How does the workplace impact productivity?

How does the workplace impact productivity?

One of the major trends in business in recent years has been the role of the workplace. Some companies are making the office a destination to encourage employees in, while there have been grandiose exclamations that the office is dead.

Yet it was only eight years ago that the first major report to explore the role of the workplace for employee productivity in extensive detail was published.

The Stoddart Review marked a pivotal moment as the first comprehensive exploration of the office environment in this regard. Since then, the landscape of work has undergone a significant transformation, fundamentally altering our understanding of what constitutes a workplace.

Where are employees productive?

The Leesman Index is a leading employee experience benchmarking tool that was cited in the Stoddart Review. In 2016, it found that 86% of employees agreed that their workplace supported productive work.

By 2021, this figure had dropped to 64%. At the same time, 84% of surveyed home workers asserted that they felt most productive in their home environment, underscoring the shift towards viewing home as a viable work option.

A study by Nicholas Bloom in 2015, at a time when working from home was not the norm, found a 13% boost in productivity for employees embracing work-from-home policies. This suggests that the location of work may not be the deciding factor in productivity; instead, greater autonomy fosters more intelligent and productive work practices.

Is the office too distracting?

The Stoddart Review highlighted noise levels as the primary hindrance to productivity, with only 30% of office workers satisfied with current levels. Nigel Oseland’s recent research, “The Enticing Office,” echoes this sentiment, emphasising that the office still falls short on ‘hygiene factors’ such as noise pollution and visual privacy.

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A 2008 study discovered that office workers experience distractions every four minutes, with co-workers, noise, smartphone notifications, and emails being the primary culprits. Furthermore, it takes an average of 23 minutes for employees to regain full focus on a task after an interruption. While no one is suggesting that the home is completely free of distractions, the absence of human interruptions and ambient noise in the home working environment tends to result in significantly fewer distractions.

Despite a recent trend of companies creating more collaborative spaces and using hotdesk arrangements, Oseland suggests that allocated desks can motivate more people to return to the office and cautions against transitioning to hotdesking. Despite the push for employees to return to the office, many are put off if they don’t have their own space.

What are current workplace occupancy levels?

When the Stoddart Review was published it reported that 91% of UK employees worked exclusively from the office. Following the pandemic and the explosion of hybrid working, this is one of the biggest changes since 2016 and there are regular reports about workplace occupancy trends.

The Centre for Cities found that just 14% of workers adhere to a five-day office workweek, yet the Stanford Institute’s WFH research report indicates that only 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, with 28.2% adopting a hybrid model.

This suggests that more than half of UK workers still operate from the office full-time. However, it’s crucial to note that the Stanford Institute’s research did not differentiate between contractors, the self-employed, or part-time workers, acknowledging that the definition of the “office” extends beyond white-collar jobs, rendering this statistic somewhat misleading. One of the researchers told Fortune magazine:

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“There are many people in that sample that do frontline jobs, for example in retail, manufacturing, or hotels and restaurants, and they naturally don’t work from home because of the nature of those jobs”.

The ONS states that during the first lockdown in April 2020, fewer than 50% of people in employment did some work at home. It’s always worth remembering that home working is simply not an option for a huge number of the UK workforce.

Is an office redesign the answer?

Many businesses have or are planning to embark on workplace change projects, which can include redesigning the workplace. I cannot understate the importance of engaging employees throughout this process.

The Stoddart Review had a great example of what happens when you fail to take a holistic view. When Coca-Cola introduced “New Cola,” it was only sipped by testers. But you don’t sip a cola once or twice – you drink the whole can. The new recipe was released and met with more than 400,000 customer complaints, forcing Coca-Cola to abandon the recipe.

Similar missteps are happening now when senior decision-makers are pushing ahead without the views of employees. You can spend all the money in the world on aesthetics and furniture, but if a workplace doesn’t offer what your employees need, they simply won’t come in.

Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for employees to be unsure how to utilise spaces following a redesign. Better change management is required as the lack of communication around office redesign impacts productivity and happiness.

A new Stoddart Review?

The human-centric approach advocated by the Stoddart Review remains relevant today. However, so much has changed since 2016 that a new edition would offer fascinating insight into the modern workplace.

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It could delve into the realities of working from home, or from flexible offices, and reassess  how we measure productivity. For those who actively choose to work in an office, understanding the reasons behind this decision is paramount.

Ultimately, productivity is a deeply personal aspect, both for individuals and businesses. You cannot create a workplace that caters to the needs and wants of every single employee. But you can work with employees to show that their opinion matters, and this alone can foster a more engaged and happier workforce.


Rachel Houghton

Rachel Houghton

Rachel is managing director at Business Moves Group (BMG) where she is responsible for the strategic growth and day to day management of the company. She is a companywide mentor and change agent in the business and thrives on decision making and innovation. She works with a strong management team and continues to develop close relationships with the client base and has overall responsibility for HR, health and safety and compliance. BMG supports businesses of all sizes, from major blue chips through to SME business. The company also supports clients with operational day to day management of space and change whilst supporting strategic plans. During her tenure, Rachel has restructured the organisation, grown the business divisions and rebranded the company. Her leadership has been vital in challenging business times, including the 2008 financial crash and the Covid pandemic. She heads up the bid team for major contracts to deliver sustainable client solutions fit for purpose. She has held a number of positions at BMG in project management, operations, sales, as commercial director before becoming managing director. Rachel is passionate about evolving the company and making it a fun and effective place to work.

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