation of space and avoids clutter. Assigning a permanent workstation to all employees triggers redundancy and clutter.
The concept of free address with variable conditions is becoming prevalent in workplace design - the need for increased or lower space temperature, access to daylight and choice of louder to quieter zones is a function of type of work and personal requirements. Workplaces can be designed with variable thermal comfort gradient and separation of quiet and louder zones.
The LEED Gold-certified Group 10 Technologies office in Gurugram allows flexibility in workstation choice, thus enhancing employee morale and productivity.
Respect privacy: Visual and acoustics
Technology and mobile communication is a necessity for work and personal needs.
Work can get disrupted in the absence of suitable acoustic delineation in office. Workplace strategy in terms of segregation of loud and quiet zones and suitable acoustic masking systems (if necessary) should be considered at the planning stage. Sound masking is the addition of sound created by sound generators and distributed through an area to reduce distractions or provide confidentiality where needed. Contrary to noise control, it adds noise to offer privacy in acoustics.
Open workspaces can also lead to a perception of lack of privacy. Proper orientation of workplaces and use of privacy and modesty panels are some ways to ensure privacy even within an open workplace.
The Group 10 office offers visual privacy through an innovative partitioning and screening system using jute fabric.
'Staying connected' is the mantra of our present generation's workplace design, which has evolved to be heavily technology-oriented. IoT and POE are the backbone of any workplace design. Also, we are realising the importance of connecting with nature while at home, or work.
In fact, a 2008 University of Michigan study titled The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature found that a walk through nature can increase cognitive functioning by 20 per cent. And, a 2007 study by Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that natural environments can increase levels of anti-cancer proteins in the blood. This is significant, considering that 90 per cent of our time is spent indoors and preventable illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension are on the rise.
Given space constraints and the tight urban fabric, it is sometimes a challenge to bring nature to workplace design. Imitating nature and the addition of green spaces and other elements from nature can substantially mitigate these challenges and bring great value addition to workplace design.
For instance, the Glumac office in Shanghai, designed to LEED Platinum CI v4 standards and full-petal Living Building Certification (LBC) (making it the first net-zero energy, water and carbon project in Asia to achieve the highest sustainability standards), has several features that connects its occupants to nature all the time. The office features a crystalline structure made of green, white, grey, and black acoustic panels that emulates clouds. It climbs up the walls and ceilings, adding a subtle breakaway from sharp edges and surfaces at right angles. Each polygon is composed of five triangles that come to a point, forming a pentagonal pyramid.
The installation is not only visually striking, the acoustic panels that comprise it also absorb the sound that would otherwise reverberate from the exposed concrete floors in the reception and kitchen areas. The cloud theme is also significant for an office in China as it represents Chinese lucky clouds, a symbol of good fortune and happiness. In June 2015, Glumac conducted a survey to find out how the design choices made in the renovation affected employees on a day-to-day basis. Of the employees surveyed, 82 per cent reported that the design elements of the office space facilitated their productivity, and 91 per cent said the design elements lightened their mood during work.
Thus, good and efficient workplace design can add to productivity and employee retention. It also offers our architectural community a design opportunity for a better space to cherish and enjoy.
About the author:
Mili Majumdar is Managing Director of Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI), India, and Senior Vice President, USGBC. In her current role, she is responsible for technical adaptation and customisation of the portfolio of rating systems of GBCI for the Asia-Pacific region.