Minimal workplaces may hinder productivity

01/04/2011

Ambius study reveals impact of enriched workplace

The trend for ‘lean’ and minimal office spaces could be having a negative effect on business productivity according to an extensive study by The University of Exeter in conjunction with Ambius, the world’s largest workplace enrichment and interior landscaping company. The 4 year study co-funded by Ambius found that people were happier, healthier and 17% more productive in an enriched work environment than they were in a 'lean' space. Those that were given some say over their environment were 32% more productive.

The independent research has resulted in the launch of a new consultancy service supported by Ambius to help Facilities Managers create a productive working environment through the selective application of planting, pictures and scenting. The findings showed that this enriched workspace will not only improve employee productivity but can reduce absenteeism and boost wellbeing.

The Wellbeing consultancy service complements the interior landscaping and maintenance service provided by Ambius, where specially trained staff visit regularly to look after the plant installations ensuring exterior grounds and interior decorations are maintained to a high visual standard with minimal disruption to the working environment.

Kenneth Freeman, International Technical Director for Ambius said: “For many Facilities Managers the focus is on keeping costs to a minimum. In some instances this will be through cutting or reducing what are seen as discretionary items such as planting and pictures. However this research suggests business productivity could be hindered as a result. It’s nothing new to say that happy people mean better business but this research proves conclusively that this is the case and really demonstrates how Ambius is able to add value to the services Facilities Managers can provide, enabling them to enrich workplaces in a highly cost-effective and beneficial way.”

University of Exeter’s research included extensive surveys and experimental data. Two of the studies — one at the University and another in commercial offices — saw participants take on a series of tasks in a workspace that was either lean (containing only the tools necessary for the job), enriched (decorated with plants and pictures), empowered (allowing the individual to design the area) or disempowered (where the individual's original design was deliberately overridden).

Results consistently showed that the more people (a) identified with and (b) reflected their own identities within their office spaces, the happier and more motivated they were in their jobs. They felt physically more comfortable at work, identified more with their employers, and felt more positive about their jobs in general.

Kenneth Freeman concludes: "Much contemporary office space is functional and/or offers very little user control, but our studies suggest this practice needs to be challenged. When people feel uncomfortable in their surroundings they are less engaged - not only with the space but also with what they do in it. All too often people have to work in a space dominated by management’s idea of what the working identity should be. If employees can realize something of their own identity in their own space that all changes and people report being happier at work, more engaged with their employer, and are visibly more effective in doing their jobs."

*Based on figures from the CIPD, 2008 and Gensler 2005.

** Prism (Psychological Research into Identity and Space Management) is a research-based consultancy based at the University of Exeter in the southwest of England, co funded by Ambius. With over 25 years commercial experience, most of it in the field of office design, Craig Knight has now applied his knowledge to academic research. Under the supervision of world-renowned psychologist, Professor Alex Haslam, Craig’s published PhD thesis (The Psychology of Office Space: Determinants of Social Identity, Wellbeing and Productivity) has already been acclaimed. Ongoing research within Prism is aimed at continually refining the workplace model and offering a research-backed consultancy service to companies around the world.

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